Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a heavily story driven RPG from the talented folks over at Witching Hour Studios. RPG games are starting to pick up a lot of traction as of late, or at least the genre is. Games that sit in the field tend to come in varying shapes and sizes, but it truly takes something special to not only rub shoulders with the best, but to stand out too. Despite the lack of exploration and customisation, which are typically considered to be the backbone for a game that sits in this spectrum, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows still manages to hold its own, and it’s an experience that will stick with me for a great deal of time to come.
You take on the role of one exiled Cicero Gavar, a well kempt inspector who travels back to the city of Ombre to try and crack the case of a kidnapping. It becomes quickly apparent that the world you inhabit has a major divide in society, those that wear powerful masks that buff their abilities and sufficiency, and those that could only wish of owning such a mask. The divide doesn’t end there, because mask-bearers are plentiful and tend to stick to a faction or belief of some sort. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long at all for the proverbial shit to hit the fan, and from this moment on, you’re fully immersed into one of the most well rounded, well voiced, and well structured stories that I have played in a good while.
Ombre is full to the brim of political war, a place that’s subject to hidden agendas, political motivation, undesirable intentions and unease. As you make your way through the investigation, more and more members of the Masquerada will be introduced to you, most of which you would probably trust as much as a thief in an open bank with no cameras. The story and its delivery is top notch, with twists and shocks dropped onto your lap at a remarkable pace. There’s roughly 12 hours of gameplay to enjoy here, with each and every hour jam-packed with intriguing moments that will keep you not only engaged, but on the edge of your seat. Given how story driven this game is, it would be unfair to spoil the plot outside of the premise, but what I will say is that those of you that enjoy a good story, you certainly wont be disappointed.
As alluded to above, this is a very linear RPG. That (for most of you) will be a trade-off that you’ll either forgive in place of everything else the game gets right, or something you’ll long for seeing as most RPG’s offer this design as standard. Gameplay sees you moving from environment to environment with little pieces of lore scattered throughout, giving you the chance to learn more about the world that you’re being swallowed by. When you engage in combat, you’re able to utilise several abilities, an ultimate ability, and your run of the mill standard auto-attack. Party members will call powers from different elements, each of which comes with a unique skill tree that can upgraded. Combat can often become quite chaotic at first, but you can indeed pause the game and dish out commands to your party to help soothe the hectic battles.
In terms of customisation, there really isn’t anything outside of the above system. This, much like the lack of exploration, will again divide the crowd and I wont lie, I was a bit shocked to see less emphasis in this department for an RPG. In any case, the combat still manages to hold its ground in the face of what Masquerada lacks. It’s hugely satisfying to juggle the commands you dish out to your party and sit back and watch as everything unfolds. The action is pretty full on, especially when you take your most powerful attacks into the fray. That being said, this is by no means an easy game. Several times did I find myself hitting the proverbial brick wall due to a foe that proved to be much tougher than they looked. It makes you appreciate the simplicity of the mechanics to some degree, if even you never quite forgive the absence of a more in-depth set of systems.
I did become fairly confused at specific sections of the game when characters were yapping at one another regarding events that I had no clue about. This is where players will need to pay attention to the optional in-game lore. If you don’t at least brush up on the sizeable amount of text within, there’s a good chance you’ll miss a beat or be sat there scratching your head as the characters ramble on. This isn’t really something that I can complain about, because the lore is there, it’s just a questionable design choice that doesn’t sit well with my preference. What I will say is that Masquerada: Songs and Shadows offers up a very interesting world that’s full of equally as interesting scenarios, so reading up on the lore was never boring, just somewhat inconvenient.
Visually, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a joy to observe. The game houses what I can only describe as a comic-book like style, which has allowed the developers to toy around with a good level of detail. There’s a great portion of distinct environments to trek through, each of which look unique and well crafted from beginning to end. The style isn’t going to please everyone, but for me, they did the trick. The style sits well with the beautiful orchestra-like soundtrack that manages to capture the theme of the game magnificently. It helps that all of this is tied together by some excellent voice acting. This can be said about the entire cast, who have collectively put in 110% to ensure that you care about the characters and immerse yourselves in the experience that lies ahead.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a great game, there’s no denying that. It’s just sadly let down by questionable design choices, such as the gated lore, the lack of customisation, and the absence of exploration opportunities. These are things that are typically present in any given RPG, so I fully suspect that these three issues will divide the crowd. On the flip-side, the game houses a decent combat system and one massively interesting plot that’s tightly held together by a solid well voiced cast, each of which offer fascinating stories of their own. Group this with 12 hours of longevity, albeit with little replay value present, and the excellent visuals and soundtrack, and you have more than enough reason to pay Masquerada: Songs and Shadows a visit.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.