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