Thanks to ATLUS for the review code
Title: Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth
System: Playstation 4
Release Date: 09/05/2017
Note: This review has minor spoilers for the first part of this game while mentioning a revelation that took place at the very end of Mask of Deception. This is because mentioning these plot points was required for me to properly explain my thoughts on this title.
In this visual novel/SRPG Hybrid, taking place after the events of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, (A game that I haven’t reviewed, similar to the oddity that took place with prior Part IIs of a game franchise, although in this particular case it’s actually the third installment we’re dealing with here) you take control of Haku and Kuon as the two are separated after the events of the prior game, with Haku now inheriting the mask of Oshutoru, taking control of his role as he adapts to a new lifestyle, while Kuon tries to find her friends and stop the war once and for all!
For the visual novel portions of the game, everything’s standard, including an Anime art style, Japanese voice acting, (in full for anything related to the main story, it seems) organized menus, and amazing music. In a way, it’s almost exactly as well presented as Hakuoki, even down to some of the BGM tracks being more memorable than the tracks I praised in that game. If this game was just a visual novel, I wouldn’t really feel the need to repeat myself, but Mask of Truth offers another aspect to experience, and that’s the strategy RPG elements.
Unlike the rest of the game, these play out with 3D models that can range from decent to downright confusing. Monster enemies can look incredibly generic, while the numerous grunts and bosses you’ll be fighting can range wildly in quality. A random, chibi-looking soldier looks nothing like the main general you might be aiming to take out, and your teams don’t fare much better when it comes to the quality of their models. The environments in these scenes are OK at best, and the map is lit up well enough so that you can see where you can and can’t move, but there could have been a lot more polish when it comes to these models.
Being a visual novel, you can expect a lot of story, and while I was prepared for these types of visual novels thanks to enjoying some like Hakuoki and Psycho-Pass, Mask of Truth certainly did a worse job at recapping what happened in the prior entries than the Trails games did. While it does explained what happened in the prior game, unlike Cold Steel II, it’s not done through a gallery or recap section in the menu, and instead of being something that took place at the very beginning of the story, it instead takes place after a ridiculously boring first hour of the game, where Kuon adjusts to life after the events of the previous game. Lots and lots of talking ensues, which is to be expected, until you find out that a majority of it feels pointless and has little to do with the situation at all. Every now and then you’ll hear about the war and whatnot, but during the first hour they just constantly talk about Kuon’s life at home again as she deals with a bout of amnesia, before she finally remembers what happened and tries to get back to her friends. When she does make an escape effort, you’re finally treated to the game’s SRPG elements, only 45 minutes into the adventure. (And that was with minimal skipping of some filler stuff I didn’t see as important, although you can use the L1 button to backtrack if you think you missed something)
Battles in Mask of Truth take place on an isometric grid, using the 3D Models I mentioned earlier. Similar to games like Fire Emblem and Disgaea, you take control of several units on the field and send them out strategically to battle the enemy forces. Unlike those two games, however combat is a bit more interactive, since you need to carefully time a button press in order to determine whether or not you deal a critical hit to an enemy, or deflect an incoming attack. While this does mean you can’t unfortunately skip battle animations, (although you can speed up enemy movement animations) it does offer a pretty engaging system to keep you on your toes, requiring you to pay attention due to the small windows you have to successfully perform a critical action, and if you’re lucky enough to pull of plenty of them, your Zeal meter will max out, allowing you to use a special skill for a few turns until it runs out. Sometimes there will even be some extra things thrown into the mix, such as having to hold down the button to perform a critical hit with Magic, or gaining access to special attacks based on whatever animal a character is riding. Like with most strategy games, different classes have different skills, with some like the archer being very helpful if you decide to not move at all during a turn, as it’ll allow you to use a powerful charge shot. taking advantage of these basic RPG mechanics is key to winning the battles that will interrupt your story every now and then, and in the end there’s actually a very enjoyable battle system on display.
Sadly, you won’t be seeing much of it, since the majority of the game is the visual novel portion, and only after this initial battle do you switch over to the true protagonist’s perspective and finally get the helpful recap that would have been better suited for the beginning of the game. That being said, whenever another battle does pop up, they can last for a very long time, with one in particular taking me a whopping twenty minutes before I ended up losing badly, so it’s not like these battles are short when they do appear, and sometimes you may be lucky to have two in a row. Still, the core of the game is the visual novel, and when it comes to choices, they don’t even feel as important as the choices in the other Visual Novels I’ve reviewed, as the story appears to proceed normally regardless of my choice, and sometimes it lets you go back and do the other choices anyway. (such as one moment where Haku has to visit multiple rooms in order to check on Oshutoru’s relatives)
This wouldn’t be so bad if the visual novel itself was engaging like the other examples I listed, and while it does have an amazing soundtrack, the overall pacing of the game really, really drags, as over 10 minutes or more can go by before you finally make it to the next interesting story moment, or even longer to get to one of those cool SRPG battles! And that’s only if you refrain from skipping through the dialogue, which after a while I decided to go ahead and do once I got sick of nothing of importance going on. As I mentioned earlier, you can look back on the previous events via the L1 button, so it’s not too bad if you happen to accidentally skip a very important scene through sheer boredom. There is a glossary like in Hakuoki, but unlike that game the terms are added automatically as you progress, so there’s little point in keeping an eye out for new terms to add.
Clearly, a lot of the game is focused on character development through minor filler events, to show how the main characters grow over the course of their adventure, but I can’t help but feel like the first three hours of a game should do their absolute best to grab the player’s attention and get them to keep playing to find out what happens next! That’s exactly what Danganronpa did to me, and to play for that period of time only to have two mildly interesting RPG battles and a few cool story moments, it’s fair to say that Mask of Truth is really shallow when it comes to engagement. Compared to the other “Final Chapters” I’ve played without any knowledge of their previous titles, Mask of Truth is the worst option to pick as a starting point for the series. Even with the handy recap of Mask of Deception, the overall story is just dull and uninteresting, and it seems like it’ll take a really, really long time for it to get gripping.
On the other hand, the strategy RPG moments are a lot of fun, but take place way too infrequently to be a mainstay. While I do think it would be safe to say that you should probably buy Mask of Deception first before picking up this game, (in order to experience that story from start to finish, even though it’s still the second part of a trilogy) prior knowledge from the previous game doesn’t seem like it’ll help the issues with the poor pacing of the story and how much of a uninteractive drag it is. The developers weren’t lying when they said it was a blend of SRPG and Visual Novel elements, but I just wish that the developers improved the pacing and made the story a lot more gripping from the start, considering how the most interesting part of the story I’ve seen so far was the stuff recapped from the second game. I’m sure like all stories it’ll get better as the plot progresses, but Mask of Truth just failed to engage me, with only the RPG elements being anything worth checking out, as I really enjoyed the way they handled the battle system. For fans of the previous game, you’ll get your continuation, but don’t expect much more than that.
I give Utawaremono: Mask of Truth a 5 out of 10, and can only recommend it to those willing to get over the bad pacing issues of the main story to get to the good, SRPG elements of the game, or to those who completed the previous game and is willing to see what happens next, despite the aforementioned pacing issues.