Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a solid entry in the realm of visual novels. You’re either a fan of the text heavy genre or not, and if you fall into the former group, Mask of Deception represents a rich story telling experience that’s surprisingly digestible for even casual players.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Genre: Visual Novel, Tactical Role-Playing Game
Release Date: May 23rd, 2017
Mask of Deception isn’t an entirely new title, but rather a sequel to the first Utawarerumono game released way back in 2002. Publisher Atlus has high hopes for the Utawarerumono series with the next instalment, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth slated for a September release later this year. It may seem like a bold move, but the Utawarerumono series has a strong following with a manga and anime adaptation released in the past. Strangely, this is the first I’ve heard of the series, which could be largely attributed to its difficult to pronounce title.
With all that being said, Mask of Deception is easy enough to get into despite the lack of any exposure to the original Utawarerumono game or any media. The story is original enough to grasp, even for newcomers to visual novel type games. Although Mask of Deception is a visual novel at heart, there is more to game but we’ll get to that a bit later on.
Playing as protagonist Haku, you awake in a foreign realm with no recollection of how you got there or who you are. Things quickly take a strange twist when you’re introduced to Kuon, a cat-like young lady complete with cat ears and a tail, who bestows you with the name Haku. As it turns out, you’re the last remaining human, with other characters in the Utawarerumono universe a variation of humanoid races of diverse backgrounds and culture.
Much like many visual novels, the line-up of characters you’ll encounter along the way are filled with personality and colour, and here is where this genre stumbles or elevates depending on how much you’re able to connect with the characters that inhabit the world. Visual novels such as the Danganronpa series have been able to stick their landing, largely due to their rich and varied cast, whereas Mask of Deception is a bit hit and miss.
Some characters are deliriously charming, while others are just down right annoying that seems to drag everything down. On a whole, they do grow on you as you progress through the game and the bonds you develop start to feel much more lasting that some of the first impressions you may have of them.
Mask of Deception is a meaty 50-60 hours’ worth of gameplay, with much of it being dialogue.
Mask of Deception is a meaty 50-60 hours’ worth of gameplay, with much of it being dialogue. If you’re expecting all your questions to be answered by the end of the game, you may be left feeling somewhat unsatisfied as not everything is wrapped up in a neat little package when the credit rolls. Being a sort of pit stop in the series, I’d assume more questions will be addressed come September with the release of Mask of Truth. If you’re looking for a conclusion, you may be in for a bit of a wait.
As mentioned earlier, Mask of Deception may be a visual novel, but it’s more of a hybrid affair as combat revolves around strategy gameplay presented on a grid-based board. You’ll need to move your units across a plain and engage in combat, which helps to break up all the reading. Combat isn’t all that plentiful initially, but it does come into its own later in the game.
Although not particularly difficult, the unique combat elements add to the depth of play, with timers adding a sense of urgency to the decisions you make. Timers are different depending on the attack you use, which make each character feel distinctively different, even when they may not appear so. You also have the option to go back and replay sections in free battle mode if you want to revisit particular sections, although the rewind feature allows you to go back to sections to fix mistakes, making the need to go back less likely.
There’s also an air of J-RPG about Mask of Deception with characters levelling up from combat, allowing you to learn new skills and equip stronger and more powerful weapons. Don’t expect a fully-fledged experience like Fire Emblem, but it is a nice accompaniment to what is already a really good read.
Thankfully the Japanese voice talent has been retained, as well as the soundtrack which blends perfectly with the Japanese undertones presented in the character design and overall story.
Presentation is fairly nice on the PlayStation 4, although it isn’t going to blow your mind in the graphic stakes. Keeping in mind the game was originally released in Japanese back in 2015, I’m more than happy with what’s on offer here. The character artwork and illustrations really pop, especially when backed with beautiful backgrounds from start to finish. Being a graphic novel, the translation from Japanese to English is exceptional and I never felt lost or unsure what message what being conveyed during conversations between characters. Having played the game on PlayStation 4, I do feel Mask of Deception is better suited for the PS Vita due to its portable capabilities. Being locked to my couch for extended durations started to take its toll on me, whereas the flexibility of the PS Vita is highly recommended.
Thankfully the Japanese voice talent has been retained, as well as the soundtrack which blends perfectly with the Japanese undertones presented in the character design and overall story. The melodies are pleasant, but no tune really stands out in my mind. This isn’t necessarily bad as I can’t recall a piece of audio I disliked either.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a nice inclusion to the visual novel scene, blending strategy and role-playing elements into a genre that can be construed as a tad bit restrictive. There’s plenty going for Mask of Deception and definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of a good read. It may not be suited to everyone’s taste, but that’s ok as it checks all the boxes as a rich, story-driven experience that may even surprise a few people.