Masquerada: Songs and Shadows really took me by surprise, it really did. The game claims to be a RPG but there are very few elements to support that claim, especially given the fact that the story is quite linear and there are no choices for you to make, you’re basically just watching how everything unfolds. That said, there is a lot to say about Masquerada, both good and bad, and I believe it’s a game that went under a lot of people’s radar and I truly believe it deserves a lot more exposure and credit than it has received.
Developer: Witching Hour Studios
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Genre: RPG Adventure
Release date: 30 September, 2016
The game takes place in Ombre, a country widely known for its exotiqueness and magic. On the other hand, what really distinguishes it from the rest of the world is the use of masquerines, which grant its wearers control of the elements. Given the scarceness of these masks, Ombre’s society was divided into several factions, guilds and whatnot, and this is pretty much what shapes the entire storyline. That said, at first I felt like the game didn’t really do a good job in explaining what was going on and who you are but, slowly, everything started to make sense (reading the codex entries helps a lot). The tutorial, which teaches you the basics of combat, also serves as a prologue to the events of the rest of the game, which takes place 5 years after. I feel like even slightly resuming the initial part of the plot could potentially spoil some people so I’ll refrain myself from doing so. All you need to know is that this game pretty much has it all, from an enduring political conflict in a society characterized by huge disparities in terms of social and political structure to ever enduring friendships, betrayal, loss of loved ones, intrigue, mystery and the discovery of the secrets behind an old civilization. Not only the world but each individual main character is very unique and interesting in their own way, offering a different vision of the world that surrounds them. The game does have some jokes here and there, the overall theme of the game is rather grim and dark, but it does have its cheerful moments.
There is a lot to be said about the game story and its world building, and I do really mean A LOT. There’s tons of codex entries that you can collect and read, which provide an insightful look to Masquerada’s world, its locations, history, characters, culture and factions. The writing is exceptionally well done, and reading these is a joy and it certainly helps in getting you more immersed into the world and understanding everything that is going on in greater detail. When reading these, I often found myself lost in thought wondering about this place, imagining how the places it described really looked, how I’d fit in, what I’d do in order to change it for the better and so on. I really found it very hard to not lose track of time when playing Masquerada.
Now, one of the key components that make this a truly wonderful experience is the fact that all the dialogue is fully voice acted, with the exception of dialogue between background characters. What I want to say is that the voice acting, as well as the entirety of the OST, are really top-notch. The music is of epic proportions and among the best I’ve heard this year in any videogame and, with that in mind, I’d suggest to even those that are not interested in the game to give the OST a try. I find the stylized visuals to be well put together and fitting with the theme the game is aiming for, even though some of the textures are rather low detail. The visuals of the characters actually remind me of Abyss Odyssey in a way I can’t really explain, but just so things are clear, that is a plus in my book. The animations themselves look really smooth but they seem a little off place in comparison to the 2d background, and that took me a while to get used to.
The worst thing in Masquerada for me, or the least good part of it, depending on how you see it, is the actual gameplay. While playing the game you’ll either be in combat or walking around these closed areas trying to get from one point to another. In the latter, you can find codex entries, upgrades for your characters but also other people talking to each other about their everyday life or about more important events. These interactions are sadly not voice acted, while the main dialogue is, which is a shame given that the voice acting is actually really really good.
Combat is fought in real-time but you have the option to pause. While in other games pausing would give you an advantage, in the sense that you could plan your approach and use your abilities in the best way possible, I didn’t find the need to do so in Masquerada, for I found the combat to be rather shallow and basically a spam fest. I must say the combat really disappointed me because, initially, it looked liked it had a lot of depth to it, with different possible combos with the various elements and other mechanics such as different stances that change how fast you can use your abilities and how much damage you deal/take. It’s also worth saying that the abilities that you have will be unlocked with points that you’ll get as you play through the game so there is some room for you choose what you think it’s best. Then there’s also your masquerine ultimate ability, which varies depending on the masquerine you have equipped at any given time.
One particular mechanic which I found to be really neat is the ability to set your companions behaviour, in the sense that you can tell them what skill should they use and on who. For example, you can make it so that they target the enemy with the lowest amount/highest amount of HP. Still, if you want, you can completely disable this entirely.
Overall, what the game offers in terms of story, world design and visuals, compensates the lack of depth of the combat system and overall gameplay, which really hurts how I overall feel about the game. Masquerada could pretty much just be an adventure game stripped of all the combat and it still would be just as good. That said, I do appreciate the fact that it was rather easy, for it allowed me to progress faster through the story without having to worry with my opponents. Still, just when I was starting to feel that the game was extending itself, it just suddenly got even more interesting and hooked me even more.
In the end, if you’re looking for a good story with a unique range of characters, each with their own ideals and visions, and an interesting, intriguing and believable world then Masquerada might be just the game for you. If, however, you’re looking for a challenging experience or something that offers a lot of depth in terms of combat, or pretty much any other form of gameplay mechanic to keep you hooked for that matter, you might find yourself rather disappointed.