Masquerada: Songs and Shadows a successful Kickstarter game developed by Witching Hour Studio is an isometric roleplaying game which utilizes both real-time and paused based combat during its 10+ hour journey through the Citte of Ombre and surrounding areas.
You play as Inspettore Cicero Gavar, a former member of the Masquerada who was exiled after refusing to stop his brother who led a revolt from the lower classes, known as Mask Runners, in an effort to overthrow the Masquerada. Cicero receives an enigmatic message from the leader of the city asking him to return to Ombre, promising to restore his status and pay him a handsome sum in return for a favor. Intrigued, and in need of money, Cicero heads to Ombre.
After a brief prologue, which also serves as the tutorial for the game, you begin your adventure. Arriving in the Citte of Ombre, a Venetian style setting that is heavily divided by class and broken up into various guilds. You make your way to the “The Registry” which serves as the center of government in Ombre to meet up with the ruler of the city, Avestus Aliarme.
Avestus asks Cicero to find a former acquaintance of yours, Razitof Azrus, who has disappeared. You are quickly joined by his brother Kalden Azrus and along with three other characters that you meet up with along the way, you begin your journey to find Razitof and unravel the mystery of his disappearance.
In typical RPG fashion one of your first assignments is to pick your “Mascherine”, which essentially is a Mardi Gras style mask that gives the Masquerada their power. You are informed early on that when a character goes through “the binding” they are bound to their mask and if at any time the wearer dies, the mask disintegrates into a fine dust and blows away.
Part of the process in choosing your personal Mascherine is to select your “element”, essentially the power that your mask provides. These are broken down into Fire, Water, Air, and Earth each with their own unique powers that can be unlocked and upgraded throughout your journey.
After that you are on your way to unravel the mysteries of the Mascherines, the Mask Runners, and the mysterious fairy creatures known as Fey.
The story is the strongest part of Masquerada. Every conversation is professionally voiced by an extremely talented set of voice actors. As you come across lore throughout your journey your codex is updated with lengthy descriptions providing even deeper background to each environment and character that you encounter.
The story has just the right level of political intrigue, twists and turns to keep you interested, and was one aspect that kept me coming back for more.
The hand drawn backdrops are beautiful to behold, with a visual style that reminded me of a cross between Baldur’s Gate and the Banner Saga. The colors are vibrant and appear to pop off the screen.
The art style never looks too cartoony or overdone. The developers stated they wanted the player to feel like they could “print-screen and land themselves a beautiful illustration anytime”, and to this end I feel they succeeded brilliantly.
Sadly this is where the similarities to games such as Baldur’s Gate end. The game is extremely linear, to a point where every move is highlighted with a colored marker.
There is no exploration needed, as the game highlights where you have to go next, where points of interest are, and even highlights raw masks, inks, etc. that allow you to upgrade your weapon and masks going forward. There is no searching for items, no wondering where to go next…everything is presented directly to you on the screen.
I hope you enjoy load screens, because this game does not leave you wanting. If you need to go to another area, you move to the colored marker, hit a key and you are greeted with a load screen…want to go through a door…yep, move to the circle, hit the button, load screen.
Want to go up the stairs, move to the circle, load screen…you get the idea. The load screens themselves are quick (usually not more than a few seconds per), and the game auto-saves during every load screen, so while the impact is minimal, it greatly reduces your immersion in the world.
Combat is sadly the weakest part of the game. It’s played in real-time with opportunities to pause the action for a more “tactical” feel. Unfortunately combat typically involves mashing on the attack button, while pressing other buttons to activate your mask powers. It’s like a combination of Diablo and Baldur’s Gate, with neither method being particularly deep.
I honestly never utilized nor felt the need to use the pause function during combat. Whether players would be more likely to utilize this on the PC version (versus the PS4 version I reviewed) is highly debatable. While in theory it allows you to organize your team and utilize them to the best of their abilities, in practice it becomes too much of an exercise in micromanagement and was something I quickly ditched after the tutorial.
The combat is also very unbalanced, where you may have to play through the same battle multiple times until you finally are lucky enough to beat them.
There is no grinding to improve your skills before approaching a fight, and there is no coming back to it later…remember the linearity I mentioned earlier? Thankfully the game does allow you to lower the difficult to “Story Mode” which makes the battles extremely easy to get through.
Does that mean that combat is difficult?? Hardly, in fact there were only a few battles that I had to play more than once or twice and I only lowered the difficulty once out of sheer frustration.
So that leads to the question as to whether the game is worth the $24.99 on Steam/Playstation Store. If you are looking for a deep RPG experience, where you are constantly gathering new equipment, upgrading your characters, and exploring a wide-open world, then you’re best bet is to steer clear.
You will get none of that here. However, if you are looking for a unique, story driven adventure, that is family friendly and you can play through in about 10 hours, then this may be the game for you.
The game does take a few hours to really get into, and you will be bombarded with a ton of terminology that may turn you off initially. However if you stick with it and try not to get bogged too down in every little detail, you’ll find an engaging story, and one that kept me playing through to the end.
What I like: Incredible voice acting, Beautiful/Colorful world, Story
What I didn’t like as much: Linear approach, Repetitive combat, and the never ending supply of load screens