Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Impression
Graphically, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows features a beautiful, highly saturated world of charm and beauty. Clearly the creators put as much attention into how the world looks as the writing.
Developed by Witching Hour Studios and published by Ysbryd Games, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows brings together real-time, party combat with Renaissance-inspired settings. The game promises a refreshing story with deep world building, which it absolutely provides. Players jump into the role of Cicero Gavar, an investigator from Ombre. One of the leaders summons him from exile to look into a mysterious kidnapping of a high-ranking diplomat. As players work through the mystery, other characters join the sleuth, each with their own motivations and suspicions.
Citte della Ombre, the setting for the adventure, is an atheistic city with various guilds vying for power in a constant struggle with one another. As the protagonist questions people, the answers often lead him into the path of one or more of these groups, leading to some tense encounters. Many of their members sport ‘mascherines’, masks that give powers to those who wear them. Guilds also fight over the shrinking supply of these artifacts as they disappear when a wearer dies, reducing the number available.
The tale presented in Masquerada: Songs and Shadows gives as much as players are willing to take. The numerous cinematics are voice acted very well, though players may skip them. However, to get the full story, players will need to read journals which contain much of the lore of the land, as well as deeper thoughts of the investigator. The entries seem countless as one can hardly go through a single room without activating at least one new item to review.
For RPGamers who enjoy reading to get a deeper story, this provides ample opportunity to dive into a new, fresh world. Although players can skip reading these entries, they will likely miss some important insights. Without them, keeping up with the various moving pieces of the story proves difficult. To make the exercise more challenging, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is replete with confusing terminology as nearly everything seems to have a unique word or name. While many will easily remember that ‘mascherines’ means ‘masks,’ it can be difficult when a paragraph has nearly a half-dozen fancy terms requiring the player to pause to recall what each one means or refers to.
Thankfully, the well-written story features plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting. Each character feels fleshed out, and most players will find a few to connect with emotionally. With that said, choices are few and far between. The story lacks player agency, and can feel limiting to RPGamers used to choices that make characters feel like their own.
Graphically, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows features a highly saturated world of charm and beauty. Clearly the creators put as much attention into how the world looks as the writing. Spell effects fill the screen with color, though they can occasionally make it difficult to tell exactly what is going on.
Linearity also plagues exploration. As players progress through the story, the game dictates where to go next via waypoint markers. Searching buildings or dungeons offers few branching paths, and exploring gives few rewards. Given that the game focuses on investigating, it would have added a lot of depth if players could actually ponder the clues in order to come to their own conclusions, impacting how the story plays out.
Thankfully, combat and character skill selection give players some choices. Each character in the party can choose various powers and passive abilities. Through careful choices, tactical players can create balanced, powerful parties. Combat itself runs in real-time, with the player controlling one character and the AI controlling the other two. At any time, players can change the character they control on the fly, as well as the battle stance they take. Furthermore, players have the ability to pause and give orders individually as needed.
The combat system works well enough for basic fights. However, tougher boss fights can lead to some rough spots as AI-controlled partners seem to lack basic survival instincts. Frustration can set in when players see their party members stand around inside an obvious area of effect for a solid four seconds before the boss unleashes unholy death leading to a party wipe. Players may change the difficulty of the game in-between fights to address this challenge if desired. Ultimately, combat feels similar to other games with real-time, party-based systems, though some of them do it better.
Whether or not RPGamers will enjoy Masquerada: Songs and Shadows depends much on their taste for linear storytelling and gaming experiences. For those who do, they will find the excellent writing and stellar voice acting a real treat. The combat system and character skill system simply will not carry any the experience for those without such tastes.