MASQUERADA: SONGS AND SHADOWS
By Jef "JeffAlpha" P. on August 7, 2017
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows puts you in the role of Cicero Gavar, a man of humble birth who made a decent career for himself. His rank of inspettore put him in an awkward position when he comes face to face with his brother who fights for the lower class in the citte della Ombre. Unwilling to kill his outlaw brother Cicero is exiled as a traitor. Now Cicero is back! He, once again, assumes his role of inspettore to investigate a suspicious kidnapping of a certain regenti. He faces many obstacles, his past being one of them, but luckily he comes across a few unlikely allies in his quest for truth and redemption.
Masquerada is a single player tactical action RPG set in a distinct venetian/renaissance environment. The game is developed by Witching Hous Studios which is based in Singapore. Masquerada first came out in 2016 on PC and is now available on PS4. I've only seen the trailer because I try to stay as open minded as possible when doing a review but it looks promising. Lots of magic and damage points flying around and apparently masks seem to play an important role.
The first thing that stands out in Masquerada is the artwork. I'm not talking about the fact that it has this obvious venetian theme but rather the comic book style in which it is presented. Cutscenes are done by overlapping shots of characters showing slow and minimal movement. It looks very neat and is a very cool way to tell the story. It fits in well with the similar looking graphics during gameplay. The overall artwork might be where Masquerada shines brightest. Personally my favorite feature was the voiceover. Being an RPG there is always storytelling and dialogue involved and the voice acting is superb. The voices match individuals, convey emotions and bring the characters to life. Add some Opera music in the background and the dish is done.
Masquerada is not your average RPG. Fortunately the tutorial is pretty helpful. It shows you how to switch characters, configure skills, pause mid-battle and use elemental attacks. The battle system has some depth in the sense that you can unlock new magic attacks and upgrade them in a modest skill tree. Every character has his or her own element which adds status effects when combined with other elemental attacks. This all seems pretty straight forward so far. However Masquerada got rid of most features we associate with RPGs. For instance, points earned after certain battles can be used to unlock skills. However there are no XP points for leveling up a character and no loot drops, which means no new weapons or armor or potions. I guess this is where some depth was sacrificed to make the game accessible? Anyway, the game runs smooth, skills look cool and have enough variety to make you want to unlock more.
The same accessibility that I spoke of before can also be found in the rest of Masquerada's world. To gain a better understanding of the lore, pieces of your codex are scattered across most levels. These give background information on characters, factions and locations for those who are interested in such affairs. Although level design is nicely done it doesn't leave anything to interact with besides these bits of background story and the transition point to the next room. Let's say you are in a marketplace that makes you wonder about objects, helpful NPCs, what's at the end of the street or what's behind any closed door, you will never know. Then again, this does keep the focus on the storyline as well as a nice pace moving forward.
Masquerada Songs and Shadows captured the feel they were going for. The artwork looks sharp, bright and overall polished. Characters come to life trough well-acted dialogue and feel like they play distinct roles in the storyline. The lack of depth in key features of the game felt uncomfortable for me personally. I have seen similar design choices in other indie games but not to this extent. Perhaps this is just what certain RPG fans are looking for. If you don't want to be bothered with stats or getting lost in an open world but rather play through a compelling story without distractions, Masquerada has exactly that.