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Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception
Score: 88%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Aquaplus
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Up until now, I cannot say that I have ever played an interactive novel before. Yes, that sounds a bit strange, but itís the best way I can describe Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. Itís only a small part game and a large part story.

Mask of Deception does not have moving images. Instead, you have still shots that are the backgrounds while the characters are talking. The game is entirely in Japanese with English subtitles that will bubble across the bottom of the screen and you can turn off the bubbles on demand if you want to see any image with no text in the way. Some of these are really pretty images, so you might want to see them without text. During battle, your characters will move to attack, but itís just on their turn, so donít expect free-flowing graphics anywhere except cutscenes. The still images that they use for the backgrounds are amazingly detailed and beautifully done and the characters are varied in styles and appearances. While they all (except Haku) have fluffy tails and ears, there is a lot of variety in the styles. Some have more fox tails, while others are more like monkeys. Some of their ears are pointed down and other stick straight up. You wonít get these people confused easily.

The music fits the game. Itís typical RPG sounding background music, which is nice. Thereís nothing outstanding about it, but nothing offensive either. The voicework is well done. Since they donít really talk during battle, thereís not much that you can miss by having to read it all in English and Japanese seems to fit the overall feel of the game better than English would anyway.


Gameplay:
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception starts you off very confused, both as the player and your character in the game. Your character is awakening, but something is wrong with the process. You donít know where you are, who you are, nor do you remember what happened. You assume itís all a dream. You have only fragments of memories, of a woman and a child, and maybe a researcher. To make matters worse, youíre only wearing a hospital gown; not even shoes cover your feet to protect you from the snow. Starving and with a splitting head, youíre wandering in the woods in the middle of nowhere. A mysterious girl saves you from a giant monster and gives you some clothes. Her name is Kuon. Sheís not exactly normal though. The fluffy tail and fluffy ears definitely arenít human! Kuon decides to call you Haku, since you donít even know your own name. It turns out that you are west of Kujyuri, in the Shishiri Province, not that that means anything to you. For now, youíre more or less completely dependent upon Kuon. This world is definitely not meant for you. Everyone here is extremely strong and hearty; kids can do more physical labor than you. You do seem to have more brains, especially in the math and engineering fields.

In the first town, you meet Ukon and Maroro and their group. They are from the capital. Maroro is quite the character to say the least. Heís quite humorous! Anyway, Kuon decides youíre both going to join them, so thatís that. In your first real battle, youíll learn that magic is, in fact, real when Maroro uses it to attack enemies. They call it Magecraft. Youíll also meet Princess Rulutieh and her bird/steed Cocopo. The job is to escort her to the capital, but sheíll end up fighting alongside you before long. Youíll pick up even more people to join once you get to the capital, like Nekone, who is Ukonís little sister, Kiwru, who is in love with Nekone, and Atuy, a very powerful, but very love-hungry princess. These are not your only companions, but theyíre some of my favorites. Each character has their own attacks and attack ranges. Youíll need to be careful with their movements so that they can actually attack an enemy.

Mask of Deception is a LOT of story with a few battles spread in. Basically, I have done an average of a battle an hour, give or take. It feels a lot more like Iím watching an anime that I have to fight a battle afterwards to go on to the next episode, rather than playing a game. You will get a trophy after each battle and your journeys will take you a lot of places on land and sea. If you keep on going, you will get to the unexpected end of the story, which should prepare you to start Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth next!


Difficulty:
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception gives you the choice of Normal or Hard. The battles seem difficult at first, but then I figured out that you have to press (Options) and go into the Tutorials to figure out how to battle. They do not show you any of the mechanics on-screen during battle. Once you go read what to do, I didnít find the battles particularly hard.

If you level in battle, you will heal to full, but status effects like poison will still remain. This healing can really be helpful sometimes, but itís hard to predict when a character will level, so I wouldnít recommend counting on that for healing. Some of your characters can cast healing spells. They will have to be in range of the characters they need to heal, so keep an eye on that. Personally, I really thought that Kuon would be a healer since she is the apothecary who makes healing potions and sheís always healing Haku outside of battle. Strangely though, Haku is the one of the two of them that can heal people during battle.

At the end of sections, you will be given a Menu with a Save option. Thereís also something on there called BP Allocation. This is where you go to spend any bonus points that you have earned. I highly recommend using your bonus points to help you! Properly using Action Chains can make your battles a breeze. You can turn on Auto Action Chains, but itís nowhere near as good as doing them yourself.

After a few hours in, youíll be able to choose Free Battle from the Pause Menu when you are in a place where you have options to choose from, which really makes things better. You can break up the long story with fighting. Plus, youíll might need the additional stats. You canít choose Free Battle in the middle of anywhere like you can Save. You can also use Free Battle to test the different difficulty levels of each battle. I am playing on Normal because I want to get through the story, but I found it nice to be able to go back and try the Free Battles on Hard to see the differences. Even on Hard, the battles arenít very difficult. Iíve only played maybe 4 Free Battles, so it canít be that I have leveled too much.


Game Mechanics:
As I mentioned before, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is not going to tell you how to battle while you are in the battle. Mask of Deception is a turn-based RPG. Press Options and then choose the Glossary to get a description of how to battle. There they will walk you through all of the battle steps. Itís not too hard to get the hang of, but you will want to learn how to use the Action Chains and such. They will require timing your button press. You do not have to worry about friendly-fire, which is handy. Even if one of your characterís attacks goes right through one of your other characters on the way to hit an enemy, it will not hurt you.

You can save your game pretty much anywhere outside of battle by pressing (Options) and Save. I would recommend saving often, just in case you didnít figure out what to do in the battle and end up dead. If you are defeated, you can choose to rewind the battle to the beginning of any turn or retry the whole battle. If you retry the whole battle, you will get to keep any EXP you gained in the previous attempt, which means you can continue retrying until you level up enough to finally beat it, if you really get stuck.

I am on the fence about my final feelings on Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. I like the story and I really want to know how everything plays out, especially with the flashbacks revealing so much more at this point, but I personally prefer a game with a bit more battling. I definitely recommend checking out Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, but donít try and play it all at once. This is a story that you need time to digest as you go!


-Cyn, GameVortex Communications
AKA Sara Earl

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