August 11, 2018 at 7:48 PM #888
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Rating: 4.0 – Great
If you’re looking for a song to get lost in, Maquerada may be just what you’re looking for!
I’ve always been a fan of tactical games in their various forms, but when a tactical game comes along that promises a story with deceptions, plot twists and political intrigue, I am ready to go all in! That’s exactly what you get with "Masquerada: Songs and Shadows". The only question is: Are you going to like what you find under the mask?
Building upon a solid foundation.
Masquerada’s story primarily focuses on the nation of Ombre and the source of their power: Magical Masks that when worn grant their wearer magical powers. A pretty unique way of handing magic if I ever heard on one! These masks are controlled by the government as they are ancient and no one knows how to create more. The number of masks is actually dwindling in fact, as if you die in battle while wearing a mask, the mask itself disappears. As you can imagine, in this world, this has led to a class divide between the people (and groups) that have masks and those that don’t.
As you start the game, you have a choice to play through the game’s tutorial system, which is also (cleverly) the game’s prologue. In it we’ll learn the game’s basic controls while witnessing a man named Cyrus Gavar leading a coup. Thanks to his forces, Cyrus manages to break into the government armory and steals a number of masks, re-distributing them before the coup is (narrowly) put down and Cyrus slain.
Fast-forward five years and our game’s story will begin in earnest, with Cicero Gavar (Cyrus’ younger brother) being recalled from exile by the government to investigate the disappearance of an old friend of his who was looking into the mystery behind the masks…
As you can tell, the story in Masquerada definitely takes center stage throughout the entire game, as it rightfully should. The developers obviously took great pains here to not only craft a back story that the main character is tied to, but an entire world. Ancient civilizations, political dealings between the government and the city’s various guilds, a detailed history of the country of Ombre… it’s all here in spades. The main story itself focuses on Cicero’s investigations and the motley crew you’ll eventually surround yourself with, but the game is FULL of "Codex Entries" that greatly expand the world presented in Masquerada. There are dozens and dozens of these codex entries throughout the game and they are all generally well-written and fun to read… but boy is it a lot of reading!
However, my favorite part of the story by far (and maybe even the game…) was Cicero’s interactions with his crew. Your investigation will be… hampered in the beginning by the various powers at work in the city, with team mates thrust upon you, which results in questionable loyalty. Seeing Cicero and his companions actually grow used to each other and grow as characters. Kalden’s story arch in particular is noteworthy for handling subject matter not often seen in video games today and was just well done all-around.
Overall, the story in Masquerada is quite honestly its biggest draw in the end, with its rich lore, character development, and narrative hooks. The only downside to it is just how "true to character" the story is. Each group in this game (and there are quite a few) have some hard-to-pronounce name. "Dimenticate", "Contadani", "Cacciatore"… there’s just WAY TOO MANY obscure names thrown at you with too little explanation along the way. I also found the interaction with the country’s various guilds to be rather underwhelming but overall this is still a well-told story and the highlight of the game as a whole.
The game play in Masquerada is fairly reminiscent of the recent Dragon Age games: you can fight in real-time if you choose, but you can also pause combat at any time and direct your team to use certain skills. This of course leads to a chance to try out various tactics and skill combinations during battle. After a few hours of trying out new skills and character combinations, I’m positive everyone will find a skill combination that works for them (I personally enjoyed using a whirlwind orb to draw in enemies while my teammates blasted the grouped-up targets).
The game also has some light RPG elements to it as you gain skill points at certain points throughout the game (usually after a tough boss battle) and can use them to learn and upgrade skills. Each character has 7-8 skills they can master, but one play-through will really only let you master 4-5 (although re-specializing your character can be done easily).
Cicero (and only Cicero) can also change between three fighting styles: offense, defense and ranged. Switching styles based on the fight at hand definitely increases your survive-ability while giving you "mask charge". When your mask gauge is filled up, each character also has a super move they can do (based on the mask they are wearing… finding a new mask changes the super move you can do). There are also weapon upgrade items you can find as well as a training ground you can use to test out new skills.
Overall, the game play here is solid, but somewhere near the middle of the game you’ll have all the skills you’ll want (essentially) and will have found 1-2 good combos that you’ll likely just keep using until the end of the game. There just isn’t much depth to the combat overall, leading to solid game play but nothing really outstanding or note-worthy in the end.
An Isometric Perspective…
Despite being an indie game, Masquerada has quite a bit of graphical polish. For the most part, the environments you’ll explore throughout the game are varied, detailed and fun to explore (although there are some ruins and caves that can get rather bland). One thing that needs to be brought up is that this game is THOROUGHLY LINEAR, so while you may enjoy the environments you find yourself in it is very likely that once you leave you’ll never return. This can be very frustrating in certain areas, as the game often gives you some freedom to explore but if you choose the "plot progression" path you are permanently barred from any further exploration (which I just KNOW has made me miss more than one Codex Entry…).
The character designs and animations are all rather polished as well, with each of your teammates being immediately recognizable and distinctive (except perhaps the "Earth" magic user, as brown is just an ugly color for an outfit…). The enemies are fairly varied throughout the game as well, with creative designs ranging from various human foes to gigantic supernatural threats (some of the bosses are quite large and just generally awesome looking!). The graphics as a whole aren’t cutting edge by any means, but fit the game play and story perfectly all while giving you a great view.
One thing that SHOCKED me about Masquerada was the fact that the game is fully voiced throughout the ENTIRE game. You just don’t see that out of indie studios, especially with a game that focuses on story as much as Masquerada does (there is a LOT of voice acting here). Even more surprising was the quality of the voice work here, with triple-AAA talents Matthew Mercer and Jennifer Hale leading the way. Honestly, the voice acting is definitely one of the highlights of the game as a whole and goes a long ways towards making the story (and party interactions) as good as they are.
The music throughout the game is also well done, with string and wind instruments coming together to provide a great fantasy soundtrack. I was actually impressed with how busy the tracks were overall, like the Composer was just having a fun time making these tracks. The soundtrack also has a number of choral pieces, which adds a bit of "Epic" for when the story needs it. Interestingly enough, the lyrics in these choral pieces are all based on the "ancient civilization" from the game’s story, which is impressive detail and just makes those tracks that much more mysterious.
Look behind the mask!
Masquerada will likely take you 14-15 hours to beat, beginning to end. I should note that the game does have some "built in" Re-playability, as early on during the beginning of the game you have to pick an elemental affinity which determines what skills you can pick from (something you can’t change mid-game, just so you know).
The game also has a "New Game +" mode once you beat it, which I definitely plan to use at some point (maybe try and get all those codex entries I know I missed…) as well as a full trophy list (including a platinum) on PlayStation. Granted, the story isn’t going to really change with "New Game +", but the developer has said that Cicero gets to master all four elements on a second play through (making me want to try it out even more now…) as well as additional dialog and three new secret boss fights. Not bad at all! Now I really need to play this game again and go for that Platinum!
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Masquerada: Songs and Shadows. Granted, it doesn’t have the deepest combat system out there and its isometric graphics aren’t what anyone would call top-notch (although both those things are solid for an indie title), but what it does have is a lot of HEART. The story is intriguing and well-told, while the audio is just fantastic. If you’re looking for a song to get lost in, Maquerada may be just what you’re looking for. Have fun and keep playing!
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