+Ends the current saga with a solid and great conclusion.
+Character development has been highly improved upon since the previous titles
+SRPG elements such as combat have been vastly improved upon and appear more frequently
+One of the most solid soundtracks and voice tracking to date
-Quite a few scenes that serve almost no purpose to the game, but instead play out as filler content from the main story.
-Choices seem not to matter when asked to make them.
-Back story explanation to new players could have used a bit more detail and or a video recap that sums up the entirety of the past two games.
Utawarerumono is a unique series. It’s one that has grown rather popular overseas due to the manga as well as anime adaptions the series has received in recent years, it was only time before this extremely niche title would get a release in the United States, and draw in the Japanese SRPG.
If you are an American player, you already are aware that earlier this year, Atlus published the second of the three parts for the franchise here in the states. As I hadn’t had a chance to play it yet (I watched Let’s Plays before requesting this review), I was intrigued to see that the games aren’t just solid visual novels, but instead the franchise is also a solid set of strategy RPG hybrids.
The largest part to remember through the course of this review is that Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is the conclusion to a three part story. It’s only one of two parts that we have received here in the states, but if you are wanting to get caught up, there’s a really good anime adaption out there (thanks Chris for shooting that suggestion my way). In Mask of Truth, the game aims to conclude the events that surround both Haku and his companions as war quickly approaches.
With friendships on the line, Haku’s new adventure will see him testing the waters with his previously established friendships, and he could very well see them end as the fires of war brighten.
Please Note: Continuing Past this Point is Spoiler Territory. If You Continue, it is at Your Own Discretion. You have been Warned.
If you haven’t played Mask of Deception first, you’re going to be a bit lost here, as this game is a direct continuation of the previous game. It picks up right where the game left off. Even with the game giving a much needed recap of past events, it’s not enough to help you really understand what is going on within the game. If you view the anime adaption (linked above on Amazon), there’s a chance that you will get some understanding of the events going on, but just remember, it’s not perfect. It’s an anime adaption that does leave out some of the games events.
With that aside Mask of Truth doesn’t hold back. It starts out instantly by introducing us to a new status quo where protagonist Haku, as stated above, finds his friendships, and relationships on the line. Mikado, The Emperor of Yamato, is dead, and his daughter the Crown Princess Anju of Yamato, finds herself in peril. With the death of Ohstor, the Imperial Guard of the Right dead, Haku must pick up his duty after Oshtor fell at the hand of a kaiju (giant monster) alongside the revered general Vurai.
With both of them dead, Haku is finding himself in a predicament where he must take up the fallen man’s (Oshtor’s) metal with the Akuruka mask. As he takes it upon himself to wield it, he also finds himself taking on Oshtor’s identity, but also his duties at hand, which include protecting the home province of Ennakamuy and even tasked with restoring Anju to her rightful place as the ruler of Yamato.
Long story short, Haku is the centerpiece to all the events going on. He has to help save Ennakamuy while also protecting Anju itself. However, Haku’s work isn’t as easily cut out for him as expected. In his way stand the Empire’s elite Pillar Generals, men who are viewed as conspirators in the assassination of the Mikado to begin with. Let alone does he have the Pillar Generals to deal with, he also has foreign threats to deal with.
With Tuskur, the powerful neighbor of Anju’s to deal with, fans of the series may recognize Tuskur as the central story for the original Utawarerumono story, which is where Haku’s closest friend and companion, Kuon, is from. Because of this, Haku finds tension rising as war begins to seem inevitable between Anju and Tuskur.
As the game does provide enjoyability at an entire new extreme for those that love graphic novels, Mask of Truth can be a bit confusing, as one of that fans may be familiar with, is the fact that the game isn’t about truths at all. The main narrative behind the entirety of the game is Haku’s mass “deception”. His deception is lead behind his ability to achieve his own goals, but at the cost of providing the truth to his own friends, and loyalists. He must convince those around him that he is actually the stern, honorable, dutiful and noble general Oshtor. To do this, he must convince those around him that he, himself, has died on the battlefield, that he fell in combat.
