(Review) Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth

Here I thought I was ready for Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth (Mask of Truth from here on out) because I had already played a visual novel game before. I couldn’t remember what game it was so I went to look it up. Turns out it was the Telltale’s Batman game. I guess I had visual novel mixed up with a visual “choose your own adventure” style. In the end did it really matter? Let me break it down for you.

Mask of Truth didn’t start to we’ll for me. Imagine if you will, the beginning of a movie where you’re shown a ton of differing points of view from characters that seem to go together, but it’s hard to put it all together. This can be done we’ll, but it wasn’t the case here for me. There were many introductions to a slew of characters and talks of situations that I was not familiar with. Like I said, this can be done well and I can’t remember where I’ve seen it done right in the past, but this style is familiar to me. This long introduction left me confused, though, because each scene didn’t give me enough context to figure out what was going on. It was merely a mish-mash of quotes from the story at different times in the timeline. They later go to explain what happened to set the story up, but couldn’t they have just done that from the beginning?

Call me a prude, but I was also worried that there would be a ton of fan service; turns out it was minimal (ratio-wise). In the heavy moments and the light-hearted ones, Mask of Truth’s writing was enjoyable. Even if they did go places like the bathhouses to “ease the tension”… and we all know why we’re here, the writing unfolded an interesting story.

The art style, the visual presentation and music was all very nice. Even the writing (as I said above) was nice (once I got past that intro). However, when I started this journey, I was expecting more of a mix of story and tactical fighting than was given. They made sure to let the player know in the trailers that this has both elements in it. I thought that it would be a nice mix. Sometimes I want a lot more story with my fighting. This visual novel style could be a good way to do it. The first fight was an introduction and so I hold that it didn’t count. The next fight didn’t happen for a very long time. It was simply more story with narration. On that note, the voice acting was fantastic. I listened to the Japanese voices and read the English; sorry, I’m not sure what the English dubs sounded like and didn’t care to listen. (Sorry English voice actors, I’m sure you did a great job too.)

All the while, Oboro is trying to be serious here and I just couldn’t get over his mustache.

This long drought in combat did allow me to focus on the story as they shoveled it onto me. I don’t want to come off as negative, but when I was expecting a bit of fighting mixed in, there was a lot of story to go through. The story was pretty good though! I really enjoyed it. The whole time I spent reading and enjoying the story, I was also lamenting the lack of tactical gameplay to break up the monotony. Going mentally deeper here, the gameplay wasn’t very monotonous, but felt that way because I was always waiting for the change-up that wasn’t going to happen in a long while. It’s that anxious feeling when you watch a monster movie and the characters would be going through a house/building where the monster is. You know the monster is going to jump out and you’re expecting it. The music will tense up and corners will be turned, but… the monster never shows up. It kind of loses its grip on you. When the monster finally attacks and when the combat finally does come in Mask of Truth, it has a lot to deliver or make up for as it were.

Oboro’s mustache isn’t the only ugly thing in this game. This giant bug/deamon/dragon looks like something I’d pull off my cat in a nightmare.

The tactical fighting delivers a very basic experience here. Traditional square grids with which to move your characters around in. Differing heights offer advantages and disadvantages. There are different units stronger towards others who also have different weaknesses. There was a timing system in which if you pushed the right button at the correct time you would get critical hits. I found the timing very hard to get all of them, but I managed it a few times. If I seem like I’m just glossing over this section a little fast, it’s because I am. I was sad to have the section of gameplay that I was most looking forward to, feel so bland. There were a lot of interesting aspects to it, but I don’t feel it was the drop that the rhythm of the story was leading up to. The story was picking up and getting interesting and the fighting felt very subdued and drown out, almost like a chore.

After that initial fight, the Mask of Truth felt tainted to me. When it started, I was lamenting the story because I wanted more action. (It’s a visual novel, I know, but like I said, the trailer put a fairly decent focus on the combat so I felt that would be a bigger part of the game.) By the time I got to the real fight, I was enjoying the story and the fighting killed the momentum that the story in Mask of Truth was driving forward so far. After that point, I was in a state of anticipating the lamenting of when the next fight would be and how I probably wouldn’t enjoy that either. Those mixed emotions ruined the whole experience for me. If it had simply been a visual novel of me clicking through dialogue, I probably would have preferred watching it in anime form. However, I still would have enjoyed all of the character interactions and plot developments. I could have dealt with a lack of combat here (which is a very weird thing for me to say) and simply read the game the whole way through. The story is cool, and if you can make it through the combat and want a cool story, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is a pretty good game. If you were looking for a great tactical combat experience with a neat story on the side, I wouldn’t say to steer clear, but I would exercise caution. You may end up enjoying the story and the experience, but only as long as you walk into the game knowing that the combat in’t the bread and butter of this game. For me, it just didn’t deliver.

Further Reading on Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth: Facebook /  Official Page / Twitter

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