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Review of Utawarerumono: Futari no Hakuoro
|Subject||Utawarerumono: Futari no Hakuoro|
Utawarerumono: Futari no Hakuoro
Vote: 7iriyap on 2022-03-23
|Review||Many people say that the original Utawarerumono is above average, Mask of Deception is a slog (due to being 90% slice-of-life) and Mask of Truth is one of the best visual novels ever made. Imagine my disappointment when I find out that this hyped up and supposedly legendary game is just yet another drawn out shounen with an awfully convenient story and lots of wish fulfilment harem tropes. I'll try to mark the biggest, Mask of Truth specific spoilers, but it's hard to talk about the game without being specific, so read this review at your own risk.|
I won't talk too much about the positive aspects, as they're all quite obvious. The trilogy has very high production values for visual novels, the artwork, character designs and the soundtrack are all very well done. The games are fully voiced and feature many popular VA's, and there's a good deal of emotional vocal tracks. The art resolution is sadly only 720p, despite the PS4/PC releases, but at least on the PC you can AI upscale the games in real-time using Magpie/Anime4k with rather impressive results.
The main thing that disappointed me is the pacing. Fans of the series will say that the slog of the second game is worth it because Mask of Truth is thrilling and exciting all the way through. But that's not exactly the case. In fact, it's the longest game in the series (easily twice as long as the original Utawarerumono) and most of its content is yet again filler. All three games are backloaded with the most interesting story arcs relegated to the final quarter, so it's nothing really new, but still disappointing. There's still a great deal of slice-of-life scenes where characters talk about food and alcohol, numerous slapstick skits and harem shenanigans, the usual. But more importantly, the civil war plot, which constitutes the majority of the game, is horribly drawn out, not unlike various low effort and shallow shounen shows. You gather allies, fight enemies, gather more allies, fight the enemies again. You fight the same people 3-4 times, they just stand up and walk away after a battle, no one does anything sensible. The war drama here is 100% anime, this is definitely no Game of Thrones (not even the last season). Progress will only be made when the writer feels like it, otherwise it's just constant stalling and filler.
Just like the rest of the trilogy, the villains are very poorly written. They're mostly just something for the gang to fight against. Raiko is the only one who's not outright mad, yet he's just your typical scheming anime villain who always has a trump card up his sleeve to completely counter whatever the main characters do, and turn the tide against them, over and over, and over. All the way until the writers think "okay, that's enough", and he just folds instantly, without the main characters even doing anything. Another villain sabotages him just because. Raiko info dumps his shaky "motivations" ("I wanted to destroy all ancient technology so that people could be, uh, more independent") and walks off a cliff. And then characters like Mikazuchi and Maroro had no business being villains at all. Mikazuchi has no motivation whatsoever to go against his best friend Oshtor and his liege Anju, while Maroro was just shallow and irritating, he gives these very long villain monologues, you beat him, he runs away, and this goes on and on purely just to waste your time. And the final villain, Woshis, was so incredibly rushed with barely any scenes to develop him, it's hard to say anything positive about him. He gives some cackling speeches, and then you fight his lackeys 4 times (which is incredibly frustrating, even when the protagonists actually kill them to death they're somehow resurrected with magic for 2 more battles). Felt more like a plot device to force the final few reveals.
The story overall is not very believable. It's obvious that the writers think of "cool" twists first, then try to force them in various awkward ways. Like the whole Haku -> Oshtor switch. The characters quickly accept Haku's "death" and pledge their allegiance (and numerous power of friendship speeches) to this Oshtor guy who they barely knew. And this charade continues all the way until the ending. There are scenes where characters are saved at the very last moment, repeatedly, not unlike the Gandalf thing in Lord of the Rings. There are scenes where characters give very long and passionate power of friendship speeches, in the middle of a battle, while the building is on fire. The enemies just stand around doing nothing, and no one seems to mind. Even when there's a time critical chase scene you still have to click through the whole cast's (10+ characters) template reactions before they move on.
The harem aspect further shatters any remaining suspension of disbelief. Every single remotely attractive girl falls in love with the protagonist. Even when he assumes an entirely different identity, the girls will all just switch to fawning over that one, for no real reason. There was a particularly disappointing plot arc, where one of the girls would finally get her own romantic interest who's not the MC, but then it ends with her would-be-boyfriend turning her down because "the MC is a better man than me". But the cringe doesn't stop here, there's a scene of another girl's father literally asking her to bed the MC. But then again, that's not exactly new to this series, in the first game there's a scene of a dude begging the MC to have sex with his terminally ill sister. And he actually did just that. Granted, the Mask games aren't eroge anymore, but the writers still felt this need to pander to the otaku audience, to the kind of people with zero self-esteem or confidence, who would lose their shit and scream "NTR" if any girl in the game liked literally anyone who's not the MC.
And then the ending was largely a rehash of the very first game. You fight an evil god with the whole gang, the MC dies for "greater good". But, there's a twist. The MC gets resurrected for 5 minutes so that you can fight a second evil god (very original). Then the MC dies again. Why do this? Are you seriously that creatively bankrupt? Are you telling me that the whole build up about Kuon's mysterious divine powers was just so that she could summon a second final boss? And overall, it's just an unsatisfying ending, as it's left relatively open. The MC "ascends to godhood", but it's not made clear if he's dead or alive. Factually, he's dead, but his loyal harem keeps traveling the land searching for him. There's even a cringy scene where the girls talk about how they're still virgins (yes, I guess that's what the otaku player really cares about).
The whole trilogy just felt like such a waste of good artwork, voice work and music. No wonder the mainstream critic scores are all in the 60-70's, the series is truly niche and has very little appeal outside of the otaku fandom. I mean, it would probably be an okay galge if the shounen style war antics were cut out and it was just a straight up kemonomimi harem with nothing but slice-of-life and low stakes adventures. Many of the random skits were actually funny and the girls are cute. But when the game starts taking itself seriously, it just falls apart immediately.