Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth (PlayStation 4 Review)
Following on from Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, Mask of Truth barely skips a beat. To truly appreciate it, players must first complete Mask of Deception—released just five months ago. Any readers interested in this title should first read a review of that release and probably play it, and then come back. Mask of Truth is ultimately just the same game set sometime after the previous’ events. Discussing it requires touching on some spoilers.
In Mask of Deception, protagonist Haku wakes up to discover himself in a rather foreign-looking world and suffering from amnesia. The setting draws a lot of its influence from the Ainu—a people indigenous to Japan. While the only animal-featureless person around, he’s welcomed by the people and establishes many relationships. Sadly, Haku eventually finds himself wrapped up in the politics of an empire. Through this, he loses a friend and a piece of himself.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is somewhat ironically named for the most part. Mask of Deception had revelations that were made about the nature of the race that has seemingly replaced humanity, as well as significant details about who the protagonist truly was. Meanwhile, Mask of Truth follows Haku now hiding behind the literal mask of a now deceased ally, Oshtor. Much of the campaign explores the protagonist’s deception towards his own friends. They believe that Haku is dead, a notion that does nothing but fill Haku with guilt as he discovers their true feelings. Meanwhile, in his attempts to emulate a much grander man, Haku becomes an increasingly more dark character.
Much of the empire is now in turmoil. The mikado (or emperor) was slain and two factions now claim to have his daughter, Anju—the next in line to the throne. Returning to the home of his fallen friend, Haku has been given a new mission in life. Pretending to be Oshtor and protecting the real Anju at all costs. Much of Mask of Truth is about relationships and war. As a visual novel, the story is often dialogue heavy and expositional. The player’s interaction is used to engage with the rather colourful and endearing cast, and they can honestly be quite fun.
Sadly, Mask of Truth is also subject to the most typical of tropes that would be expected from anime. With a sometimes perverse sense of humour and blatant fanservice, the title almost feels at odds with itself in regards to how serious the main narrative thread actually is. The protagonist is virtually deceased, and the world appears to be turning against him. It’s here that the support from his allies is most important. While intimate moments with the cast can often be considered “fluff”, they often serve to flesh out much of the cast and develop intimacy with the player as well as Haku. It’s worth noting that some degree of tolerance to the most generic of anime tropes is still required.
While Utawarerumono is predominately a virtual novel, there is more traditional gameplay to experience. When conflict arises, players will be able to resolve them through SRPG combat. Each character may take a turn in an order determined by their speed—each also getting only one key action beyond movement. The underlying mechanics are fairly simple, even with a range of buffs, actions, and items available for use. Much of the combat on the normal difficulty isn’t very challenging. Instead, the difficulty is reserved for optional combat. There’s little incentive to explore the optional fights.
Given that the title is a visual novel, a strong localization is important. Fortunately, the dialogue is clear and sometimes nuanced. While the narrative is dialogue-heavy and crammed with exposition, there’s still a perfectly strong flow to follow. There’s no bizarre grammar or poor word choice—though the terminology will likely be confusing for anyone experiencing Utawarerumono for the first time. In preparation for this, the title actually provides a fairly in-depth glossary for players to read in their own time. The world itself is actually pretty well established. Additionally, each character’s dialogue is fairly distinct and consistent to their personality. It makes for a good read, and would have probably been interesting even in a more traditional novel format.
Of course, the text may stand up but what about the other elements of a visual novel? The actual visual element is fairly nice. The title can be rather vibrant and there’s a lot of flair despite the anime-influenced art style often cursing games to look generic. Though, unfortunately, 3D sections suffer. Each character is caricaturized, which isn’t exactly an issue, but the poor animations are. There’s bugs in some of the animations, and most of it is fairly bland. At least the soundtrack is consistently good. The voice acting is not dubbed, requiring Japanese to understand. At the very least, the character’s tone and attitude are still clearly conveyed despite the language barrier.
There isn’t much that has changed from the previous outing. Ultimately, readers that have experienced the original will be able to determine whether this title is worth their time. The story does certainly head in an interesting direction, but players will need a tolerance for the anime fanservice present. It’s a niche title, but one that the intended audience will likely be able to appreciate. There’s a surprising amount of sincerity to be found here.