Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a game that wants to do two things at once. It is most assuredly a visual novel, with hours of text that encourages you to get to know Haku and his human-beast hybrid companions and care about their current predicament. It is also a strategic-RPG with players controlling the party and fighting back whenever the group happens upon a dangerous situation. This may make people wonder if there is too much of one element or the other. Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy the kind of experience you want from Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception.
Let’s be frank with what Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is. It is part of a series that began as an adult visual novel with strategic elements. The original Utawarerumono dumped the mature content when it came to the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, and the next two chapters in the series abandoned that element completely. Fanservice and innuendo abound here. (Shortly after meeting Kuon, she helps Haku dress himself as an example.) I feel like the normal difficulty alludes more to these roots then that aforementioned fanservice though, as anyone familiar with strategy games should have no problem whatsoever getting through the game on the standard difficulty.
This doesn’t mean you should assume that Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception’s story is a fluffy excuse to put our amnesiac hero, Haku, in a harem situation. While many women will join his group and there will be some situations, there is quite a bit of intrigue here. It is a linear experience with one ending, which makes sense because it leads into Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. There’s quite a bit of depth here, but it is often balanced out by moments where we see characters interact with one another.
Just as comedic and dramatic moments equally appear in Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, we also have battles appearing at fairly regular intervals. This means that, unless you are a slow reader, you should experience a fight every 45 to 60 minutes or so. (Give or take, depending on the part of the story.) Now, the main menu’s only options are Save, Load, Return to Title Screen, Glossary, and Settings. This means the only opportunity you have to alter equipment, sift through characters, and choose your party for that encounter is immediately before a battle takes place.
Actual fights are easy to understand. You move characters around a grid and have them approach enemies to attack. Once you begin an attack, you can either turn on an Auto Success Mode that will automatically trigger complete chain attacks, at the cost of critical hits, or press the buttons on your own as circles decrease in size to deal damage. As chains go on, status effects or bonuses can take effect. Of course, there are also defense and support skills that allow characters to regroup. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception can be be rather easy? Letting the game perform combo chains and a function that lets you rewind are nods to its accommodating nature.
For people who want more battles, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception offers that option. There is a sense of balance. After reaching certain points in the story where a pause seems natural, players will have an opportunity to choose their next step at a base. While it is possible to continue on with the story, it is usually a better idea to go ahead and enjoy some Free Battles.
The Free Battle option is where people have a bit more freedom to do as they wish. Completed battles will appear here. You still will have required units that must be deployed, but you may have opportunities to bring others along who weren’t there originally. You can also choose between the Normal and Hard versions of each battle, to challenge yourself and earn more experience and Bonus Points. Since it is possible for some characters to fall behind otherwise, these provide the perfect opportunity to help ensure all characters are at the same level, you’ve earned bonus points to strengthen party members and avoid weaknesses, and try out new tactics.
There’s a sense of balance in Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. It’s open to people who aren’t familiar with strategy games, thanks to rather a standard difficulty level that isn’t too challenging, automatic mode for combos, and rewind functions. For people who want more fights, you can enter into Free Battle and take on cleared story battles at higher difficulties and with different characters. The story has light and dark moments, which can be both humorous and serious. Visual novel and strategic elements are well represented.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception will come to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita on May 23, 2017.