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Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (PC) artwork

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (PC) review

"Deceptively Masked Depth "

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is thirty-to-forty hours of nothing but plodding plot progression thatís designed entirely to world build for the last game of the series, Mask of Truth. Itís a visual novel dressed up as a strategy role-playing game and it seems absolutely obsessed with ticking off as many tropes as it possibly can. It has a protagonist suffering from amnesia who needs the scary new world he canít remember gently explained to him by a remarkably understanding partner with the convenience being that itís also then being explained to the player. Itís also a harem collect-Ďem-up, featuring all the cute girl personalities youíve seen before! The adorable timid girl who stutters slightly when trying to speak to her obvious crush; the sweetly-smiling sociopath; the thief hiding unbearably noble ideals and the strong female companion.

Thereís hours and hours of reading between the oft overly-easy skirmishes to be had. Thereís also a very noticeable bloated middle section to the tale where little of note actually happens and the entire thing turns into a slice-of-life still-framed anime. Here, the cast gets drunk a lot and dedicates ridiculous amounts of words towards describing all the things they consume. Itís a lot to digest and, frankly, the only chance Utawarerumono has of getting past so many hurdles is if it has a bloody amazing tale to tell.

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception has a bloody amazing tale to tell.

Itís primarily the tale of Haku, the aforementioned amnesiac, who awakes in an unfamiliar tent under the stewardship of Kuon. Feeling some kind of responsibility towards her new ward, she sets out to ensure heís able to make a life for himself without her, despite having an absolute blank slate for a past. Except, itís never really that easy; Hakuís not especially interested in finding a job and doesnít grab on to any of the threads of purpose that Kuon often tries to provide him. He has no established trade; that vanished along with the rest of his memories, and he isnít especially skilled in anything obvious. Then giant bugs attack. Then the pair fall in with a group of travelling guardsmen to repel them and befriend a travelling princess riding an adorable oversized bird. Subterranean slime monsters become a thing, bandits need saving from banditier bandits and thereís a near obligatory miscommunication involving public baths. Eventually, the group arrives at the massive capital of Yamato. Itís here all the heavy drinking starts.

The plot proper certainly starts to slow down once the group hits the capital. Battles become a lot less frequent and big stand-alone events become less common. Instead, Mask of Deception, very gently, starts making your care about its cast of seemingly random miscreants. It does so by making you a creepy voyeur while they simply get on with the mundane activities of their lives. Haku, it turns out, will never be content with being the typical amnesia-suffering protagonist, supplied as an undisguised self-insert for the player. That kind of nonsense takes far too much effort. Instead, heís content to coast as much as he can, easily manipulated with promises of free booze and days off.

Working within the roving guards inside the capitol, heís given a base of operations and a slowly growing collection of people to work with. Kuon, for her part, tags along under the guise of a motherly caretaker, hoarding all Hakuís earnings and providing a small allowance so he doesnít blow it all on a grand night out. But she makes choices that belie that role, constantly accomplishing her requirements for sticking around, but then reinventing them so she doesnít have to leave the group.

Itís little personal evolutions like that which make Utawarerumonoís hard focus on character building so engaging. Itís rarely ham-fisted, always dropping little titbits of information you might initially decipher as completely throw away, only to present themselves in deeper shades of relevance later. It hides things in plain sight, rewarding the reader by letting them work things out for themselves. For example, the game never once tells you how Kuon and Haku met; he just woke up in her tent one day and that was that. But I know. And I know simply because of a series of heavy silences or guilty glances or loaded one-word replies through several tense situations. Itís brilliant writing thatís confident in both its own execution and the readerís intelligence to put everything together without it being presented in crayon. It painstakingly builds everyone this idyllic little existence they carve for themselves, shows how they each grow within each otherís company, within responsibilities both earned and restricted. But itís never destined to last forever. You know that. Perhaps more importantly, they know that, too.

At some point soon, Iím going to have to talk about Mask of Truth. It, very effectively, goes out of its way to knock all the dominoes down. But it only works so well because of how meticulously Mask of Deception has set them all up.



EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 03, 2020)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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