Developer: Witching Hour Studios
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
Category: Role-Playing, Strategy
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: May 09, 2019 (EU & NA)
Price: $19.99 USD
First released on September 30, 2016, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a top-down strategic isometric RPG game, where the action can be paused and severe damage can be dealt and after an impressive launch on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, it is finally going to make a home for itself on Nintendo Switch!
What is a mask? A fashion statement? A way of demonstrating a person’s wealth and status? Or is it a weapon, capable of empowering those who wear it? In Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, masks (aka mascherines,) are the ultimate items that allow their wearers to use magic and with a divide in play between those who have them (the Masquerada) and those who don’t (the Contadani,) a civil war breaks out.
Fast forward five years, to the outside world, the war is all but over, but nothing could be further from the truth. The fight isn’t over and the struggle is about to get a lot worse.
With no other choice, a man once branded as a traitor, is called back to service once more on the promise of wealth and redemption. All Cicero Gavar has to do to claim such things, is investigate the kidnapping of a man who once saved his life, Razitof Azrus and he won’t have to do it alone, either.
Across his journey throughout the renaissance inspired Ombre, he will be forced to form alliances with those of differing guilds and learn to trust them, if he wishes to uncover the truth not just to Razitof’s kidnapping, but to old secrets and maybe, just maybe, the fighting will cease and the war will be over.
For the most part, across Masquerada: Songs and Shadows’ 10-12 hours long campaign, gameplay is comprised of two main aspects, exploration and combat and there is certainly a lot of exploration involved.
When exploring the game’s various regions, players are only free to explore the given area and can not access the next area, until they reach a highlighted green beam and press A to interact with it and all movement is done with the left analog stick.
When it comes to combat, once you have advanced close enough to a gathering of enemies, Cicero and co, will draw their weapons. By holding ZR, your highlighted character will strike and provided you have some skills unlocked, you can use the likes of A, B, Y, and X to use them. All skills require their associated buttons being pressed once to get them ready and select an area you wish to focus them on and then press them again, to actually use the skill. Once used however, a cooldown will ensue.
The L button on the other hand, is used for entering the Tactical Pause. While this is not something you will need to use when playing the game on its easiest difficulty setting, it is certainly useful on the harder difficulties.
With Tactical Pause in effect, players can issue commands, such as desired skills they want to use when and where and pan the camera. You then press L again to end the pause. In the event one of your team-mates falls in battle however, you will need to rush over to them and stand still as you hold the A button for four seconds. If struck by a strong blow, you will need to start again.
In the event your party of three characters all meet their end after having their life bars depleted, players are given the option to start from the last checkpoint where the game autosaved, or return to the main menu. Sadly, autosaving is the only saving involved in Masquerada: Songs and Shadows,
Also in battle, players can use the left and right D-Pad buttons to switch between characters and with Cicero, by using the up and down buttons, his battle stance can be changed, so as to change his approach to combat. As for the R button, once your character’s Mask Charge is filled (the blue bar beneath your character’s red health bar,) you can let loose with a powerful skill.
Then when you get even further in the game, players are given the ability to have their teammates flank their enemies and hold, but I never felt the need to press the left stick to command my companions to stand their ground and hold. Nor did I ever feel the need to change their party behaviour.
Most importantly, it is important to upgrade your favourite characters as the added skills are handy in a battle and there will come a point where Cicero goes from having one companion in battle, to being able to choose from four great allies. For the most part, I just stuck with Kalden Azrus and Amadea Invidius, as they worked great together.
Compared to most RPGs however, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is rather simple when it comes controls and gameplay, so while it is lacking in some areas, such as only being able to interact with specific NPCs, you won’t be drowned in too many details you’ll need to commit to memory.
What is a shame however, is there is not nearly enough combat as there could have been, compared to the amount of dialogue and cutscenes that have made it into the game.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
I hate to say it, but Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a bit of a one trick pony. While the option to replay chapters is available, essentially the game is made up a singular campaign, which can be upgraded to providing the player with two playthroughs thanks to a New Game Plus option.
Across the main campaign, there are collectibles that can be discovered, new raw mascherines to be found and skills to be mastered. Only, when I saw collectibles, I’m talking about journal entries that can cover characters, locations, factions and more.
As a writer, I applaud how deep the lore to Masquerada: Songs and Shadows goes and enjoyed reading all of the entries, but I did enjoy hunting down mascherines more. The good news however, is that all collectibles, mascherines and things such as inks and engravings, are all represented by a purple coloured beams of light. So, as long as you keep an eye out for them and turn over every stone, you will always be able to find something good.
Then there’s the skills, as they are the very things that can help a battle go your way, it’s always important to stay on top of them and earn as many skill points as you can, just so that you can upgrade your preferred skills. If you make a mistake however and upgraded the wrong skill, there will come a point in the game where you can reset spent skill points.
Should you wish to improve your skills uses even further, you’ll need to take the time to customise your mascherines and equip the one that is more beneficial to you. Other than that though, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is something of a shallow RPG when it comes to customisation.
When I think about Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, it is not the soundtrack and sound effects I think of first, it’s the voice talents. The voice actors involved, do a great job of giving life to their characters and I especially enjoyed Jennifer Hale’s (Samus Aran) portrayal of Lucia Shuria. It’s just a shame that Lucia doesn’t get more screen time, as Lucia has some great lines.
Incidentally, Cicero Gavar is voiced by Matt Mercer of Fire Emblem fame and while I wasn’t keen on his character in the beginning, together with Matt, Cicero only gets better and better! Back to audio though, the vocals are somewhat moving and the soundtrack does the game justice.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Featuring hand-drawn art, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a beautifully drawn game with some great comic book-like cutscenes. The text is easy on the eye and even easier to read, the masks look charismatic and the attention to detail is pleasant, it’s just a shame I can’t praise the performance in the same way.
Although the majority of my playthrough was in handheld, I did notice moments where the framerate would drop, especially when surrounded by a horde of enemies, regardless of whether I was playing in handheld or docked.
The sensation only ever lasted a couple of seconds at a time and not all that often, but a performance issue is apparent and it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention it.
On the subject of complaints, one that I have is the locales themselves. Given the rich lore and how extensive it all is, I would have loved to been able to visit more areas. In fact, I’d actually prefer being to explore the Citte more freely, instead of simply being allowed to go wherever your given chapter allows. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is not an open world game, but I can’t help but wonder how better it would have been if it was.
As for a second issue, it would have to be how the game handles replaying previously beaten chapters and the whole New Game Plus system. Given the number of collectibles and entries you can discover, if you miss something, you will have to replay an earlier chapter and have all your progress after that point, be erased.
Then, even if you do strive to get every last piece and want to do a playthrough of New Game Plus, all those entries you strived for, are not carried over in your next playthrough and will you have to collect them all over again.
Sure, Cicero can now learn skills from all four elements, reset skills from the skills menu and there are new hidden bosses that can now be fought, but I still can’t help but feel it all makes a mockery of your first playthrough.
It’s almost like your best bet is to rush through absolutely everything, only ever collecting the necessities and then take it slow once you start your New Game Plus playthrough.
On the plus side, you do actually create a second save game profile for New Game Plus, so, provided you’re on the main menu screen, you can swap to your original profile by pressing X and then selecting it. By doing this, you can revisit any chapter you’ve previously beaten and keep your previously acquired entries.
While Masquerada: Songs and Shadows feels a little light when it comes to its RPG elements and customisations, it does feature a rewarding story and a cast of fantastically voiced characters with relatable motives and ideals.
THE VERDICT: 7/10
*A download key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review
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This post was written by Solid Jack