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Review of Utawarerumono

ByVote: 8hexashadow13 on 2021-02-27
Reviewtl;dr: A solid remake of a title that has a pretty good story and great atmosphere, though somewhat weak game play.

Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is a remake of the original Utawarerumono released way back in 2002. A sequel to the first game was released in 2015 with a sequel to that in 2016. This remake of the first was then released in 2018. The company, Aquaplus, that released Utawarerumono way back then was a very different company than they are now. For one, they used to be a PC centered eroge developer and are now a more console oriented game developer. Thus, to a degree it was pretty strange that they released a sequel to one of their eroge 13 years later, though it also had an all ages release and an anime so I suppose it wasn’t too strange. The original eroge got a fan translation so I played that about a decade ago. It’s been a while though, so I felt it was worth it to play through it again before moving on to the sequels and thankfully I managed to put off playing the sequels long enough for a remake of the original to be released. Thus, this review is from the perspective of someone that had played the original, but barely remembered most of it, though does have somewhat of a nostalgic fondness for it.

This game is a combination of SRPG and visual novel, and overall I’d have to say it leans slightly more towards having the focus on visual novel than on SRPG. During the VN portions, the player simply reads the story. There is no clear divide, but I consider the story as being divided into a main story and side stories, though they intermix quite a bit. The main story generally involves dealing with various conflicts and political issues and proceeds in a linear fashion with no input from the player, but this is also where all the SRPG battles occur. The side stories are more slice of life and are focused more on the characters and allow the player to choose what order to do events in, though with one exception that is missable, all events will be performed before reaching the end of the game. They also do have an impact on the main story so side stories may not be the best term but is the best that I could come up with. Generally the way things flow is that while there is peace it is in side stories mode where alongside developing characters it also has hints of an upcoming conflict, which ultimately leads to the conflict emerging and it moving into main story mode.

In terms of the main story it is one that is very end loaded it feels like. There are a lot of different aspects to the main story. The first three quarters are pretty simplistic, and involve Hakuowlo slowly rising in the ranks and gaining power, prestige, and allies, and struggling with how to do right by them. It’s nothing too original or exceptional, dealing with the standard themes and such you would expect from such a story with no major surprises, but it’s pretty well told. The ending to the main story gets quite a bit more complicated. There are hints and such throughout the story, but the last quarter involves a lot of pretty much straight up info dumping regarding the nature of Hakuowlo and the world. This story turns out to be quite complex with multiple layers and reframes a lot from what previously occurred in the story. I would say it does get kind of convoluted, heavily in part due to how fast everything is dropped. For the same reason, the ending makes sense and does carry a certain level of impact, but it feels like things changed too much too quickly to lead into it and thus it didn’t have as much impact as it could have.

In terms of the side story, it felt like it served as a good balance to the more intense portions during the main story where it was generally much more lighthearted, and though serious moments did occur, they were of a more personal nature than what occurred during the main story. The overall cast was decent, but it didn’t really feel like any of them really stood out that much. Most character’s stories involved them getting fleshed out, but it didn’t really feel that they got much development, which made things feel kind of slow at times. Though this could just be me over comparing this to the original, I feel like this is heavily in part due to the game originally being an eroge. As an eroge, most of the character’s focused on had stories involving sex scenes. Said sex scenes were removed in this, but for the most part weren’t written around very well and thus things just felt kind of incomplete in the end and the romance in general felt pretty weak. There was an exception to that in Ulthury’s story in that the ending essentially got completely rewritten into something different to accommodate for the changes in this version and managed to land quite well. The epilogue was centered entirely around the cast and I appreciate how it was pretty extended in that it provided a look at what all of them were doing. Though at the same time, it’s one of those endings that’s trying to be kind of mysterious while clearly suggesting something, but it completely lacks subtlety, so I feel it might as well have just gone all in and been explicit with what it was hinting at.

