Going in mostly blind is typically my rule of thumb for reviewing an unfamiliar title. I do not want the opinions or scores of others to change my thoughts before I have even installed a title. Such is the same rule I followed before playing Masquerada. Hot off the heels of wrapping up Transistor from my personal back log, I was intrigued at the promise of “pause-for-tactics” gameplay, which sounded strikingly similar to the aforementioned RPG from Supergiant Games. With an eye catching art style, fully voiced characters, and an investigation driven narrative, I thought I was for sure in for a treat. While the games core premise revolves around wearing masks to enchant ones supernatural abilities, after trying several times to give this game a chance, the only mask I felt I was wearing was a sleeping one.
Don’t get me wrong, the story is intriguing. The world and its people have a keen similarity to those in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Like that show, its world is filled with factions and regions where people train in different elemental bending arts. Also like that show, the premise did not quite work out once they hit the form of being a video game, and are better left as a viewing experience and not an interactive one. Absolved from exile, you take control of an expert investigator known as Cicero Gavar. Five years prior to the current time, an uprising from a rebel group known as the Contadani threatened the livelihood and order of the Masquerada. Led by Cicero’s brother, the uprising was stopped, though the war still wages on slowly but surely. To avoid death, Cicero was granted exhile. But circumstances have changed, and someone important has gone missing with very little to go on. That is where Cicero’s absolution comes in, and his story begins.
Sounds interesting enough right? It is, to an extent. There is an awesome concept of Mascherines, the ancient masks that give certain users their abilities, being at the heart of the struggle in terms of where the power lies. The art style has lots of rustic color and flair that make it easy to appreciate. The characters are voiced well and there is enough intrigue early on to make one interested in the story. But it falters quickly. The cut scenes and travel scenes have an ugly, low res texture and are not really animated, instead choosing to go with a story/motion book style. I would have preferred these scenes to have just played out in the solid looking, regular gameplay graphics. There is also very little RPG feel here honestly. There is a skill tree, collectibles, and a few characters but nothing else that gives that sense of freedom that an RPG should. While the story is interesting, honest to god, I was insanely bored by how little action takes place. The majority of my time with the game felt like an audiobook, and worst yet, I found the fights to offer minimal levels of fun, leaving me exhausted of this game on both ends of the major selling points.
Gameplay is quite the drag sadly. What could have been a fun, tactical approach turned out to be bland to the fullest extent. Remember how in Dragon Age Origins you activated abilities and attacks but it was almost automatic after you made your selection? Imagine that, but somehow entirely unengaging and you will get the gameplay found in Masquerada. The fights offer little excitement, nor do they make you feel like you are contributing in a commanding way. It just feels sloppy and dull. The pause-for-tactics did not help, as it just made it feel like more of a drag. Though there are different classes, masks, and characters to switch it up with, I can honestly say this has been one of the few games I ever found such little motivation to explore and experiment with. The moves are well animated but watching the fights play out looks more like an RTS than a RPG. Your characters and the enemies mostly just flail at each other until one of them dies, instead of providing detailed, elegant looking battles. And again, from what I played, the pacing between narrative and action was pretty rough.
The game looks and sounds good, however, which is why I still stand by saying it may serve better as a project suitable for viewing and not playing. These qualities are highly redeeming, and I found the art style and deep choir style music to be rather enchanting. There is a lush pallet of colors used that are really easy on the eyes, and the world has a certain elegance through its design. The voice acting too is pretty impressive, so design wise, this game has the goods.
I cannot stress this enough. I tried, I tried multiple times to give this game a good sit down and let it bring me in. The first time it failed, I stepped back, and knocked out some shorter titles. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was not in the mood for an RPG. Then I tried again. It did not feel like an RPG. I embraced the story, tried to accept the gameplay for what it was, but after six or so hours, I felt like I had gone nowhere. I did not beat the game, for in my opinion, trudging it out until the end would not be worth it nor would it change my opinion. If I do not like the first couple bites of a burger, no sense force feeding, right?
I wanted Masquerada: Songs and Shadows to sing to me, I really did. I was rooting for it, I was rooting for us. But in the end, we did not click. Technically speaking, it’s mostly sound. Design wise, more so, it is actually quite impressive. The fun factor, however, the main bit you probably want in a game outside of an emotion connection that was nowhere to be found for me. Those in it for the narrative might find some resolve, but the simplistic and dull nature of the gameplay make waiting it out through all the overly long narrative bits not quite worth the investment.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 6/10
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