Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is the second part of a video game series and it carries with it a tremendous amount of history and backstory. I sought out to see if I could somehow jump into it without playing the previous title.
Genre: TRPG, Visual Novel, Action
Release date: 05 Sept 2017
Some Background for Utawarerumono
The idea of a person behind a mask is not a new one, whether it be Batman or the Phantom of the Opera. There is intrigue in subterfuge, you can’t help but wonder who is hiding behind that mask and whether there are physical or psychological scars covered up underneath. I watched the original anime Utawarerumono about eight years ago and rather enjoyed the story of forging a new country with a masked man at the lead. It wasn’t exactly typical for an anime and created a varied world where people have animal tails and ears along with creatures that are mysteriously overgrown. Yet, what struck me the most was the focus on relationships. It was the ties to friends and family that set it apart from similar action anime, giving it a bit more of a drama feel than the standard issue battle focused episodes of many other anime series.
Fast forward to 2015 and a new continuation of that original anime series debuts with Utawarerumono: The False Faces. From here, we focus on a new character, Kuon, who is the princess of Tusgur, along with a mysterious stranger with no memory whom she chances upon in a forest. Kuon quickly names him Haku, which is odd since that is her father’s name, but he sticks with it. Once again, the anime follows the course of relationships and dramatic events. This anime is the basis for the previous game title, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, and this second game installment, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. The game follows much of the same story as the anime, but with even more detail than the actual TV show. With such a large backstory, I was at a complete loss as to who was who and what had occurred. Honestly, it’s more than I expected, sort of like dropping into Star Wars III as a first movie and having no clue what any of it was all about. So, I decided to see if I could catch myself up without playing the 50+ hour long first game, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. I’ll explain how I went about it and what I thought of the game a well.
How I got about to fast tracking Mask of Truth
After playing Mask of Truth for about 30 minutes, I quickly realized I was completely lost, with barely a clue about what was going on. I stopped right there and decided I needed to watch the original anime a bit, the one released in 2006 ( 2002 in Japan). It helped a great deal to get a grasp of the world and original characters once again. I watched until episode 10, and with that I re-discovered how the country of Tusgur came be, the central characters which appear in Mask of Truth, and a great deal of insight into the camaraderie between them all. Then, I watched five episodes of the new Utawarerumono: The False Faces and was amazed at how some of original series was interwoven in new ways throughout the episodes. This time, we were focused on the same characters as in the game, Kuon and Haku. It was right then that I realized that Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth were both telling the same story from False Faces, but in a substantially more involved visual novel means of storytelling. I restarted the game and this time it made a lot more sense than before. I knew who all the characters were, where Kuon was, and could piece together what happened from the events unfolding. I did go back and watch the False Faces up through episode 8 to get a little more background story, but you can do pretty well just watching those without having to play Mask of Deception. So, for all those out there who have a tremendous backlog, yet want to at least enjoy part of this wonderful series, there you go. That’s how you do it.
The game itself provides a very detailed synopsis within the first hour and a half of gameplay. While very useful, it is an information overload for newbies to the series. Without watching through the anime as I did, I’d still be lost. With those episodes under my belt though, I was more than able to piece together the storyline and have a firm grasp of the events at hand. If you don’t have Mask of Deception and don’t feel like playing through or watching 50+ hours of gameplay, you can just binge watch both animes for 8-10 episodes each. You could skip the first Utawarerumono anime series, but I’d suggest viewing them both to have a broader understanding of what feels like an ocean of events and dialogue.
Mask of Truth, along with Mask of Deception, is a visual novel with TRPG gameplay involved. I must warn you, if you don’t like reading sub-titles to Japanese dialogue, you will not enjoy this game. If you are someone to enjoys anime, can watch several hours with sub-titles instead of dubs, tends to enjoy character driven story-lines, and likes TRPG combat then this is a great choice for you. For those in between, I’d say if you like anime or visual novels yet are not familiar with TRPG combat, there are difficultly options that you can change at any time. For a mostly story type of experience, then Easy mode would be best. For those with TRPG experience, I’d suggest cranking the difficulty up a notch from Normal. I enjoyed the Normal difficulty just fine myself and I’m not a stranger to TRPG’s.
I will say that the time in between the battles can be an hour, give or take, of reading the visual novel at a time. This game is roughly 60 hours long with some great boss battles involved, but expect to be reading the majority of the time rather than the other way around. There is an auto-play feature with a slider for text speed, so most of the time I simply let that run and read the story from the screen rather than press buttons for hours on end.
