Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce Utawarerumono.
I do, however, know that Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is the sequel to Mask of Deception, and that both titles in the visual novel-strategy RPG hybrid series were released outside of Japan this year. Meshing those two genres together creates an interesting mix, and while Mask of Truth certainly has a number of flaws, there are also things to enjoy here.
Mask of Truth opens with one of the main characters, Kuon, struggling to retrieve her memories of her adventures during the previous game. Without spoiling anything, she soon pieces together the events of the past and the aftermath of her group’s efforts, and she heads out to locate her companions and ensure their safety. Considering that this title is a direct sequel to Mask of Deception and takes place directly after the events of its predecessor, those who played through Deception are bound to get more from the game’s early moments. As someone new to the series though, I found that the game’s initial hours do a relatively good job of introducing the series’ sizeable cast of characters in a digestible manner. This exception is when the game bombards the player with broken fragments of flashbacks that feel both overwhelming and meaningless to someone without the proper context. Thankfully, other opportunities present the player with enough knowledge to jump into the fray without feeling too lost.
With an engaging, albeit lengthy narrative split into visual novel sections, the characters are given plenty of time to interact and reflect on both past events and the inevitable hardships on the horizon. Dialogue is well written and allows each character to fully flesh out their intentions and beliefs, and it helps make the situations they are placed in more believable. Whereas characters like Haku and Nekone struggle to deal with the burdens placed on them, more light-hearted characters like Atuy manage to establish a comfortable balance between seriousness and fun. While some people might not enjoy the full-Japanese voice acting, I found it to be very expressive and quite successful at conveying the tone of each character’s dialogue sequences.
Perhaps the greatest frustration with the visual novel sections in Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is that there are simply too many of them, with not all of them being essential to the story or character growth. While the story – revolving around large-scale war between nations and intimate interactions on a smaller scale – is largely satisfying, there are a great deal of filler scenes that feel as if they provide nothing to the overall picture. This hurts the pacing of the game, especially when the game has the potential to clock in at 50 hours or more. When battle sequences are few and far between, I can’t help but feel that Mask of Truth‘s progression and pacing would have felt much more natural without so much redundancy and unnecessary padding. In my experience, it greatly hindered my motivation to continue playing, despite my desire to continue spending more time with the enjoyable cast.
Another issue I found is the illusion of choice that the game presents to the player. In some instances, the player is given the option to choose between one of multiple locations to go to, and it is only until after making these choices that they realize that all locations must be entered before the story progresses in the same manner it would had the player made no choice at all. It left me feeling like my choice meant nothing, and I questioned the point of even having me make those choices at all.
Mask of Truth’s combat sequences, while simplistic when compared to the SRPG greats like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, serve as a refreshing palate cleanser to the game’s long bouts of dialogue. In typical fashion, characters take turns on a square grid battlefield, moving and attacking before another character gets to take action. Characters are limited to a few different actions, motivating the player to know the ins and outs of each character to maximize their team’s performance. Adding a welcome layer of interaction in battles is the ability to inflict critical hits with a perfectly timed button press; doing so can also inflict different status ailments or decrease an enemy character’s stats, depending on the attacking character’s abilities. Elemental properties and cooperative attacks are also present, adding a tiny bit of complexity to an otherwise simplistic system. I really appreciate how, with the incorporation of both Normal and Hard difficulties, it feels as if battles can be accessible to those both new and experienced in the strategy genre.
That being said, pacing can also be an issue in battles, with some sequences lasing upwards of an hour. When combat is meant to be a refreshing break from the primary focus of the game – its visual novel elements – an hour of combat can feel like an absolute drag. This disappointment is compounded further by the fact that characters’ stat progression feels less meaningful due to the infrequency of battles. By the time another battle with the same party member rolls around, it eliminates the sense of reward that comes from seeing your characters improve on an ongoing basis. Moments like this make combat feel more like an after-thought thrown in than an intentional secondary element of the game.
Something that Mask of Truth does right with its battles, however, is the options it presents the player after losing a battle. The player is given the option to restart the battle halfway through, or even start the fight from the beginning while keeping all experience points and other goodies that were earned through the last failed attempt. These are wonderful additions that reward the player for sticking it out even when the battle seemed too tough. Granted, the Game Over screen is an infrequent occurrence here, but these options are still welcome inclusions.
Given that the game was originally designed for the PlayStation Vita, visuals are a bit of a mixed result. During the visual novel sections character art is detailed, expressive, and downright gorgeous. Moving into battle sections, however, is when visuals begin to look dated, with chibi-style character models that lack the detail and finesse of their 2D counterparts. Environments in battles also come across as dated, lacking the detail that many games are known for in this generation of consoles. Overall, visuals are hardly an insult, but aside from the lovely hand-drawn characters, they aren’t anything to marvel over either.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is an unfortunately lengthy adventure with some fantastic characters, an intriguing narrative, and a simple but enjoyable strategic battle system. However, some abysmal design choices – namely, a lack of balance between visual novel and battle sections and a horrendous amount of bland filler content – severely tarnish the overall experience. While there is no denying that combat sequences alleviate some of the tedium, these moments are far too scarce to keep players invested and wanting more. Those willing to tread through an overabundance of dialogue and many instances of unnecessary padding are sure to find things to enjoy throughout this lengthy adventure – provided that their patience lasts long enough.