Review of Utawarerumono: Futari no Hakuoro
|Subject||Utawarerumono: Futari no Hakuoro|
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth - NA Download Edition
|By||Vote: 10hexashadow13 on 2021-04-18|
|Review||*This review doesn’t have spoilers for Mask of Truth, but it does have major spoilers for Mask of Deception.* |
tl;dr: A solid sequel that handles completing the plot threads from the previous games incredibly well while also being a solid step up in terms of game play.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth is the third game in the Utawarerumono series and a direct continuation of the story that began in Mask of Deception. To be clear, when I say that I mean that Mask of Deception isn’t a complete story without Mask of Truth and Mask of Truth isn’t a complete story without Mask of Deception. This is in contrast to the first, which should absolutely be played before playing either of these, but it exists as a separate complete story that the latter two games are a sequel to. This game is very similar to the previous game in terms of systems, wherein it has a few additions for the most part it’s simply the same thing in that it’s a VN/SRPG hybrid wherein the only control the player has during VN portions is in what order to do certain events. The key difference there however, would be in terms of balance, wherein in the previous game it felt like it was much more weighted towards the VN portion, here it feels like the VN portion and SRPG portion are balanced pretty equally. Thus, the story is still of crucial importance, but the gameplay actually feels like it matters in this one.
Story wise, Mask of Deception had left the game at a really extreme point where I was incredibly hyped and interested in knowing where the story would lead. Thus, the most important thing story wise in this game would be for everything that was built up in the second game, the plot, the lore, the characters, to have good payoffs. And to that end the game was fantastic. The obvious first major element that needed to be properly done was Haku faking his identity as Oshtor. It should be clear from the second game that Haku has an incredibly different personality from Oshtor, so how he would pull it off was one of the largest points of interest at the end of the second game. The writing handled it far better than I expected. I expected Haku to be pretty terrible at it and for it to lead to obvious issues and a lot of awkwardness, but that never really happens. There are very few awkward moments and those are all confined to comedic portions so they feel awkward by design. A key part of that is that even when the other main characters suspect or even fully know, for the most part they choose to go along with it out of trust, which manages to be written quite well and serves as good development of the bonds between them. I felt this was especially true for Kuon, who begins suspecting in the middle of what is already a really powerful and amazing scene, and it just flows incredibly well from there, especially as she too was hiding her true identity. Furthermore, Haku acting as Oshtor is really good development of Haku within the context of what we’ve seen of Haku from the second game, as because of how different their personalities are him managing to pull it off really speaks well of Haku. Haku was basically a character that only came through when it really counted but was lazy most of the time. Oshtor in his persona as Oshtor was always strict and took everything seriously. Haku acting as Oshtor is basically in a state of things always counting, and thus him always coming through all the time for lack of a better way to explain it, and just makes him feel incredible. That combined with his continued internal monologuing as Haku full of half assed whining and complaining despite his actions and words properly being of the strict and responsible Oshtor also make him immensely likable.
The game also does a really good job with the other main characters. The second game introduced a lot, but didn’t do too much to develop them. In this game a lot of the main cast get character arcs with good character development. Nekone’s is tied pretty closely to Oshtor and thus is tied into Haku’s development, and thus results in both good development in her and relationship development in the two. Anju’s is tied pretty heavily to the one of the main overarching plot threads in terms of her retaking the throne, so she gets good development there, with the scene of her facing Tuskur’s princess being especially amazing. Kuon is somewhat tied into the overarching plot thread about Anju retaking the throne where she gets some good development, but she’s also heavily tied into the other overarching plot thread that exists beyond that where she gets really good development and incredibly good relationship development with Haku. Rulutieh, Nosuri, and Atuy each have subplot arcs centered around them essentially that are used to develop both their characters and relationship with Haku really well. The various other characters such as Jachdwalt, Kiwru, Raiko, Mikazuchi, Maroro, Woshis, Saraana, Uruuru, and the Mikado, all get fleshed out better and given more concrete backgrounds, motivations, and personalities. The narrative also does a good job with the new characters, Shis, Itak, and Oshtor’s mom, as well as all the characters it brings back from the first game. Just in general, the game does a really good job at showcasing the web of complex bonds between all the characters in the game that exist despite the secrets being kept. That it managed to do well with so many characters I think is incredibly impressive.
The last story element that needed a good payoff on is the overarching plot and how it connects into all the lore. The world building of Utawarerumono has always been great because of how many layers it has. On top of the standard medieval like world, there’s supernatural elements and long lost advanced technology. As the saying goes, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and the advanced technology is advanced enough to the people of the world it straight up seems divine, and thus they view it as supernatural. However, it’s not, and the protagonist and player very much know it’s not, and that ends up playing a major part in the narrative, serving as the foundation for the development of different religions that find their root from the same events that were originally explored in the first game, expanded on in the second, but the effects of which only get fully explored in this game. It also tackled other themes like the relationship between humans and their gods, what it even means to be a god, the value of humanity facing adversity and progressing on it’s own, the danger in a civilization using technology they themselves haven’t developed, as well as the danger of unfettered development of technology as a whole. All of that serves as a good foundation for the plot, though most of this is weighted towards the final quarter of the game.
