Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Review
Release Date: August 8, 2017
Developers/Publishers: Witching Hour Studios/ysbryd games
Platforms: PC (available since September 2016), PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows was kickstarted in April 2016. On a 14-day campaign, it raised the funding for the game and two of it's stretch goals. While the game released on Steam September 30, 2016, it's finding it's way to PS4 on August 8th. Masquerada provides a tale of mystery and deception against a beautiful Venetian inspired background. Within, you play the role of Cicero Gavar, whose brother was part of an uprising a few years back. As a high ranking official, Cicero is called back to help find a missing friend and quell a new rebellion. Along the way, he works with people from many different factions who don't normally work together. Some are a mystery, others he doesn't trust, and one even fully admits they are a spy from the get-go. This ragtag team learns to trust each other and work together to stop a force unimagined and save the world.
The game is very story-heavy; in fact you will find your game time split nearly evenly between combat and story sections. There is a lot of walking around and talking to other people, seeping in the lore, of which there is plenty. I really enjoy the lore, but it is overwhelming. You get sections of the history through pushing the story forward, or by finding the easily accessible glowing circles scattered around the environment. If you really want to know about the world, you can double your play time simply by reading all of the world's history as you find it.
Personally, it took some getting used to, but the game has a habit of pushing it's own words on you a bit too much. For example, Cicero is an "Inspettore," instead of an inspector. The tale takes place in a "Citte," not a City. The Cacciatore is officially the youngest of the Seimora, formed during the Seventh Canticle. Craftsmen who practice Maliare are called Fabbra. A Canticle is an era, a Mesura is a year. When chosing your fighting style, you may be a Pavisierre, Dirge, or Sicario. A Mascherada can use a Mascherine, and learn a Media for battle practices. There are pairs: The Fiscia: Medanza and Merobusto, the Visivia: Meliare and Meseniare, The Etrea: Mecantara and Merumento, and the Mescenza. These are the kind of facts are thrown at you rapidly, and the different words and phrases are filtered into the story as common tongue for the individuals within it. These phrases seem to be inspired by Italian language, with a few of the words close to the spelling of the direct translation, but some Google searches only came right back to articles about the game. There are miles of lore, enough for a movie, TV series, or volumes of books to be written.
Combat takes place in a combination of real-time Diablo action and paused strategy. You control one of three party members on the field at any given time, with the others being controlled by AI. Like the recently re-released Final Fantasy XII, you can craft a set of orders that the AI will prioritize when going into combat. Pausing the game with L1 lets you cycle between every character and give commands for the next few seconds of battle. You carry four special abilities into battle per character, which require a cooldown time between casts. Set up a three way attack, then unpause to watch the damage fly. Sometimes the choice of characters and abilities make a difference between life and death.
The frantic battle styles take getting used to much like the lore language, but are very satisfying once you get them down. Utilizing experience points that you obtain through the game, you craft stronger spells to better take on the enemy. They can be allotted as you see fit, strengthening spells you like the most. Don't be afraid to experiment, as the game allows you to reset XP at any time and reconstruct your character. I didn't like some of the things thrown at you mid battle without much explanation though, such as one boss battle where the enemy can attack some NPC's at the side of the room. They become encased in ice. I tried killing the enemy, but they killed an NPC and it was Game Over. I tried breaking the ice, but I ended up killing the NPC myself. I finally figured out I had to use the X button to break the ice, which is usually reserved for resurrecting your fallen allies in combat. It was an odd addition that made me get stuck on that battle for a while. Also, the game autosaves at it's own leisure, and a few times I got past a hard battle to die on the next and have to re-do the battle that took me so long initially. Since the game is very linear with no random battles, you are stuck with the EXP you have at any battle, so it takes brains as well as brawn to get through.
Masquerada is not afraid to touch on sensitive subjects. The storyline branches into tales of sex trafficking and slavery, enemies who would gladly (and attempt to) kill babies, and the struggles of living with secrets that would ruin one's life if exposed to their family and community. Every single word from the main characters in story are fully voiced by a wonderful voice cast. The speaking character is placed in a box near the text and is fully animated, though at times their gesticulations pull them a little off of the frame. As said above, though, the story is captivating. Fans of the PC edition will be excited to learn that a New Game Plus is being integrated into the game on home consoles, and will be available as a free download on their PC to enjoy the story againn with some new abilities and challenges. So long as you have found your way around the jargon, the plot is worth the price of admission, and the Diablo/Final Fantasy XII/FF Tactics mishmash of gameplay is frantic and satisfying. The art style resembles a beautiful painting, and the cel shading holds a timeless look that will be beautiful for years to come.
-Incredibly deep story and lore, well rounded and easy to get lost in
-Frantic combat is addictive once learned
-Timeless and beautiful artwork for cutscenes and gameplay
-Incredibly deep story and lore, takes a while to wrap around
-Frantic combat at times drops some confusing things to be learned quickly
-I wish there was a manual save button
Final Score: 4.5/5
Special thanks to Witching Hour Studios and ysbryd games for allowing me to review this gem.