Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth Review
I have a confession to make. Back when I reviewed Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, I had not quite beaten the game when I rendered my final judgment. I try to make it a rule to try to finish every title I cover, but due to the length of the game and my schedule, I figured 30 hours was enough to share my thoughts. However, this was admittedly a notable blunder on my part.
You see, after I published my review, I decided to go back and finish up the rest of the story and post-game content that was available. I didn’t realize that I would spend yet another 30 hours, around 60 hours in total, completing everything Mask of Deception had to offer.
What I was able to witness from the narrative perspective was a story that became more personal, more emotional, and altogether more tragic as it went on. There were moments when I couldn’t help but hold my breath in anticipation of what would happen next. And while this had happened a few times in my original time with the game, I wasn’t prepared for the twists and turns that followed.
Since my read was no longer in the mindset of meeting a predetermined embargo date, I was able to more fully absorb the story that was being told - and it was an excellent one in every sense of the word. So much so that I highly regard it as perhaps Atlus’s best localization effort in many years.
Those that worked on this project clearly put a lot of love, care, and fun into their efforts, allowing the source material to really shine in a way those who only know native English such as myself would truly appreciate.
This is complemented by the incredible performances from all the voice actors. I can't tell you the number of times near the end where I had to take a second to gather myself just from hearing the way you could hear the conviction in their voices during the more passionate sequences.
There were plenty of cherished moments that occurred not only in the main story arc but also in the aforementioned post-game bonus missions. Sure, some of it was a tad bizarre, but it made things all the better when you examine the personality of those characters and how they aimed to subvert your expectations. I spent a lot of time getting to know these people on my adventures, and it made me excited knowing I had an entire sequel to look forward to in short order.
Which leads me to Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. Before either of these two entries came out, I was able to observe the reactions they both had from people on my social feed who had imported the games. There was a lot of apparent admiration from those who played the original Utawarerumono when it was released over 15 years ago.
The story starts out sort of the same way that Mask of Deception does. Kuon has just woken up back at home after having collapsed at the end of the previous game. Soon after encountering her childhood friend, she soon realizes she has a small case of amnesia. Sound familiar?
In this case, it’s more selective in nature. She is having a hard time remembering the friends she traveled with and those she met along the way. As you can already tell, you’ll begin the game in the shoes of Kuon.
This carries into a long visual exposition of the events that occurred in Deception with all the pivotal encounters with central characters. Only this time, it’s from the perspective of Kuon with Haku facing you. It’s a good way to catch up on the story even though I had experienced it over the past few weeks.
Sadly, this flashback doesn’t address what happened during the final moments of the story when Haku is isolated from the rest of the party, instead of skipping that part entirely. It's not a big deal, but it would have at least given players the illusion they weren’t just trying to provide a recap.
Without getting deep into spoilers, the plot delves into a power struggle between the different factions that operate inside the kingdom and the countries that seek to usurp the power of the Mikado, the ruler of Yamato. As a result, friendships are tested, alliances are formed or broken, and those who were once comrades become bitter enemies.
Once again, the story-writing in Mask of Truth is easily its strongest asset. The same rollercoaster ride in the original is all the more prevalent here. Everything flows so naturally from conversation to conversation with an even greater amount of political intrigue.
I never felt lost during the discussion; rather, I became all the more invested in the plight of those I already spent so much time with and grown to deeply care about. As the story neared its conclusion, I felt like every passing moment was plucking at my heartstrings that by the end of it, I was a bit of an emotional wreck.
Whether it was through familial bonds or the struggles among friends, it was sometimes difficult to watch because of the powerful drama that unfolded. I will admit some parts of the game leaned into fanservice territory, but it was more flirting with these themes rather than being swept up in the equity.
I will also say I wasn’t too fond of the harem tropes. There are several strong heroines featured in this game, but around the male protagonist, they start to become a little too flustered and restless.
This theme encourages the player to choose a “favorite” among the girls despite the fact so many of them have a developed backstory worthy of empathy. Seeing any of them hurt when being turned from a romantic relationship would be terrible, so I wish it didn’t rely on this element.
Another problem is that at some point, Mask of Truth starts to overstay its welcome. Maybe this is some frustration setting in with how the events play out, but as I neared the end, I couldn’t help but think, “Really, another boss fight?” In what would otherwise be a powerful finish turns into one that’s stretching beyond its means simply to tie up any loose ends.
But considering this is designed to be the finale, should I really be arguing about this? After all, I was still fully engaged with what was happening up to the final piece of dialogue. I would even say it leads to a stronger close as it was that much harder to deal with mentally, but it takes some self-motivation to get there.
Let’s change the subject. Speaking of strong assets, combat is largely the same as before. There is a few quality of life additions such as the ability to forecast what your action does on the target, like how much it will deplete their health and the amount of zeal you’ll gain. Other new flourishes include co-operative chains, co-operative final strikes, and some other neat accouterments to give this feature some much-needed depth.
Non-participating party members (even those who aren’t part of the story arc) will also gain some experience points, a feature the previous game was sorely lacking. Lastly, you can now spend BP (or Bonus Points) to unlock more equipment slots on each character, which allows you to place items that offer different benefits, though it is an expensive investment.
Another neat inclusion is the Red vs. White mock battles. This lets you pit party members against one another with both sides earning experience points and the winning side earning BP. The idea is to rotate your active team around to build up their stats. It’s a good way to prepare for the next battle in what is certainly a win-win situation. This also acts as a lovely complement to the returning Dream Arena.
There is also Munechika’s Trials, a series of challenges set under specific restrictions that get progressively more intricate. It adds a nice wealth of appended content to tutorialize the more advanced mechanics of combat while earning rewards in the process.
These challenges are smartly unlocked as you progress through the game, so you're only taught things you have direct access to. Considering the game tries to alert you when there's a new trial, you always feel on top of things.
Along with the trials, you have a New Game Plus feature that lets you carry over unit levels, BP, and equipment as you start the game over from the beginning. While I am not in a hurry to have my emotions tampered with again, it's a nice feature for those that want to enjoy the gameplay - as much as it offers, anyway.
As I mentioned with Mask of Deception, Mask of Truth is almost entirely made up of visual novel scenes. Thankfully, the balance is tilted more in favor of battles. And much like its predecessor, encounters occur more frequently in the second half of the game. It’s an appreciated change, but the same points remain true - don’t come to this expecting a lot of gameplay, because the writing takes center stage.
By all intents and purposes, Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth together showcase faithful bookends to one of the most beloved bishoujo games of all time. Not only are there so many memorable moments acknowledge from a narrative standpoint, but the characters themselves display unique emotional complexities that make them all the more beguiling.
While this series may flow under the radar in the west, if you recognize yourself as a visual novel fan, you sincerely owe it to yourself to indulge in what I consider to be one of the most endearing experiences I’ve had in years. I know I'll miss my fellow party members considerably. As someone who values story above all else in the games I play, that’s saying a lot, but it isn’t the only aspect worth praising here. From the artwork and music to the characters and combat system, I can’t recommend this series enough.