Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception came out earlier this year and delivered an outstanding experience for newcomers and veterans of the long-running series. Newcomers could jump into the story easily, while existing fans could experience things at a higher level of graphical fidelity than ever before. Mask of Truth follows up on the tale of Deception and keeps some characters while bringing new ones into the fold. The sound design keeps things a bit mysterious as you wake up and find yourself as a new character and suffering from a touch of amnesia — and of course, in need of a bath instantly.
Mask of Truth is more fanservice-oriented than the original and that may or may not be a good thing depending on your viewpoint. It’d more even-handed here than in most games, so while there will be some somewhat risque content featuring women, men are also given equally ridiculous proportions as well. Fortunately, much of the adventure still focuses on what the characters must endure. Whether it be betrayal from an ally or an attack from half a dozen wild animals, you’re taken on every step of their journey. Haku and Kuon are back in the fold, as are some super-creepy sisters that just seem like they’re here to destroy you at any time.
The sequel keeps the tactical RPG gameplay of the first intact and remains a visual novel first and an SRPG second. The SRPG mechanics are a bit more refined now, and give you more control over damage dealt thanks to a timing-based system. Battles begin with a bit less battlefield control than usual due to the smaller battlefield, but you can still pick where you want to start the battle and careful position can be a big key to victory. Not only does starting it at a good place help you, but making sure to distance yourself from enemies can come in handy during longer battles. Generally, taking a single turn to learn your enemies’ tactics can do a world of good. If you have enemies that rely on melee attacks and don’t use long-range attacks, you will learn that you can move as far away as possible from the largest quantity of enemies to pick and choose who you destroy. Keeping some distance ensures that you will be able to minimize the damage you endure and prevent yourself from being double-teamed and ganged up on. Attacking from, or being attacked from the backside deals more damage — but the biggest key to dealing out damage is timing your attacks properly.
With each turn, you will want to pay careful attention to a small circle that shows up in the center of the screen. Hitting X right when it is at its smallest size, and thus is the hardest to hit, is your best strategy. This allows you to make the most out of each part of your attack and deal out possibly enough to fell a single enemy in one full turn. Not doing this means that you’ll be fighting inefficiently, and while that may not spell your demise, it does open you up to taking more damage than you need to. Battles in the game are comparably few compared to a normal SRPG, so it’s important to grasp the core mechanics and get the hang of things quickly.
The visual novel portion of things remains an interesting way to tell a story within an SRPG framework. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it does allow you to rest your brain after a taxing battle and focus on the story. Where games like Final Fantasy Tactics used in-engine artwork to drive the plot, using higher quality drawings with Japanese voice acting works nicely here and makes it much easier to tell the cast of characters apart from one another. The actual plot is a bit on the melodramatic side, but it does take you on a journey and it’s fairly interesting once you get into it. One downside to this game compared to other episodic adventures like the Yakuza games is that there isn’t a story recap — so newcomers to the series are going to be a bit lost when it comes to the cast. Fortunately, the overall character relationships are easy to pick up on even without much background knowledge — so you’re never flying totally blind.
Visually speaking, Mask of Truth delivers exactly what the prior game did. The artwork assets are high quality for the visual novel portions, and suffer greatly for the SRPG portions. The assets for that appear to be directly lifted from the Vita without much in the way of upgrades, resulting in something that looks incredibly outdated. The graphics wouldn’t have been impressive on the PS3, let alone the PS4. Fortunately, with this being the kind of game that is carried by its storyline, the graphical shortcomings aren’t a killer for the game as a whole. The presentation could certainly be better, but everything still fits together nicely visually.
Mask of Truth’s sound design is stronger than it was in the first. It doesn’t go for as much terror with its sound effects, but does still use things like foot steps and tree branches breaking to evoke drama. When you hear that, you know that battles are about to take place — or at the very least, some kind of major story event is going to come up. The music is more varied here than it was before, and evokes more emotion throughout the more serious sections while also keeping things light-hearted when it’s needed. Levity and drama are played up when they should be, and the sound design is quite strong as a whole.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth continues the trend of the first game and improves upon its combat. The visual novel aspect of things remains enjoyable, while the tactical RPG gameplay is more focused and refined. Graphically, it still falls short of what many would expect on the PS4, with Vita-level graphics that work fine for that version but don’t hold up well on the big screen. Its gorgeous soundtrack helps overcome that issue and allows even the most intense battles to be relaxing. Mask of Truth is a solid follow-up to Mask of Deception and a must-buy for all who enjoyed that game.