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Masquerada: Songs and Shadows

In the turmoil-ridden Citte della Ombre, religion holds no sway. Only the songs sung of one’s deeds will carry an Ombrian’s legacy beyond death. Those who hold even the... read more

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Review (PS4)

Author: Dian Raval
08-Aug-2017

Category: Review

Uncover the masked mysteries of a Renaissance-inspired city of magic in this fully voiced pause-for-tactics RPG! Masquerada: Songs and Shadows focuses on delivering a compelling story whilst offering a versatile combat system that caters to any playstyle.

Masquerada: Songs and ShadowsReview (PS4)

INTRODUCTION

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a stately little title that offers an enjoyable semi-tactical RPG whilst providing an enchanting story that tackles some very dark and very real topics notwithstanding what the delightful hand-drawn visuals might suggest.

The game is available on the PlayStation Store for $19.99

STORY

The game follows Cicero Gavar, an ex-Inspettore who had been exiled from the city of Ombre for treason after refusing to kill his own brother who sought to lead a rebellion against the Masquerada. Five years later, Cicero is called back into the city with the promise of complete absolution and a hefty sum of coin in exchange for taking lead in an ongoing investigation. Who soon finds himself in the company of some unlikely allies as he begins to unravel mysteries he could not have prepared for.


The story is almost never my main motivation to play an RPG nowadays. I've gotten used to it being just an excuse to fight, grind, and level-up. In Masquerada, however, combat is merely the entrée and the storyline it's the main course. Between the prepossessing art style and the incredible voice talents surrounding it, I found myself invested in the story and the lore.

The game is dense with lore. The majority of the game's pickups are codex entries regarding just about everything in the game. From gameplay tips and characters to information about the various guilds and their culture. It's too many to read through all of them but thankfully it's pretty optional and reserved for those who truly want to immerse themselves into its world.

GAMEPLAY

It really is more of an adventure game rather than an RPG. There are no stat allocation or equipment management. Initially, have to pick one of the four main elemental masks(called Mascherines). which are essentially classes with their own unique set of unlockable skills. Your choice is permanent(at least for that particular playthrough) but you can allocate skill points earned among six or so skills which can be further upgraded to gain additional effects. 


One advance gameplay element in Masquerada is Elemental tagging. Certain skills can afflict enemies with an elemental tag which, when triggered by a signature attack, deals additional damage and status effects depending on your party's available skills. Another would be Inks and engravings. These two are the only other things you can find in the world besides codex entries and new mascherines. Inks offers additional buffs while engravings provide bonus damage and determine the proc rate for your Ink's buff. You can equip each party member with their own combination of inks and engravings. A skill-based build, for instance, would benefit greatly from an Ink that reduces your cooldowns and an engraving with a high proc rate. Damage per second builds might prefer an attack speed ink and a high damage engraving instead
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If anything, Masquerada's combat elements suggest a more MOBA-inspired approach. Though its 'pause-for-tactics' feature (think Dragon Age) is suggested to be optional, it becomes almost necessary past the first couple chapters. There's no obvious indicator when you're close to death and stuff can happen rather quickly in any given fight. If you hadn't been paying close attention to your party's health bars, you're more likely to get knocked down or get the entire party wiped. This is especially true for those fights with special victory/defeat conditions.You would have to routinely pause mid-battle to keep up with all of the action and incorporate a certain level of strategy to ensure victory. Thankfully, the tactical side of Masquerada's combat neatly supplements its real-time component. 

I just wish the movement speed out of combat was much faster and that unit collision wasn't implemented, at least for allied units. Unless you have a dashing skill, you'll often find yourself stuck somewhere inside a clump of melee fighters. Thankfully, you can switch between three combat stances, the Dirge stance, in particular, allows you to attack from a distance. The other two stances are the Sicario and the Pavisierres which are the damage-per-second and tank stances respectively. There's a decent amount of combat elements to keep you engaged. You can choose to dive deep into its combat system but you can also play the game as casually as you'd like. The combat encounters in Masquerada are versatile enough to accommodate either playstyle.

GRAPHICS AND AUDIO

The visual art style and impressive voice over work make up the majority of its appeal. I doubt I would've even given this game a second glance had the hand-drawn cell-shaded visuals not pique my interest. The voice acting and well-written dialogs don't make me want to skip through the conversations either. Better still, the orchestra music playing in the background gracefully complements its Venetian-inspired visual style. 


The worst part of Masquerada's visuals is in the comic strip style scenes that really only serves as an excuse to focus on objects and depict certain actions that the in-game scenes can't possibly show with its isometric view and limited preset gestures. The backgrounds in these scenes are low quality or non-existent, it zooms in on the same in-game character models which don't really translate well from a non-birds eye view. Fortunately, these scenes are few and brief and are still better than just having to witness the story unfold entirely from all the way up high.

CONCLUSION

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a narrative adventure that relies a great deal on its charming art style, top-tier voice acting, and surprisingly deep combat system to deliver a compelling tale of loyalty, friendship, family, and hope. It's a fun experience regardless whether or not you choose to immerse yourself in its lore and combat system. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is not an RPG that happens to have a story. It's a story that happens to have an RPG.
   

PROS
CONS
+ Charming hand-drawn art style.
- Linear.
+ Gripping storyline.
- Scant role-playing elements.
+ First-rate voice acting.
- Pesky unit-collision.



SCORE: 7/10

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