By Joseph Puntschart / May 22nd, 2017
|Title||Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception|
|Publisher||Atlus USA (NA)
Deep Silver (EU)
|Genre||Visual Novel/Strategy RPG|
|Age Rating||ESRB M/PEGI 16|
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a good example of a title that is better played with an understanding of the rest of the series. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is the second title in a trilogy of three titles and does contain references and characters from the first Utawarerumono title. That said, I will admit that I never finished the anime nor played the visual novel for the original Utawarerumono before playing Mask of Deception. However, I was able to grasp several of the references to the first game, so I wasn’t entirely lost.
To add more context, Utawarerumono, like every Aquaplus IP to date, has its roots in eroge. Originally released in 2002 for PC under the now retired Leaf label, the game later got an all ages enhanced port for the PlayStation 2 in 2006 and later the PSP in 2009. The title also got an anime adaptation, drama CDs and more, thus becoming a franchise. Although the visual novel never got an official release in English, the anime did, and the PC version later went on to be fan translated, meaning English speakers could read the visual novel that started it all. The franchise became a big name in Japan, which may have led to Aquaplus developing the all-ages sequels Itsuwari no Kamen (this game) and Futari no Hakuoro (known in the West as Mask of Truth and releasing in the West on 5th September this year). These sequels will be coming exclusively to the PS4 and PS Vita in the West, while there is also a PS3 version available in Japan.
The title is set in the kingdom of Yamato, where you take on the role of Haku, an amnesiac who is found unconscious in the mountains by the game’s main heroine Kuon. Kuon is a traveller who decides to take Haku in until he is able to be independent. She also gives him the name Haku. Although Haku is found to be physically weak, he has a sharp mind that helps the party get out of sticky situations, which he can use to his advantage. This talent is spotted by Ukon, who recruits Kuon and Haku to help him with his work. This, in turn, leads to the adventure that takes place in this title, as well as meeting several other characters turned party members, including Ukon’s sister Nekone and the airhead warrior Atuy.
This title plays out as a mixture of visual novel “adventure” segments and strategy RPG segments, though it greatly leans towards the former, with the visual novel segments being hours long in some cases. In that sense, this review will also lean more towards the visual novel side. Before I discuss the title’s story, it’s worth discussing the title’s aesthetic. Firstly, the visuals and audio are of fantastic quality. The game’s OST was orchestrated live, which is a rare thing for visual novels and places it a cut above most other titles in this genre. There are also remixed tunes from the original Utawarerumono making a return, including the vocal song “SADAME,” which is awesome as the first Utawarerumono has one of my favourite soundtracks in a game to date. The art style is distinctive, with the character portraits being a personal favourite of mine, as well as the CGs. Additionally, I really liked the voice acting, but as my Japanese is limited I can’t really offer any deeper analysis regarding this. However, with all other things considered this game definitely looks and sounds the part.
Given that world building is the most important aspect of this title, there is definitely a rich world with lots of potential in Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. There are a lot of unique beings and philosophical beliefs in this title, hence the title’s in-game glossary that you can look at any time. One example is a being called “Tatari,” glob-like creatures that are immune to death and eat anything they find. There are also areas where you are given a choice of what order to view certain scenes, like in the original game. It’s a different approach to visual novels, though it’s worth noting that this game only has one ending, so it’s more of an illusion of choice than anything else. The translation was really well done and I liked the aspects of characterisation Atlus did with the localised text, especially with regards to Maroro’s occasional drunkenness and Atuy’s emphasis on referring to Haku as “love.” There were no issues apart from a few typos and a couple of awkward lines.
