Back in May, ATLUS released Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, a gripping visual novel peppered with a dash of strategy RPG elements. It was a solid effort which, while big on narrative and light on interactivity, ended up telling a really compelling story that managed to stick with you long after you put the controller down. Now, just a few short months since the game’s release, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is here to resolve the many loose strings that followed the events of its predecessor.
Picking Up The Pieces
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth begins shortly after the events of the previous game. Following the death of the Yamato Empire’s Mikado at the hands of the mad general Vurai, Kuon awakens back in her home kingdom of Tuskur. Like Haku at the start of Mask of Deception, she’s dealing with a serious case of amnesia. However, before long she is reminded of the dire situation in Yamato, and is determined to set off across the sea with her own army to take on the corrupt imperial forces and rescue Haku and his allies, who’re now fugitives from the empire and taking shelter in Yamato’s neighboring province of Ennakamuy.
Further complicating things for this hardscrabble resistance is Haku. After Oshtor, the Guard of the Right, was killed by Vurai in Mask of Deception, Haku vowed to continue his work. Having faked his death, the hero now dons Oshtor’s “Akuruka” mask, and is forced to lie to everyone he knows to achieve his goals. It’s a gripping tale that often hits you right in the feels as you witness your allies struggle with the loss of Haku, who’s still very much alive and directing them. This more somber tone is consistent throughout Mask of Truth’s story. Which isn’t to say the rampant fan service that permeated Mask of Deception’s experience has been totally left to the wayside, because there’s still plenty of fleshy shenanigans to be had. But they’re definitely dialed down a bit in favor of a more mature narrative this time around.
There’s a lot to digest here. And it definitely helps to have played Mask of Truth first if you want to appreciate the finer points of the game’s story. Still, the game makes liberal use of flashbacks to remind players of the major plot points. So even if you’re a bit rusty on specific names and places – which there are tons to keep track of – you shouldn’t be totally lost after the game’s few hours.
A War of Words
Like its predecessor, visual novel portion of Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is the main course here. You’ll spend most of the game’s 50-hour experience poring over walls of text. So if that’s not your thing, you’re probably not going to find a great deal of enjoyment here. Battles are few and far between. And outside of combat, interactivity is pretty much restricted to the rare occasions where you’ll choose which order to visit certain characters at camp to advance the plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. However, if you’re picking Mask of Truth up expecting a deep and engaging SRPG like Disgaea or Fire Emblem, you’re going to find yourself pretty disappointed.
However, if you’re just looking for a quality visual novel to immerse yourself in then you’ve come to the right place. Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth offers an engrossing story brought to life with a truly memorable cast of characters. Just as it was in the previous game, the writing is top-notch and often quite touching. And while the narrative is full of hard-hitting moments, there’s still plenty of levity to balance things out, with just enough fan service to make you want to wait until your family has gone to sleep before loading up your save file to avoid having to offer any awkward explanations to questions like “What exactly are ‘meat puppets?'” and “Who are those jiggly naked twins who just sashayed onto the battlefield, did a fleshy dance, and killed a mountain of imperials with a death spell?”
Sun Tzu Not Required
When you’re not reading through walls of well-written exposition, you’ll be waging war. Battles don’t happen especially often, and you’ll often have to wait over an hour before taking up arms against your enemies. That said, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to find that the combat system isn’t the most fleshed out when you consider just how little it’s used. Still, what’s here gets the job done and is fun while it lasts.
Battles unfold in your typical grid-based fashion as you deploy troops and work to get the upper-hand against your enemies. Attacking enemies increases your stock of Zeal, which can then be used to unleash even more powerful attacks. The game also makes things a bit more hands-on by allowing you to input timed button presses to inflict critical damage or dodge certain attacks. It’s a simple gimmick, but it works well for what it is and does a good job of helping keep you engaged in the on-screen action. Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth also introduces the addition of powerful group attacks. Co-op Chain and Co-op Final attacks are incredibly lethal moves where two allies team up to dish out some serious damage.
My only real issue with the combat system is that it’s simply too easy. Playing on the standard difficulty, death is an absolute rarity because your heroes have tons of health and take very little damage from enemy attacks. Your opponents also rarely gang up on units, making it all too easy to surround and overwhelm them time and time again. That being said, each encounter is over in a matter of minutes, which can leave you wanting more. Thankfully, the game does sport a number of more engaging fights that unfold over multiple fronts, but these are few and far between.
Judging A Book By Its Cover
In terms of presentation, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is a bit of a mixed bag. As a visual novel, the character portraits are as vibrant and shapely as you’d expect from light novel heavyweight Aquaplus. There are tons of characters who round out the story, and their eye-catching designs pack a ton of personality. The backgrounds are also nicely detailed, though it’s worth nothing that many of these assets are transplanted from Mask of Deception, which provides an unshakable feeling of déjà vu. When it comes to battles, things don’t fare quite as well. While the game has obviously been designed with both the PS4 and Vita in mind, the low-poly visuals would have looked right at home in the SEGA Dreamcast era. Still, at least the combat animations look pretty nice, and things run without a hitch.
When it comes to the aural side of things, that’s an entirely different story. Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is a lovely sounding game, full of grand orchestral tracks that add welcome layers of depth to the borderline soap opera of a story. And while the game only features a Japanese dub with English subtitles, the actors deliver their parts especially well. Actor Keiji Fujiwara’s portrayal of Haku especially deserves praise as the formerly boorish and lazy hero does his best to come across as the stoic and dignified Oshtor.
A Fitting End To The Saga
If you didn’t enjoy the previous game or aren’t a fan of visual novels, there isn’t much reason to add Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth to your collection. However, if you were a fan of Mask of Deception or visual novels in general, this is definitely a game to add to your short list. The game tells an engrossing story full of memorable characters that’s well worth seeing through to its conclusion. And with an average 50-hour story an the ability to beef up your characters in free battles, there’s an awful lot to enjoy in this package. It may not be the best VN or SRPG out there, but Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is still a great adventure fans of both genres should enjoy.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) Vita ; Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: AquaPlus ; Players: single-player. ; Released: September 5, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on PS4 review copy of Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.