The Italian Renaissance is often regarded as one of the most important and creative periods in human history. The setting has been used greatly in the Assassin’s Creed series, and also used as an inspiration in the Dishonored games, but Masquerada: Songs and Shadows takes the influence one step further. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has a Renaissance and Venetian inspired setting, and it is this setting that has helped the developers, Witching Hour Studios, create a unique, albeit short, RPG experience.
Masquerada takes place in the Citte of Ombre, a very unique and ornate coastal city that is also hidden inside a massive cavern. Ombre is home to a clashing class system; the Masquerada who are at the top of the system, who have Mascherines, masks that grant them magical powers, and the Contadani, the lower class. The story introduces you to Cyrus Gavar, who manages to supply Contadani with their own Mascherines, thus starting a civil war, but ultimately his life is cut short. Cyrus’ brother Cicero, ends up exiled even after not following his brother, and the game takes place five years later, where he is summoned back to Ombre by the head of the city. The conflict has left many dead and for some reason, Mascherines are tied to their owners, and when they die, the Mascherines are destroyed as well. Cicero is given the role of Inspettore, and with the help of a mariner named Kalden, and others along the way, he is tasked with finding out why the Mascherines are being destroyed and how they can stop the loss of a dwindling source of power to the Masquerada.
The story of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, is definitely one of the best things going for it. With the Renaissance inspired setting and massive political conflict, there is a fair amount of intrigue expected and the game does not disappoint. I found myself constantly playing just to see what twist or turn was going to happen next, and where it would lead Cicero. The art style is gorgeous as well, being heavily inspired by french graphic arts, and the city is awash in color. Additionally, the voice work is fantastic and is absolutely loaded with some of the finest voice actors in the video game industry, such as Matt Mercer (Leon S. Kennedy, Resident Evil series) and Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard, Mass Effect series), amongst others.
There is also a great amount of lore to the game, and Masquerada spares no expense in informing players on the various aspects of culture in Ombre. However, the game is very linear, and there is minimal exploration allowed. You can poke around here or there, and unlock more lore, but the areas are very limited, which was a let down as I wanted to explore more of this great setting. Hopefully, there will be more adventures set in and around Ombre in the future.
The gameplay itself, however, felt a bit lacking. The game has an isometric view, giving one the impression that the game would be similar to Baldur’s Gate, or other classic PC role-playing games. However, the game lacks the meat and depth that one would find in many western role-playing games. While you get ability points to spend and craft your characters in certain ways, there are no weapons or gear to find or other stats to play around with, it’s all basically just in the few abilities that you will set to your characters.
Combat is real-time, but with the ability to pause, feeling somewhat similar to Dragon Age: Origins in that regard. You can also set the AI on your companions abilities to tweak things that way or pause and use abilities, but in the end, things get pretty chaotic and I tended to just focus on Cicero and what he was doing. As a big RPG fan, I love the ability to explore and get loot and set my characters the way I want, but I just felt that Masquerada: Songs and Shadows was too limiting in this area, especially with only having skills to play around with, and it didn’t seem like enough options for what there is.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a good action-RPG that fans of the genre who are looking for a bigger focus on story over micromanaging will more than likely enjoy. The amazing orchestral and choral score, combined with fantastic art and voice acting make for a Citte worth visiting. However, the lack of depth in the RPG system and combat system will be a disappointment for some. Still, if you are looking for a great narrative, and hopefully a solid foundation to future games, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is worth the visit.