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Considering recent increase of interest towards games with asian aesthetics, I would like to draw you attention to an incredible fantasy game called “Utawarerumono:Mask of Deception”.

Do you love fantasy? I do. Videogame developers seem to love it too, judging by rich selection of titles they’ve created. On the one hand, that makes it almost inevitable that eventually you’ll certainly find a special game you’re always wanted from the genre. On the other one, that also makes it so much harder. To reach that goal you’ll need to sort through many works that may resonate with lots of people, but don’t speak to you personally. “Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception” is one such special game I’ve finally found. It was predictably hidden behind a ton of respectful western titles somewhere in a barely explored territory of hybrid visual novels. After finishing it I gathered my impressions, structured my thoughts as best as I could in hopes that this write-up may help someone else seeking for that game to find it too.

“Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception” tells a story of Haku – man whose journey started when he woke up in an unfamiliar world populated by strange deadly creatures. One such tailed beasty creature, who goes by the name of Kuon, saves his life. Little by little he acclimatizes to new environment, makes some friends and gets dragged into a series of political intrigues. It’s a linear story with plenty of charm, humor, some heart-wrenching drama, a bit of horror and lots of surprising plot twists waiting along the way. It reminds me of a little known web-comic called “Unsounded” written and drawn by Ashley Cope and much more famous animated series “Avatar: the Last Airbender”. Fairly balanced, all-ages story with a heart. I dunno what people expect after the first glance at Utawarerumono, but generally speaking that’s what you’re gonna get from this game.

At this moment it would have been so easy to fall into a trap of describing each and every character from the main party and why they are so lovable, but it will be tiresome and will probably spoil some details you might want to experience yourself. I’ll just focus for a bit on one figure who was lucky to get such an excellent writing that it basically turned her into a second main character, in my personal opinion. It’s Kuon. No wonder her image is on the cover art of the game.

Kuon is maternalistic, emphathetic and a tad bit of sadist. One moment she’s nurturing Haku back to health, the other – teaches him a lesson, mostly through physical punishment. Gotta say, even though I don’t speak Japanese, some modulations of actress’s voice constantly have been giving me chills. In retrospect, the symmetry of Kuon’s and Haku’s character arcs is so beautiful. Paths they chose lead both of them to inevitable encounter with their fate, despite their best efforts. It seems so natural and well-thought. Not only does it allow for an incredible character development, but such symmetry also emphasizes how you can’t escape from yourself no matter how much you try. Although I still haven’t played Mask of Truth, so I could be dead wrong about that notion.

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Some storytellers know exactly how to make your eyes glued to unfolding narrative. They understand when it’s necessary to speed up the pacing, escalate the stakes or give characters some space to breathe and let you learn more about their personalities. Like puppeteers they know exactly what thread to pull at what moment. In case of Utawarerumono, magic starts right from its

. You are instantly met with a taste of game’s striking imagery and enchanting music. With each new location you see more of game’s beautiful art design in breathtaking views, eye-catching clothing and architecture. The sense of exciting adventure is present throughout the whole journey and only grows bigger as the main plot gains momentum.

Personally, no other game besides Utawarerumono has ever provided me with this feeling of joyous wonder one gets while discovering a new favorite fantasy book. By saying that I don’t mean it as if one type of artworks is inherently better. However, just like most written texts can hardly allow much interactivity, rare game makes your imagination run wild quite like the best books do. Yet “Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception” somehow succeeds at both tasks.

Gameplay segments are fun and engaging, albeit scarce. At certain points in the main story you’ll be participating in typical tactical RPG battles on the grid. Each character has unique actions and abilities. Some may stop enemy’s movement while others can act twice in a row, for example. After each battle you can increase their stats and further develop action chains of your party members. Tactics mostly comes to smart positioning and Zeal (analogue of SP) management. Overall gameplay doesn’t require you to plug away at lots of small decisions, but rather gives you a bunch of easy to learn mechanics.

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It takes great talent to find happy medium between the insufficient amount of information which leaves you disinterested in following the story and overabundance that keeps your attention but takes all the work from your own fantasy. You know, just enough of it to build a beautiful and captivating fictional world before your eyes and let you partake in its creation at the same time. For better or for worse, game developers rarely consider such carefully measured presentation.

Art pieces ain’t textbooks and it’s not always good to learn all there is possible to know about them. Preserving illusion of viewer’s involvement is also important. When you have a say in what you experience from a certain art piece it’s like you’re having a dialogue with its author. Picture that an image of a beautiful landscape was shown to you. It depicts a lush forest which climbs up a gargantuan snowy mountain. You can distinguish a silhouette of a castle that casts long shadow from one of its cliffs. Man dressed in peculiar closing is on his way there. That’s all you got, but even one glance gives you an idea about wild animals that live in the forest, a hidden passage which leads through the mountains and who that man may be. Whether your idea is right or wrong remains unknown and because of it you still feel a special kind of connection with fictional world that author envisioned.

Then picture how instead of said image you have an option to talk with a peculiarly dressed NPC who answers you with limited amount of phrases. You can walk from one side of the forest to another, yet animals you keep finding are always the same. There is no hidden passage and after a certain number of quests runs out you have nothing else to do in that castle. Once you finished exploring that scenery next time you’ll look at it what will you see? Will there be and has there ever been place left for your fantasy?

English isn’t my native language as you may have noticed by a hefty amount of mistakes I’ve probably made, yet even I was able to appreciate high quality of prose in Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. Descriptions are vivid and laconic. Dialogues are infused with characters’ personalities, emotional and energetic. They constructed with pacing in mind and never take more time than they need to get to the point. Following text is like listening to a great song with perfect rhythm. It will evoke something in you and will certainly awake your imagination.

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TL;DR: Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is an excellent fantasy game that flies under many people’s radar as expected. After all, it is a hybrid visual novel with TRPG elements. Visual novels still relegated to a niche segment in videogame industry, even though hybrid ones are trying to appease for bigger audience. However, if you will set aside any preconceptions and experience this game at first hand, then you may find yourself fully engrossed by its captivating story, expertly written characters, beautiful Asian esthetic and fascinating fictional world.

PS: Please, don’t post any spoilers regarding the event of "Prelude to the Fallen” and “Mask of Truth” in the comment section. Still haven't finished these games.


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