Utawarerumono, a Japanese adult visual novel mixed with a tactical role-playing game, was originally released for Windows back in 2002. The game was later ported to the PlayStation 2 and PSP, but only in Japan. That said, during the mid-2000s, Utawarerumono received a manga and TV series which were eventually localized.
In 2015 it received a long-awaited sequel “Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception”, which was released for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Vita. This one was launched in the west on March 23, 2017, though without the PS3 version. That brings us to the present day and the third and final chapter: “Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth”. Launched in September of last year in Japan for the same three platforms, it has now hit western shores, again only for the PlayStation 4 and Vita.
Directly following the events of Mask of Deception, the Yamato Empire has taken over and looks to dominate other countries in any means necessary. Kuon, the heroine of the game and a familiar character from the previous entry, wakes up in her own home. Soon enough, the stage is set for a battle against the mighty Yamato Empire to bring back peace.
Rewards for Playing
Before you begin playing, the game will ask if you have a saved data from the previous game, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. The game will carry over that data and will reward you with items, though character levels won’t transfer. It’s a nice gesture that a lot of games don’t utilize for their sequels, with a few exceptions like Suikoden and the Mass Effect trilogy.
Let’s Talk Before We Fight
While it isn’t rare for role-playing games (RPGs) to have lengthy introductions before getting to the gameplay, Mask of Truth’s first battle doesn’t start till about an hour in and it’s not even a very long battle either. Afterwards, you’ll be waiting for what feels like a few hours before your next battle. You won’t get a chance to make any adjustments to your characters till about 5 hours into the game.
This pacing is due to the game having two major components, “Adventure Mode” and “Battle Mode”. Adventure Mode involves visual novel style scenes where illustrated characters interact with each other. The scenes are flat but have detailed illustrations with minimal movements, and if you’ve played a visual novel before you’ll know what to expect. This also means you won’t be exploring any world maps, as story events directly transition into battle.
Show Me Your Moves
Battle Mode is the game’s second mode where you select your team before the start of combat and place them on chess-style board. You won’t get to choose units to place until a few hours into the game as you are fixed on specific characters during major plot events. The battle fields are visually appealing but the camera is fixed, unlike the various angles on offer in the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea. The graphics in the game are neither impressive or horrible, instead appearing very flat and clearly built for the PlayStation 3 and the Vita rather than the PlayStation 4.
During a character’s turn in battle, you are given chances to land critical hits, adding more damage and even other effects like poison. To land these, a ring will shrink down towards a dot that’s located on the enemy. Tap the action button, usually X, when the ring hits the shape of the dot and you’ll create a chain. Another way to land critical attacks are attacks that use “charge”. When using a charge attack, you instead hold the action button down till the gauge fills, letting go at a precise moment to land a critical strike. Typically, healing-type and magic-type spells use these charge attacks.
Having these two attack styles helps keep the player more engaged with battle, focusing on landing perfect attacks rather than just constantly hitting the same button over and over again. If you are having issues performing action chains, the game offers Auto-Chain which does the actions for the player but will not make critical hits. The more chains you create will build up your “Zeal” gauge. Once it fills, you can have extra turns, recover from status ailments, use co-op chains and perform special attacks called “Final Strike”.
Every character has its own unique set of moves, weapons and amount of “squares” to move on a board, giving you more tactical options with careful planning. You can also move up slopes and hills, depending on whether or not your character can climb those heights. Some move sets are only available before you move your character so plan your attack carefully. One of the most interesting parts of the game is a “rewind” mode – if you fail to land critical hits, before you end your character’s turn, you can rewind a turn to try again.
Rewards for Winning
At the end of battle, characters receive rewards such as experience points, bonus points and equipment for your characters. The game’s equipment act more like skills, such as raising defense and avoiding attacks in battle. Battle points (BP) are given to each character when leveling up. With these points, you can raise character stats individually. However, the cost for each stat will increase the more they are increased until maxed out. For example, if it costs 5 BP to increase your HP, the cost would increase to 15 BP after you increase the HP a couple of times.
Practice Makes Perfect
The game includes two battle systems, “Red vs White” and “Munechika’s Trials”, which are both made available as you progress through the story. Red vs White puts your team against each other to gain experience, with the winner gaining extra points. Think of it as a friendly sparring match to enhance your fighters. Munechika’s Trials are stages with unique criteria to win, such as defeating all your opponents within a time limit. If you win your trial, you earn special items.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is meant to be fan-service and a game that is heavier on story-telling than battles. If you are new to the series, it’s highly recommended you either read up on the story before jumping into Mask of Truth or play the previous entry. That said, the battles are fun once you get into the swing of gaining action chains and landing critical hits, while the option to rewind battles is a great touch that is rarely seen. Naturally the story is deep but some of the dialogue scenes feel a bit padded, especially in the beginning of the game as you’re itching to get a few battles in. All in all, it’s a good strategic RPG to get into but be prepared for a lot of reading.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth was reviewed by a PlayStation 4 code, provided by Atlus USA.