Monday, February 18, 2019
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (PS Vita) Review
Utawarerumono and its sequel are two games I've had my eye on for awhile, and when they hit my buy price, I snatched them up. Mask of Deception is the first part of the story, and the game is a mixture of visual novel and strategy RPG. Two of my favorite genres in one!
I'll start with the SRPG portion of the game. There aren't that many stages, but I do like these fights. At first it seems like a standard grid-based SRPG. Characters can move and attack, while speed sort of dictates how fast and how often their turn comes up. Once you get a few levels, it starts feeling more unique. Your attacks are basically combos, with one of two different timing mini-games for criticals. While there are only a few different strings, they become much more powerful as you level up. Each added attack makes the combo do a lot more damage, or adds some other type of effect. Even healing skills get extra moves, with either more healing, or some kind of buff.
The first timing mini-game is hitting the button at the right time. A circle closes toward the button, and you must press it when very close, but not too far. While it is pretty simple, there are some that are very fast, making them hard to hit. There is not much of a penalty for failing, as you either get standard damage, or may cut your combo short and miss a bit of damage. The second one is holding the button down, and releasing it at the right time. This tends to be the mini-game used for magic skills, and feels a lot less strict than the first type.
It is a cool and unique system, but there is a downside. Each attack has a different range, and it can be a problem trying to remember which attacks have which range, and what point of the combo they are at. It will display the largest area and approximate damage when selecting one. It's a bit misleading since not all attacks in your combo hit that range. Plus, it doesn't account for enemy defensive moves. This is really only a problem in the dream battles, where the enemies have the best and most annoying defensive and passive skills, while you don't get very many of them.
The visual novel portion is the bulk of the game. You follow the story of Haku and the multitude of other characters he meets, befriends, and is generally pushed around by. While I normally like visual novels, it does entirely depend on the story told. For better or worse, Mask of Deception reminds me of Ranma 1/2. Haku generally gets abused (physically and verbally) throughout the whole game, and that kind of thing really bothers me. I can let a bit of it go, but as it goes on and on and on...I get tired of it. Most of the characters come off as selfish ***holes.
It's a shame, since the rest of the story is actually really good. The sections that move the plot forward, and aren't just character interaction pieces, are very interesting. Also, I'd really appreciate it if tapping the touch screen would advance the dialogue. I understand that because it's also a PS4 game, such a function may not be feasible, but it's silly that a standard of visual novels isn't in the Vita version.
The only other related thing that bothers me is the authentic terminology. I get that they want to keep the terms that might be harder to translate, but it makes it all more confusing. Many of the terms and combo attacks could and should be translated to something close. At the very least, they need to use the spacebar when typing them out. Look at the title of the game, you get an idea of what I'm talking about. For the combo attacks especially, I can't tell which is which until I pick them. If one gets another link when a character levels up, I again don't know which attack it is. I'm sure there are some silly purists who insist on it, but it makes me more annoyed than the game has to. So I suppose more than being authentic, it's senseless pandering.
Doing all of the story battles and scenes runs about 20 hours. A series of dream battles opens up after completion of the main story, which gives you another few hours. The trophies aren't bad, but a few would require hours of grinding. The game's battles start out easy, and get harder as the game progresses. The curve is decent, but there are some notably hard (and sometimes cheap) stages, like the final fight and most of the dream battles. If you are stuck, you can usually re-play earlier battles for more experience and BP. Experience scales with level difference, meaning you have to play later stages to actually get experience for actions. This would be less of an issue, but higher level enemies excel at dropping you with 1 or 2 attacks. That's a bit extreme in my opinion. At least at that point you are through the actual game story, so you can safely move on to the sequel.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception was worth playing. The story flip-flopped from being obnoxious to really interesting, but the battles kept me coming back to play more. While I don't agree with some of the story choices, the gameplay and ending have me looking forward to starting up the sequel.
Battles are fun, interesting combo system.
The story has some really annoying parts (think Ranma 1/2).
So, technically, the experiment worked, right?
(Physical copy of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception was purchased by the reviewer)