Now, Mask of Truth focuses on character relationships more than events. You won’t simply be walking through the forest, encounter an enemy, and then be on your way. You will be self-evaluating your circumstances or checking with someone nearby to discover their thoughts on the state of things. You move from one central thought of concern to the next, whether that is deciding how to best form an attack strategy against enemies or visiting your mother to see how she is doing. Mask of Truth is about humanity and living life. There are dramatic events and battles to be won, for sure, but you are more concerned about connecting with your allies than anything else. The story starts out with Kuon as the lead, but for the most part you play as Haku pretending to be Oshtor, the fallen General of the Right from Mask of Deception. What is very interesting is watching Haku force himself to become Oshtor and lie to people while looking them straight in the eyes. That has to be nerve wracking for Haku, and he second guesses his every move throughout the game. His mask is definitely the heaviest as he pours every bit of himself into being a living facade. It’s more than concealing his identity, he is concealing his entire psychological turmoil. It’s rather deep Count of Monte Cristo type stuff without quite the same edge of revenge and more so the dire need to simply survive and put back together a fractured country mired in bloody power struggles.
One thing that startled me is that the story simply unfolds without much in the way of player choices other than occasionally picking which scene to watch before another by selecting a room to visit. Just let it auto-play until the next battle, it’s the best way to go.
The content of the game is mature. I would not go so far as to say it’s rated R, but expect there to be bathing scenes and innuendo from time to time. Whether this is acceptable to you depends on your feelings towards the subject matter or perhaps those around you who may view the game while you play. Do you have an aversion to young anime girls wearing little more than a tight towel, and in some cases just a well framed arm and leg to prevent complete nudity? If so, then do not play this game. Do you think jokes about sparring with your female companions where they talk about how Oshtor’s “thrusts were so intense!” are vulgar? Then don’t play this game. If not, then expect these type of things to pop up now and then.
With the bulk of the game being visual novel anime, does the strategic RPG action feel tacked on? Not really. It is well thought out with good techniques for critical strikes using time based attacks, attack chains, even co-op chains, and battle points for increasing your stats or equipment slots. The combat is more than fair, allowing you to rewind your mistakes and redo them quite easily. In a way, it made me battle for longer because I’d go back and try to get a critical attack chain rather than keep my mediocre attacks.
The combat is not too hard, yet rides that fine line of being just right. You can always change the difficulty if things become too intense or too easy for you. I found the AI to be smart, attacking the weakest player first to take them out as soon as possible. There are different types of enemies, much like your own, with ranged attacks, close combat attacks, healers, and so on. The boss battles are actually fun as hell and I never got tired of the gameplay once. If you enjoy a nice TRPG with block-movement that is reasonably easy to traverse, you’ll be fine. The game sort of makes you play all your characters as much as possible, so you level them up evenly for a good while.
On top of this, the game features a Free Battles, a Red vs White practice ground where winners get Battle Points, “Munechika’s Trials” for restriction based challenge modes, and optional practice and tutorials before every battle. Mask of Truth literally goes out of it’s way to make sure you have every means necessary to beat the game.
I never felt like the game was trying to be easy on me either, expect to get pummeled after awhile as you eventually take on more and more challenging matches. There is a Zeal meter where you get an extra awesome attack in the attack order and also the co-op final strikes are fun to watch. All in all, it’s a solid TRPG that leaves all the tools you need to play the game to the end.
One of the high points of the game is the incredible anime artwork. While not 3D until some of the pre-battle animations, the 2D is so beautifully rendered, I honestly didn’t care about the 3D graphics during combat. Those look okay, but have a very PS Vita look to them and just aren’t fantastic to be honest. It’s the hand-drawn artwork that steals the show with the visual novel portion of the game, and it is impeccably well drawn, providing more than enough emotional power with 2D imagery.
I enjoyed the sound and the soundtrack. You won’t find much in the way of standard issue sound and music, attention was paid to the detail of the game here. Compositions change depending on the seriousness or levity of the moment and the sound effects have a great amount of depth and character to give the battles a sense of action.
Overall, if you enjoy reading anime subtitles and like long storylines, this game is a fantastic series to pick up. When playing, you can almost feel the amount of love and care that went into making this game an epic visual novel TRPG. It’s long, so don’t expect a short playthrough. You can easily play 60 or more hours just on this part of the series alone. There is also sexual innuendo, so if that bothers you or others around you, then you may need to consider that before buying. Beyond that, it’s a tale that stretches the limits of what true friendship and relationships can bear even with good intentions. Oshtor continually fights with the man and the mask of the person he tries to emulate, unsure of what part of him to retain or erase, and his own identity becoming a mask of itself. Very well done and worth the time and money for a purchase.