Thursday, May 9

Review: Masquerada - Songs and Shadows [Nintendo Switch eShop]


When it comes to RPGs the Switch is certainly much better off than Nintendo’s last few systems, with representation from the likes of Square and other larger players in the genre bringing multiple titles to the console. It’s worth noting that on top of that there have been some notable indie RPGs of various types helping to further provide flavor in the space. Coming to the table with an experience that looks outstanding, has its own take on combat, and features a well-presented narrative backed up by a substantial amount of lore we now also have Masquerada: Song and Shadows. For anyone who has been feeling a bit burned out on traditional RPG tropes, pixel art, and variations on what you’ve seen before it’s well worth a look.


After a short prologue that also acts as a mini tutorial you’ll take control of a man named Cicero, who is returning to the civil war torn city of Ombre years after having been banished. Considering it was his brother who started the resistance movement, I suppose that’s understandable, but over the course of the story you’ll likely begin to understand what drove him to act and form the Maskrunners. Fighting against the aristocratic ruling class, the weapons of power in this war are called Mascherines, which imbue their wearer with elemental powers. Cicero has been called back to resume his role as an investigator in the hopes of him picking up the trail of a missing member of the ruling class who was searching for a breakthrough to help ensure the victory of those in power.


What you’ll quickly find is that there’s quite a lot of history and lore here to be pored over. Pretty well everyone you meet, every location you visit, and everything you discover has some underlying additional information you can choose to review. While the primary storyline does a great job of conveying what’s going on through some top-notch voice acting, it’s the lore that often layers on additional context and understanding. While I typically don’t bother with such things in the case of this game the writing and the story tended to encourage me to keep taking a look when new info would pop up.

Outside of advancing the story and gaining a better understanding of what’s going on the other main component to the game is its combat. Credit to the developer, though it can be a little on the odd side in how it plays out, it’s absolutely different and offers up multiple ways to get involved from strategic and measured to just jumping in and having some fun in semi-active fashion. You can control any member of your party in real time, taking control of their positioning and use of skills which are all on cooldowns. In the other direction you can approach things very strategically, pausing the action and plotting out your moves. To take things a bit further you have the ability to dictate rules that will help govern the AI in combat, tweaking how skills should be used and when. I tended to experiment and switch things up and both methods of control felt viable and satisfying, even if the battles do tend to be a bit chaotic.


In terms of downsides I’d say there aren’t many with the primary concern being whether you’re looking for something that’s heavily story and lore-driven or not. The story is absolutely the star here, with the visual presentation, lore, and voice acting working together to deliver an experience that feels pretty fresh. That said, if you were hoping for a bit more action it’s a mixed bag, not being particularly bad but definitely taking a back seat in terms of quality to the elements of storytelling. Load times can be a nuisance, especially when you’ll sometimes move through areas that seem to serve no purpose other than to connect areas visually, but they aren’t so awful that it brings the experience down. If you’ve been seeking out an RPG that looks great but breaks away from the pack in terms of its storytelling and general feel, Masquerada is absolutely a game worth checking out.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • An intriguing story full of characters who feel genuine and lore that’s typically worth reading up on
  • Top-notch voice acting and a unique art style help the game stand out from the pack
  • The combat system is pretty open-ended, allowing you to fight actively or slow things down to allow for more strategy

Cons:
  • If your first objective isn’t a game with a great story the overall package may not be as appealing
  • Pauses from load times are pretty frequent and can be aggravating at times
  • The options for how to approach combat are appreciated but it can play out a bit sloppily mechanically