With story aside, Mask of Truth is a daring and innovative game. It is one that brings key performances to the forefront as the game unfolds before us. Luckily, Keiji Fujiwara, saves the day with his key performance as the games protagonist Haku, who tries to let his plan unfold, and help Anju remain safe. As he does do so perfectly, Fujiwara does not fail to convince actors of his characters role. Instead he delivers it quite well and even provides a few moments of dramatic effect when Haku slips away from his Oshtor personality and returns to his normal self in a few minor slip-up’s.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good of the game begins to end as players may find the status quo of story versus gameplay at a bit of an offset. Mask of Truth can fail to capture those who want a fair balance of SRPG and graphic novel moments. Due to how the game plays, don’t expect yourself to see a heavy focus upon tactical gameplay as suggested, the game is – at its core – a visual novel. It doesn’t have room for players to rely upon mundane mechanics such as a progression system, character customization, or time management in order to allow fans to level up as needed between battles.
If those mechanics were in place, the games core story would find itself undermined by fans taking away from the drama at hand. The time spent in story is well deserved. It allows for fans to find themselves emotionally invested within the game itself, and will find themselves growing attached to characters they get to know. As the game does draw in an emotional attachment to its cast, just remember, the game does sit in an era where men, and women alike, lived and died by the sword.
Even though Mask of Truth does feel as if it belongs to be a conclusion to a series, it doesn’t feel that it does so quickly, or even at a moderate pace. Instead Mask of Truth sat me down at roughly 50 hours of reading and listening throughout the games entirety. If you can read quite quickly and can skip past the games voice acted parts, you may find yourself down in the mid 20-30 hour range, which still isn’t bad for the games duration, provided the story is of your interest.
If you are one that is a bit worried about missing any of the games serious and climatic moments, don’t fret. The game does quite well at embracing its genre as a graphic novel within the anime genre, and takes on the typical anime and JRPG tropes that you may expect. You get that typical fill of a war that is brewing and is close to triggering a rather savage civil war, but you may miss out on some of Haku’s rather awkward romantic scenes, since Haku, y’know, faked his own death and all, and is now working on courting girls under his new identity as Oshtar.
Those who worried that the plot might get preoccupied with serious business and epic moments needn’t do so, though. If anything, the game’s active embrace of anime and JRPG tropes (and the scenes that fulfill them) feels slightly more jarring against the background of a brewing, savage civil war than the more mundane adventurism of Mask of Deception. Further, some of the more romantic scenes can seem a bit awkward considering that the viewpoint character (Haku) basically faked his own death, and is now courting girls on the rebound while disguised as the guy they loved’s boss.
If that doesn’t bug you, the game does serve up some enjoyable scenes that are worth giving a once over. If you do skip through the game, the title does come with a rather voluminous glossary, which will give you any information you may need to know, including terms such as “Amamunii”, “Kaiju” or even “Yatanawarbe”. The glossary also gives a nice range of topics, highlighting a diverse range of topics, which includes the name of Yamato’s Eight Pillar Generals, local foods, and even how they are made by princess Rulutieh. A bit much on the information side, huh? Not really. It helps bring this games world to life.
Since the game is, overall, a graphic novel, it can’t go without appraising that the text is well-written, and well-localized. It seems that Utawarerumono was given a lot of live by its developers at AquaPlus, and remains one of their children they will hold close to heart. They go so far as even showing just how large Yamato is by displaying its geography, and even letting players know what people love about it. They even go as far as detailing what the Tuskur natives love and what their region has to offer. These little details make the world within Utawarerumono come to life and become a pleasure to learn about.
Unfortunately, as stated, the experience does take away from the games most novel moments of having a core SRPG experience underneath it all. It involves a battle system that is unchanged even with this game being the newest addition. It involves systems such as cooperative attacks, and missions that feel as if they are just fluff for the games core story. They even require little to no effort or skill on the games normal difficulty. Since the game was reviewed with the Vita version, it is worth noting that the game itself pops rather sharply for a title placed upon the handheld itself. It’s one that brings the small flourishes of art to life and allows the hand-drawn style animations come to life, and even allows the PlayStation 4 version to have a bit more “pop” to it with offering higher base framerates, and a bit more aliasing to it.
Utawararumono: Mask of Truth – PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita (Reviewed)
Cost: $59.99 / $49.99
Release Date: Now Available
If you are concerned about “getting good” at the battle systems, don’t, there’s not much reward within it. The narrative is where the game has a higher payoff, and it’s definitely some eye candy to enjoy versus taking on the games optional challenge maps and free battle mode. While Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth‘s strengths certainly aren’t in its combat systems, the game shines the most through its narrative, which is one of the best out there, and offers a high-payoff for the end to a rather enjoyable saga that is worth seeing through to the end.
Our review is based upon a retail version provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter, Google+, and or you can find him on PSN with RaivynLyken.