It is reasonable to have certain expectations of visual novels. These are games where the story matters above all else. If the people you are reading about don’t connect with you and grab your attention, you will be in for a rough 20 to 50 hours. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception finds itself in what might be an even more precarious situation. It is also a strategy game, which means characters have to be capable and appealing for you to even pick and add them to your party. Fortunately, some of the most important folks fit this bill.
Haku is our blank slate. He begins Utawarerumono: Mast of Deception with amnesia, though he gets some flashes of moments from his past life in dreams. He’s kind to almost everyone and rather brilliant. He solves problems in Kuon’s practice book without expending any effort. He fixes a town’s mill and even improves its output. Granted, that was actually done to avoid work, but still. While he isn’t as strong as many of the rest of the cast at the outset, due to being a human, he’s very supportive. Literally, he can increase other characters’ stats, speeds up the turn order, and can help with ailments. What I liked is that he is flawed, but he’s never intentionally mean or creepy. And when you find out why he’s so brilliant and who he is, it is so satisfying.
Kuon is our heroine and she is so easy to love. Partially because she’s so smart and strong. This apothecary is amazing. She sees through Haku’s schemes. She knows what other people are and aren’t capable of and is a good judge of character. She’s silly and quirky, shamelessly eavesdropping sometimes. One of the best early moments is when she knows right away something is up with Haku and the mill, but she lets him dig his own grave. She’s also amazing in battle. As an often required unit, you’ll absolutely appreciate it. She can deal tremendous damage and is a great healer.
We can’t forget Ukon. Ukon is basically the one that gets Haku and Kuon out of a small town and involved in global events. When we first meet him in Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, he’s a mercenary leader who has come to town to deal with a pest problem. He’s a good man who cares about his soldiers and welcomes both Haku and Kuon into his ranks. He’s kind and makes a huge impression on Haku, helping him find himself and grow. I think his storyline and development is one of my favorite parts of the game, as we see someone who we feel we understand and appreciate, and he keeps getting better and better.
Even a comic relief character like Maroro is more than he appears to be. When we come upon him, Kuon is surprised to see a chanter of his skill with a mercenary group. He uses frivolous language and is melodramatic. But while this may come across as disingenuous, he is far more serious than he appears. When he decides to offer his friendship to Haku, he means it. He’s also very helpful as an early party member, since he is a mage. His attacks can be quite strong and have great range, giving him a significant tactical advantage. With his help, you could defeat a rather intimidating enemy earlier on.
But what of the DLC characters? They have no story attached to them. How do they fit in? Well, if you are familiar with Leaf and Aquaplus, they could be quite appealing. Both Tamaki Kousaka and Sasara Kusugawa appeared in To Heart 2, though Sasara was a PlayStation 2-exclusive character. Tamaki is a major character who has known Takaaki and Konomi, To Heart 2’s hero and primary heroine, since all three were children. She’s a confident, older sister type who takes her promises and friendships very seriously. Sasara is a student council vice-president who is a bit cold initially and follows every rule. While we don’t get to really see that here, it is nice to have two familiar faces with Samurai and swimsuit costumes.
When you play Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, you will develop favorite characters. Everyone here is rather well-rounded. Even though this is a game where there absolutely is fanservice, it doesn’t feel as though everyone is tucked into some sort of trope. There is depth to each of the most important characters. Yes, the DLC characters are just sort of there, but even they will be welcome sights to people familiar with To Heart 2. I’ve only gone over the first few people you’ll meet in Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, but I assure you that everyone is well rounded and more than you would expect them to be.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception will come to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita on May 23, 2017.