Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception review for PS Vita, PS4

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Aquaplus
Medium: Digital/Vita Card/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception may try and sell itself as a visual novel-SRPG hybrid, but that’s not really an accurate description. Sure, it possesses a few SRPG elements, but in the overall scheme of things, we’re talking about less than a quarter of the game. More than anything else, Mask of Deception (not to be confused with Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, its sequel, which is due out in a few months) is basically a visual novel that just so happens to give players a little more opportunity for interaction than most of its peers.

Actually, that’s not the only way that Mask of Deception stands out from other visual novels. It also does that by being surprisingly good, with a some legitimately funny humour and interesting characters.

I say surprisingly because the game has its root in Japan’s erotic gaming scene — thanks for that info, Wikipedia! — and the words “legitimately funny”, “interesting characters” and “porn-based game” don’t usually go together. In fact, if we’re being really honest, in my experience humour and strong characters are also missing from most visual novels in general (or at least the ones that have been localized on the Vita), so for Mask of Deception to succeed on those fronts counts as a pretty impressive feat.

Don’t get me wrong, Mask of Deception’s main character still kind of sucks. As seems to be de rigueur for visual novel protagonists, he’s rude, abrasive, insulting, obnoxious…basically the last kind of person you’d want to spend time reading about. On top of that, the story kicks off from one of the most generic starting points possible: an amnesiac wakes up in an unknown world, and gets rescused by a pretty girl.

And yet, against all odds, the game overcomes these overused starting points and turns out to be good. The main character is very quickly surrounded by relative likeable, interesting characters who aren’t walking tropes, while the plot unfolds with a decent amount of depth. Most importantly, though, the game is more than willing to deploy humour the deflate the hero’s overblown ego; there were points where I actually laughed out loud, which isn’t a reaction I often have. To be clear, the jokes were just dumb slapstick, so we’re not talking sophisticated comedy or anything, but as far as I’m concerned, the fact the game wasn’t afraid to include a few moments of levity is a major plus in my books.

Another, equally important plus: the battles. I wouldn’t describe them as ground-breaking or anything — they’re your standard turn-based combat — but they provide a nice break in the action every once in awhile. Admittedly, it’s usually once in a very long while (there were times where I went well over an hour between fights), but they add to Mask of Deception’s world, and make it so that players have more to do with the game that simply pressing X to advance the text.

Ironically, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is one of the rare visual novels I’ve ever played where I actually wouldn’t have minded simply advancing the text. I’ll take the combat, but in this particular case it’s a nice addition to an fun game all-around — and who knows, maybe its inclusion will introduce SRPG fans to a genre that they may not have played otherwise.

Grade: A-