Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (in development)
Many of my favorite games stick with me over the years not because of finely-honed combat systems or impressive visual effects. Often it’s the story and characters that remain the most memorable aspects of those cherished gaming experiences.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has one of the best stories I’ve experienced in years. It’s an epic tale about heroic sacrifice, forbidden love, political betrayal, and self discovery set within a richly realized world of urban renaissance and ancient mystery. Masquerada’s tactical combat is serviceable, but it’s the story and characters that demand you experience this unique RPG.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, from Witching Hour Studios (and published by Ysbryd), is a really fun game with a lot of potential. “Set in the Venetian-inspired fantasy city of Ombre where rare masks are the key to casting magic, Masquerada is dressed in the colours and style of French comic books and vivid games like Bastion,” reads the description. “Players follow the Inspettore, Cicero Gavar as he returns from exile to solve a kidnapping that will shake up the foundations of the city.” Cicero seems like an interesting, perhaps unusual lead. He’s a coward who’s only just returned from being banished for his past crimes.
The Masquerada: Songs and Shadows demo I played gave me three characters to work with, one of them being Cicero. You’re actually controlling all three—it plays like an isometric Diablo-style RPG, but you can switch among your characters at will. And as in Dragon Age, hitting the spacebar will pause the combat in mid-air and allow you to set up your next attack with all three characters. I truly enjoyed the combat in Masquerada. I’m a fan of the pause-and-strategize tactic (though I recognize that it takes some players out of the immersion). It allows me to feel like I’m really bringing something of my own to the game, instead of simply hoping my characters are powerful enough to beat the bad guys.
The characters each had different skills that I could unleash. While it took me a bit to figure out what exactly I was doing, the combat animations were satisfying and each character felt like they brought something different and valuable to the fight. Apparently their magical skills are given to them via the masks they wear. I’m interested in finding out how this dynamic might switch up the gameplay later, or if it’s simply a world-building decision. Will different masks give them different skills? If they lose their mask, will they still be able to fight?
Voices are provided by Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect), Matthew Mercer (Fire Emblem: Awakening), Dave Fennoy (The Walking Dead) and more. The acting is definitely exciting; you can listen in the trailer below.
My main complaint about Masquerada—at least the demo I played—was that it felt kind of sparse. The characters and their designs are super intriguing, and I was deeply interested in what was happening in the story, but the setting felt empty. I wandered through giant halls of bookshelves, with maybe a table in a corner and a few doors that I couldn’t open. The place didn’t feel lived in, and there wasn’t much of anything to interact with. All the hallways looked roughly the same. There wasn’t much that told me what kind of world this was or what kind of people lived there. My hope is that the future will offer more in terms of world-building and exploration, even if that exploration is as simple as looking around at the things in the background.
In short, I definitely enjoyed the combat-based gameplay, but I hope the rest of the in-game world feels more populated, and that the characters, story, and world-building live up to their potential. I’ll definitely be picking this one up when it comes out in spring 2016 for PC, Mac, and consoles (TBD).