There is also a sizable amount of ecchi/slice of life content in this title (which should be of no surprise considering the history of the developer). Whereas in Dungeon Travelers 2 it was quite strong and scattered throughout the game, in Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception it is not as strong and is also front-loaded towards the game’s first 15 hours of playtime, which generally consists of introducing the game’s major characters. Personally, I feel this emphasis on slice-of-life early on may mislead people on what the title is about, as once you pass a certain scene halfway through the game it adopts a more serious tone and you don’t see much ecchi/slice-of-life content from there on out. I feel the game takes a bit too long to become really engaging and the front-loadedness of the SOL content is a big reason why. I don’t believe the SOL content should be removed however, as many of the scenes were funny and developed many of the main characters. However, it also feels like this game consists of two halves—one half being a lighthearted harem comedy and the other being an epic war drama. With the slice-of-life portion being literally half of my total playtime, I feel a fair amount of these scenes are filler, and the SOL portion of the game could have been condensed to make a better product.
- As an aside while we are discussing ecchi content, during localisation one CG received a content edit during localisation and it’s this one. The Western version (top) compared to the original Japanese version (bottom). Atlus said it was due to “various regional regulations.” I personally can understand this and don’t think it’s a big deal, but I know some of the game’s target audience does, so this side-by-side comparison is for those people so they can see the change for themselves. The text didn’t appear to be toned down when I read the scene.
Once the game crosses the halfway mark the story picks up and becomes considerably more interesting, with various events happening in quick succession before leading to the game’s end, which acts more as a prelude to Mask of Truth than an actual proper ending. There are some questions raised throughout this part of the game that do not get answered in Mask of Deception. However, I assume they will be answered in Mask of Truth, so I would keep this in mind when playing through this game. The fact that the game took this long to develop the story in an interesting way I feel hurts the game more than it helps it, especially to those that dislike slice of life/ecchi content.
However, I think it’s worth it—the feels ride gets considerably stronger the further into Mask of Deception you go, and I really wasn’t expecting how the story played out. Another noteworthy issue is that the 3D graphics take a hit on the Vita version (which I played for this review), which includes both the SRPG segments and a handful of story scenes throughout the title. Given that this title is mostly a VN, this may be something that people may not have an issue with if handhelds appeal more to said VN fans. However, these segments do look better on the PS4.
Speaking of the strategy RPG segments, they also get progressively more difficult the further in you go. These are grid based, where characters take turns to move on the board and perform various moves. There are a variety of characters with different abilities, from archers to healers. One of the title’s best features is the Action Chain system, which is the order in which a character’s moves will be carried out. You can induce critical hits if you are able to deal with either the normal or charge rings on the screen. These rings appear when you are carrying out certain attacks. Another example is the Overzeal system, where the Zeal gauge is built up through performing “Action Changes” that allow characters to act more than once during certain turns. However, these aren’t explained in the game and you will have to look on the website for this. You can also “Rewind” turns so that if you make a mistake you can rewind back to that turn, try another move, and see what happens. This is a really good design choice that greatly helps with accessibility and time.
Considering this is co-developed by strategy RPG experts Sting, these are some interesting systems at play, hence there is more depth than the game suggests. Unfortunately, given how infrequent the strategy segments are in comparison to the VN segments (there are only 16 stages plus a final boss), there isn’t much time for the player to get to grips with them before the game really opens up in the later stages, unless they replay old ones. There is Free Battle that allows you to do this with all the characters you have unlocked. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem possible to gather experience points in this mode, meaning you can’t grind for the more difficult stages later on as easily as you should be able to. You can only gain skill points, which can be used to boost stats such as HP, ATK and DEF. This is a baffling design choice that is hopefully fixed in Mask of Truth.
To conclude, I enjoyed my time with Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. I took 30 hours to clear this title, but slower readers may take longer (VNDB marks the game as “Long,” meaning 30-50 hours). But the world of Utawarerumono is worth exploring despite the shortcomings with the execution. It also raises interest in how this saga comes to an end, and we won’t have to wait too long to find out.
Game code supplied by publisher for review purposes
AquaPlusAtlusecchiPS4StingStrategy RPGutawarerumonoutawarerumono: mask of deceptionvisual novelVita