• Released: May 2017
  • Time to beat: ~26 hrs

Linear visual novels aren't the most appealing form the genre to me, but Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception delivers a compelling story and some "actual" videogame sections which lessen the disappointment of the lack of player choice.

Like many in the genre, initially the plot revolves around slice-of-life daily adventures (often very anime-esque in nature, for better or worse), used as a means to introduce a wide cast gradually, and to grow an attachment to them. Then, 13 hours down the line, plot bombs are dropped and the tension builds. It's an oft-used device, because it works, and Utawarerumono: MoD weaves it well.

There are also strategy-RPG-esque combat sections littered around, but they are not going to stretch your capability, at least on normal setting, and the outcome of battles makes no difference to story - you win them or you retry. I suggest selecting a higher difficulty if you want even a remote challenge. I didn't even realise an ability existed involving timed button inputs during attacks which can add greatly to your damage output (or healing capabilities for support skills). I only learned of this while having difficulty against the FINAL BOSS, and was looking up strats on how to beat it. I must have missed the tutorial instruction on these, but lo and behold when I entered the menu which described the attack modes, there it was. The boss was defeated on the very next run. The combat is fun enough, and your characters have a few different skills they can use, and gain abilities as they level up. But yeah, it's pretty easy.

Worthy of extreme note is that this game is only the first part of the story - the ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger, and a bit of an emotional wringer which I wasn't really expecting (although there were certainly flags raised). The sequel, Mask of Truth, is already available though. Furthermore, the first game in the series, simply 'Utawarerumono', is a Japanese-only adult visual novel, however there is an anime adaptation which removes the smut. I suppose watching it gave me some extra background to some of the characters and setting, but so far was far from a prerequisite to playing this game.

Anime-haters need not apply, otherwise this is a pretty good visual novel, and I'm keen to see where the story goes in the follow-up.

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