A few years ago I stumbled across an anime when I was in a sort of listlessness called Utawarerumono, which I believe translates to “The One Being Sung”. It was incredibly strange, but the world interested me so I looked around for more. A year ago I found more, twice over; one in the form of a sequel season of the anime named The False Faces, and the other in the form of a VN adaptation of that same series for PlayStation 4 and Vita called The Mask of Deception. I gobbled up the series as it aired and readied myself for the game. That day has finally come.
The entire series reminds me a bit of Monster Hunter, or the Atelier series a few years ago. Very few have heard of it, but those that have have very strong feelings toward it. That’s how I was (actually, to all those series). This is the first time the games have been seen over on Western shores, so if you want to be one of the coolest cats around, you’ll listen up.
Utawarerumono is a visual novel in the truest sense of the term. It took me around 45 hours to get through the game (with some post-game fun), and well over 80% of that would just be reading. I’m not an avid reader in any sense, but I have always enjoyed the VN genre when it’s well-written and well-acted and this ticks both boxes. Whilst the Japanese only voice acting may turn some people off, I think the quality of the acting will ease the process, and anyone at all comfortable with anime will find themselves enjoying themselves in no time.
The story itself is based around the protagonist Haku, who comes to wearing next to nothing with no shoes in the snow, remembering nothing, and soon to be chased by a giant centipede and red slime. After he is saved by Kuon, a humanoid girl with animal ears and a tail. This starts the journey of the both of them together, mostly with Haku trying to work out how the entire world works.
The characters all make this a truly excellent experience. I was never bored whilst playing (wait, do you play VN games?), and found myself laughing along with some of the situations, or tensing up when things got exciting. The art style looks wonderful, but in the strategy RPG sections they look a little murky, which may be due to the game being also on Vita. I actually would have preferred to play this on Vita, as the VN style is much more suited to a handheld rather than a home console.
To break up all the reading, and I suppose to justify the genre of actually being a “game”, Utawarerumono has various battles. I believe there are around 30 battles total, with about half being in the main story, and the other half being post-game. The SRPG elements aren’t incredibly hard, I did only play on Normal so it may be a different story on a higher difficulty. It reminded me a bit of Tears to Tiara 2 on the PS3, a title I played a few years back.
Combat is based around moving characters around a grid, getting into a good, smart position then attacking. Upon your attack, an “Action Chain” appears (if you’ve played Lost Odyssey, this will feel familiar. If you haven’t, do. It’s great.) and if timed correctly, you’ll perform a critical hit. Over time, as you level up, more skills will be tied to your performance at these Action Chains, with many skills being only able to be used after performing critical hits.
Zeal is also tied to this gauge, acting a bit like a limit break from the Final Fantasy series. This gives the unit in Overzeal an extra turn, cures them of all their debuffs and allows them to use their Final Strike skill, which is very cool.
There are other things to consider in battle too, such as elemental weaknesses and strengths, and turn order. Thankfully the game has a rewind mechanic, in case you make a mistake and want to undo it. This allows you to roll back up to the last 50 turns of battle and redo anything you didn’t do correctly the first time. I used it a few times in the hunt for better victory conditions, so it’s good to have around.
All up, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a deeply involved Visual Novel. The writing is good, the dialogue is fun and delivered well, and the SRPG elements are good. Sure, the textures look a bit funky in battle, and the story takes a while to get going, but once it does, this is a really great addition to the VN genre.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception was provided as a digital copy by the publisher for review purposes. The entire main story was completed before review, and around five hours of post-game fun.