12th Sep2017

‘Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

utawarerumono-mask-of-truth-ps4

Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth (just Mask of Truth from here on in) is the rapid fire sequel to Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, which was released earlier this year. The original Utawarerumono was first released in 2004, but only came out in Japan, although a 26-part anime series and some other assets did make it west. For whatever reason, developer Aquaplus has decided that 2017 will be the year when the Utawarerumono series is thrust properly on Western gamers, with both a PS Vita and a PS4 version of both games being launched.

As the second game in this particular miniseries, Mask of Truth is a direct continuation of Mask of Deception, and as such, playing this second instalment before the first is considerably less rewarding than it could be. That said, it is not impossible, and because both games are elaborate, long-winded graphic novels anyway, there are numerous recaps and explanations of what came before. On that note, whilst I knew that I would be in for some lengthy dialogue sequences in Mask of Truth, but nothing could prepare me for just how much that turned out to be.

Beginning with a somewhat contrived public bath sequence (complete with in-jokes about the ridiculous size of every female characters breasts,) Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth dishes out reams and reams of story. For the first hour, we learn about the main player character, Kuon, the Princess of Yamato, one of the two soon-to-be-at-war states that feature in the story. Kuon is conveniently suffering from mild amnesia, meaning that as her memories are rebuilt, so too is out awareness of what happened in Mask of Deception. It’s not clever or subtle, but it does the job.

Lengthy exposition is the name of the game at every stage of Mask of Truth, and as the game weighs in at about forty to fifty hours, I have to admit to hammering my way through much of the text at the fastest pace possible. As with so many graphic adventures, what could be said in half the time with smarter dialogue and a bit more direction is dragged out over several scenes, each of which is filled with tons and tons of context and additional side commentary.

Much of this is used to create what I would say is Mask of Truth’s greatest feature; that of excellent character development. With absolutely no need to rush through dialogue in the way that other games might, the writers are free to take their time, and the result is a proper graphic novel that prioritises the wants and needs of a core audience that is clearly extremely passionate. As an example, it is about an hour (maybe ten minutes either way) into the game before you’ll even play the tutorial battle, and there are often occasions where a similar amount of time passes between fights once the game begins proper.

On that note, I’ve just realised that I haven’t even mentioned fighting at all until now, but in all fairness, that is because it is very much the second fiddle to lengthy dialogue in Mask of Truth. The battles are loosely labelled as tactical strategy by most, in reference to the fact that they are turn based, and take place on an isometric battlefield. The player controls one or more characters chosen from their party, and is required to fulfil an objective such as defeating the enemy team, or reaching a certain point on the map. It is possible to equip different weapons and so on, and characters do level up, so there is a loose sense of progression.

To say that fighting in Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is average would be a bit unfair, as it sounds worse than it is, but it is, in fact, just a moderately interesting interpretation of turn based combat. It is far inferior to the likes of Fire EmblemFinal Fantasy TacticsVandalhearts and other, tactical games that focus at least as much on combat as they do dialogue (and sometimes more) which I suppose is to be expected. Mask of Truth does feature some interesting attack variations based on what it calls Chain Link attacks, and also through variation of the move set available to each character.

Graphics during the battle scenes are distinctly average, and feel to me as if they have (sensibly) been optimised for play on the PS Vita. What I do like about them is that it is usually easy to tell which of the characters is which, because the distinct art style from the dialogue sequences is carried into the tactical battles really well. The anime outside battles is largely static, with only occasional changes in stance or facial expression, but it is nonetheless bright, distinctive and incredibly characterful, making sequences mostly pleasing to the eye, if perhaps lacking the set dressing of game-engine cut scenes or full motion video.

Considering that Mask of Truth is a game that lives or dies based on how much you will enjoy the story, I realise I should say something about it. From my perspective, it’s an interesting tale of war, romance and intrigue, which features more than its fair share of twists and turns, albeit without the real gut punch I might have hoped for. As I said earlier, I also skipped a lot of what seemed like more frivolous dialogue, so there is every chance I may have missed something, but no clue from the music or onscreen animation gave me reason to think so.

In the end, it’s hard to recommend Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth to anyone that hasn’t played Mask of Deception, and yet, if you’ve played the latter and enjoyed it, you’ll almost certainly want to work your way through this one too. The two games are very much two chapters of the same book, with very little to differentiate them except the page you open the book at. Personally, I found Mask of Truth to be overlong, and probably more suitable to the PS Vita than the PS4, because for me, the gameplay is just to slow, and the story overlong and filled with dull rambling.

**½  2.5/5

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