The gameplay was okay. It worked pretty well at showing off the battles in a more exciting fashion than just narration in VN portions and also helped with pacing, but it didn’t have all that much depth. It’s a pretty basic grid based SRPG where units on the players side and enemies side take turns moving and performing actions. There are seven main stats: health, zeal, attack, defense, magic defense, movement, and speed, wherein the last one isn’t ever explicitly listed as far as I know. Most of these are self explanatory, though the zeal system is kind of interesting. It involves a bar that increases by attacking or being attacked and that depending on how high it is increases the chance of special abilities like dodges or critical attacks and in other cases also straight up increasing base stats like attack or defense depending on the unit. However, zeal can also be used to trigger special attacks called final attacks and co-op attacks, so there’s some level of management on whether to use it for those attacks or keep it for the increase in other areas. There is also a good variety of items, both equitable and consumable, that offer various boosts. All of this so far is pretty solid. The issue though is that there simply isn’t all that much variety, both in terms of your units or the enemies. Once you have things down, you’ve got them down, and they don’t really change at all or require much in the way of flexibility for the rest of the game, and that point occurs really early on, like less than half way through. There are a few exceptions, such as the string of battles where the one healing unit isn’t present, but it never really felt like those were that exciting either. The growth system involves automatic increasing maximum health with the player choosing whether to increase attack, defense, or magical defense, but it really didn’t feel like there was any reason to put that much thought into things as the game isn’t all that difficult either. None of the bosses were all that memorable either, with the exception of the final boss that suddenly has a ridiculous amount of health and thus takes a long time to take down, but isn’t particularly difficult beyond that.

I would especially like to take note of the secret battle however. The requirements for unlocking that are a pretty major pain in that it requires collecting every item in the game. Doing this isn’t hard, but it is kind of annoying. Firstly, while most of the items in the game can be obtained at any time since you can replay missions, there are two story related items that are missable and if you mess up in getting them it requires having to replay the game. It really felt like there was no reason for these to be missable as there’s nothing particularly special about their story requirements, but it is what it is. Secondly, while most are obtained through just playing the story maps, a lot of them involve destroying random environmental objects like rocks in order to get. Having a requirement to defeat every enemy even in missions where that isn’t the goal being a requirement makes sense, but random rocks is just bizarre. Lastly, there are items that are obtained through what are called training missions which don’t really have a story, just a series of battles on a selection of maps that had already been used during story missions. The issue with that is that there’s no reason to do these during the main story as the game isn’t hard enough to warrant them, so many I’m going to assume will be doing them in the end, where the bigger issue comes in in that you have to do each mission four times, which just seems like a massive waste of time. Despite the requirements for the secret battle being ridiculous, the secret battle itself was pretty great. Rather than using your own units that you had leveled up and such over the course of the game, you use a standard set of units so this isn’t a mission you can grind to make easy. Using these you fight all the bosses from the main game at once. None of the bosses really stood out during the main game, but fighting them all at once is intense and the mission felt like it was balanced to be pretty difficult. It felt like this battle involved more tactics and proper use of units than the entire rest of the game combined, and thus it was incredibly satisfying. It also had a few really interesting surprises, such as what happens if Hakuowlo dies during this battle.

In terms of production values the game is pretty well made for what is clearly a pretty low end game. The art is interesting in that they remade all old art, wherein it’s a higher resolution version of the art in the original, but I don’t think they just had higher quality art in storage and just used that because there are subtle differences in a lot of it. I think this even applies to the opening which also feels like it was remade. There’s also some art that more closely resembles the newer Utawarerumono titles that felt kind of out of place, but wasn’t too much of an issue. Overall, I feel like it was a good effort to preserve the original while enhancing it. The art itself was decent enough, though most of the designs are a bit dull. There were a good amount of solid CGs. The graphics during the SRPG portions were completely remade very different from the original, in that the original was sprite based and this in 3D, and I also feel like the cutscenes involving that were completely redone in terms of direction as well. I feel like that too was a decent effort, in that it looks pretty good and does it’s job well, though clearly it’s not as good as higher budgeted titles. The soundtrack was great with a lot of good vocal tracks, and though there wasn’t a lot of variety to them they hit well. The menu and UI worked well enough and I had no particular issues with them. I did get quite a few crashes, though after the first time I had to redo a battle because of them I started saving constantly, which it very much gives you the ability to do pretty easily, so it wasn’t too much of an issue overall. The translation was a bit iffy at times with things like completely random cursing, but wasn’t too much of an issue as far as I can tell as someone with no knowledge of Japanese.