Utawarerumono (PC) review
"Utawarerumono doesn’t start off particularly promising, and you’d be forgiven in thinking that, based upon its archetype-ridden beginnings, it would drown in a flood of clichés well before it hits endgame. But you would be largely mistaken."
Eruruu lives a lonely life in her sleepy little village, training diligently under her Grandmother to become a healer. This life is forever changed when she one day finds a gravely injured man lying unconscious in the forest that surrounds her house. She nurses him slowly back to health only to discover that, when he regains conciseness, he’s lost his memory.
Utawarerumono doesn’t start off particularly promising, and you’d be forgiven in thinking that, based upon its archetype-ridden beginnings, it would drown in a flood of clichés well before it hits endgame. But you would be largely mistaken.
The man wakes up with no name and no possessions apart from the horned metallic mask that covers the top half of his face. Distressed at first at his predicament and inability to remove the mask, the simplicity of his surroundings and kind hearts of his rescuers quickly calms him. Eager to repay the debt to Eruruu, the man leaves his bed quicker than his injuries should allow, determined not to be a further burden on the struggling family.
Leaning heavily on the girl, the injured man leaves the hut to explore the village. Each villager they pass offers a warm greeting to the pair, accepting him into the fold without question or pause. Even the stocky woodsman, Teoro, defies his gruff looks and welcomes the man with an open laugh. He falls quickly in love with the serene, tight-knit community and the simple little village they call home.
There is a commotion in the town’s centre.
Nuwangi is a relative of Lord Sasante, the area’s feudal lord and is a man who left his humble station behind for a life of luxury and power. He showcases his position, hoping to win Eruruu’s favour and, when he fails, tries to force her into abandoning her life to strike out a new one with him. She resists. When Nuwangi starts trying to throw more than his power around, the man intervenes, and the tax collector leaves the village in disgrace.
Angered by his treatment, he defiles a local shrine dedicated to the forest’s Goddess. The village is immediately assaulted by lashing rains that stop the villagers from righting the wrongs committed and, in doing so, incurs her wrath.
A great roaring comes from the depths of the forest.
A nearby village is destroyed, everyone that once lived there ripped to shreds by unholy claws.
The forest’s guardian, Mutikapa, a blood-crazed tiger with a steel coat, draws closer.
Everyone is doomed.
The man fears for his adopted village and the people he has come to view as his family. After overcoming the rumbling of suspicion caused by the village’s new misfortune coinciding with his arrival, he hatches a plan and volunteers himself as bait. Unwilling to let his new friend risk his life alone, Teoro straps his mighty wood-axe to his stout back and travels to Mutikapa’s lair with the man. When the beast emerges, both men run for their lives. They have no means of penetrating the guardian’s iron mane and to stand up to the beast would be throwing their lives away.
The man promised Eruruu before he left that so long as he has her to return home to, he will always return.
So they run, drawing the monster away from its den and into a hidden swamp. The odd monkey dives at the pair as they flee through the choking undergrowth, but they’re ignored or dispatched quickly. Soon they lure their target into the trap, soak her steel fur and, with a waiting Eruruu providing medical support, do their utmost to slay the beast while it’s vulnerable. Failing to do so will not only cost the trio their lives, but the lives of everyone they hold dear.
The battle won, the man is enveloped into the community fully. They even give him a name, the name of Eruruu’s deceased father, Hakuoro.
But there is no time for Hakuoro to rest from his battles.
The village elder, Tusukara, is slain by a jumpy guard when the Feudal Lord visits the village led by a still-simmering Nuwangi. With tensions heated to boiling point, Hakuoro leads the village to Sasante’s castle to remove him from power. The village is joined by a hidden ninja gathering that Tusukara had secretly aided through the years by taking care of their leader’s dying sister.
Besides Hakuoro and Teoro now stand two skilled archers, Dorii and Gura, and the ninja leader himself, Oboro. But even with victory over the Lord’s personal guards comes the realisation that, should they take the country’s lead, then stronger forces will be dispatched to eliminate the rebels.
He’s going to need a stronger following.
Eventually, Teoro retires back to the village leaving Hakuoro to slowly build up an elite force of soldiers to protect an ever-growing family. Oboro’s ninja move into the castle after his sister is taken under Eruruu’s care, and members of the surviving military that once served under Sasante eventually swear loyalty after a failed counter-coup forces them to re-evaluate their positions. Even Eruruu’s little sister, Aruruu, joins the team, riding Mutikapa’s young cub she found in the forest after they’d killed its mother.
But while the battles are frantic and full of meaning, it’s the plot and, ultimately, the characters within that remain the heartbeat of Utawarerumono.
Karurauatsüreai is a woman wielding a huge blade found near a sunken vessel of an unknown kingdom. Snapped chains are still strapped to her wrists and she's surrounded by a sea of slaughtered guards. Though she hides a lot of misery and a thirst for sake, she always greats those around her with a bright smile and genuine warmth, completely contradicting the first impressions anyone would be forgiven for jumping to. Aruruu starts the game being afraid of Hakuoro, then hates him for trying to take her late father’s place before finally accepting him as a surrogate parent. Oboro’s sister, Yuzuha, knows she has little time left to live, but feigns ignorance for her brother’s sake and always appears cheerful whenever she receives visitors. Even early nemesis, Nuwangi, is given more depth than you would initially realise. He was never really a villain, just an emotionally-clumsy boy trying to catch the eye of the girl he loved. Throughout your fights with him, you can see the boy fighting not only your forces but his own mounting grief at Tusukara’s death and Eruruu's rejection.
Each new person who shows up in Hakuoro’s life means another member of his extended family to protect. But while each new character adds to a kaleidoscope of back-plots, ideals and intertwined futures, it’s always Eruruu that he fights for the hardest. By allowing him into her life, he banished her lonely existence, but, by being accepted into her life, Hakuoro is gifted something truly worth risking his life for.
A life to call his own. A reason to exist. And a home to come back to.
If you enjoyed this Utawarerumono review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!