The first three quarter’s are more centered around the simpler medieval world, but that too is quite interesting in and of itself with it’s various politics and conflicts, and thus the path through which alliances are developed and various strategies and tactics implemented in order to retake the capital is quite interesting as well. Of course, the key to all of this being so well written is how it works very well in complimenting the characters and their stories which makes it a whole lot easier to get invested in everything. That combined with how the writing has really good pacing as well, wherein the first game was pretty light for the first two thirds of the game and only really got serious in the last third where things got extreme, there’s a much better balance of having serious and lighthearted portions spread out before that in this game, though the last third of this game is still quite a bit more extreme than the rest of the game. This makes it a lot easier to appreciate the slice of life portions more and also allows them to compliment the more serious portions a lot better. I would also like to note that the cultures of the world are also fleshed out really well with a good amount of variety which makes the characters visiting various locations interesting as well. I also appreciate the effort that was put into creating a glossary with illustrations and descriptions of things that fleshed out that culture beyond what was in the script itself.
The ending was overall really crazy, but ultimately I would have to say I like it. The plot leading up to it was pretty unpredictable I’d say, wherein things get way worse than I expected, and the ending doesn’t really reverse how bad things get, rather simply shows the cast moving beyond it, which leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste. Still, how it handled everything else is amazing. The appearance of all the major characters leading up to the final battle, things feeling like they’re over only to have one final twist, the reappearance of major characters then in the most spectacular fashion possible was incredibly hype. This is followed by an epilogue that first wraps up the larger political like plot elements before providing an epilogue to essentially all the main characters individually, including side characters I wasn’t really expecting to see much of again, which provides a really good sense of closure, but leaves just enough mysterious for it to be really interesting as well. Overall, it left me feeling immensely satisfied with the story of series as a whole, wherein I feel sad that it’s over, but I’m really happy with how things went and really glad to have experienced it.
In terms of the SRPG game play systems themselves, they’re incredibly similar to the previous game. You have to manage various characters who have a variety of passive and active skills. The majority of these carry over from map to map and thus the player has control over what items to equip them with and which stats to invest their skill points into. Overall I’d have to say the implementation is much better polished though. The previous game already had a good variety of units that provided a good amount of flexibility, and the units this game adds seem to extend that. In addition, the changes to the old units seem to better differentiate them which feels like it further adds tactical depth. On top of that, while the previous game was pretty easy from beginning to end, this game actually feels like it requires some skill. It’s very rarely actually difficult during the main game, but it’s not a complete cake walk either, which made things more satisfying. It also felt like there was much more variety during the main story, with the high points during battles being much higher than anything during the previous game, with the last main game battle especially standing out as very different but amazingly well done. I did feel the last battle was too long though, but I’m probably biased on that matter from the fact that my game crashed during the final phase of that fight.
In addition, there are two types of side missions essentially. The first is Red and White where the player is given a random set of their units to fight against the AI controlling the rest. This is a way to level up units as the experience gain on both sides is kept, but matches still take way too long for it to feel worthwhile. The other side missions are Munechika’s trials which are basically puzzles where the requirements are such that only a very specific sequence of commands results in victory. I thought that these were incredibly well made and did a really good job at teaching the more subtle aspects of the systems in the game. They don’t really provide much in terms of rewards for completing them though. This time, the post game actually felt worth while to do as the story has a proper ending and their isn’t just an overwhelming urge to move on with the story. The post game is a series of maps called dream stages that are significantly more difficult than any of the story missions. The latter ones I would say are straight up impossible without at least some grinding for BP and items.
Doing so exposed how difficult grinding in this game truly is. The vast majority of XP gain comes from the first time you finish levels so attempting to grind XP is pretty much futile. Grinding BP is much easier, but the amount of BP required to increase stats increases exponentially while how it’s gained does not so it becomes quite difficult to really get stats past a certain point in terms of that as well. Lastly, items are only obtained at the end of maps with each item having a certain percentage that it’ll drop. I found these percentages ridiculous. There’s a trophy for obtaining every item drop in the game so I was aiming at that originally. But after doing a map 15 times for an item that should have a 30% drop chance I gave up. Yes, I know that this is theoretically possible, but that it actually happened is crazy. There should be some sort of pity system that guarantees drops after a certain point.
Anyway, the difficulty of the dream stages are good at making absolutely sure you understand the systems fully. The ability to rewind a certain number of turns is a good crutch and is good for learning without things being too punishing, but recognizing when you should rewind is also super important as you can end up in situations where even rewinding the full amount isn’t enough to save you. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed the actual game play of this entry far more than previous ones which considering how it’s a lot more prominent makes the game far more enjoyable overall.
The graphics and such are just as good as the previous entry, meaning that it’s clearly low budget but they made good use of that budget with a great art style and good CGs. The character designs are still fantastic and I would especially like to note Kuon’s alternate outfit looks amazing. The soundtrack is also quite good and used quite well. It is somewhat repetitive with the previous games but it never really felt that way due to how the tracks are used and because they fit the atmosphere so well. The game also makes good use of music noticeably from the first and second game during key points relating to them which manages to have a lot of impact. The OP has visuals even stronger than the second game, though I’d have to say I prefer the song from the second more. I also felt that this OP spoiled things too much.