Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (Switch) Review
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a journey through a well-written story alongside fully-voiced characters in a colorful, hand-drawn world. Combined with powerful artifacts and a mysterious history, Witching Hour Studios brings us a magical RPG with five endearing protagonists and pulls at heartstrings in the right moments. Although its enthralling narrative includes pages and pages of reading, the game’s vibrant visuals and charm cannot be overlooked and encourages you to take your time finding answers and exploring the world.
Our protagonist is Cicero Gavar, an ex-elite from Citte della Ombre who was exiled five years ago for going against the state. Due to special circumstances, he is summoned back by the Registry to find a missing diplomat and old friend, Razitof. Equipped with his sword and a Mascherine, a magic-wielding artifact that allows users to channel different elements, Cicero sets out on his investigation and is joined by four others along the way – Razitof’s kind-hearted brother Kalden, the fiery and confident fighter Tiziana, the reclusive history geek Amadea, and the flamboyant information dealer Vasco. Each character comes with their own strengths and secrets, and with their growing trust in one another and combined knowledge they discover the mystery behind Razitof’s disappearance.
At the beginning of the story, you are given the option to choose an element for Cicero’s Mascherine – Fire, Water, Earth, or Air. It really does not matter which one you choose because your other party members will have control of a different element each. Over the course of the game, Cicero and his company will gain skill points which are used to activate and level up different skills. Later on, you will have the option to reset your skills. This option “refunds” your skill points so you can re-organize and allot the points to focus on your desired skills.
Learning More Through Practice
Before the game really begins, there is a Prologue chapter that is also conveniently the tutorial section where you can learn the combat system. While highly recommended that you play through the Prologue to sneak a peek at the story’s beginnings, the tutorial can be overwhelming as the game is not initially easy to pick up. Learning the different battle techniques is actually much easier when playing through the main game as the pacing is much slower, but there is no harm in completing the tutorial for extra information either.
The game utilizes a real-time and tactical pause combat system, which means while you can still run around and fight whoever you want, you also have the option to pause and strategically mark an enemy. During battle, you can bring two other protagonists with you, and you have the option to control their movements as well. If you wish to let the AI control them, you also have the opportunity to set the order of actions they follow when in battle.
With bright colours and creative Renaissance-inspired designs, even the location, costumes, name choices, and music give the player the feeling of being in a magical Venetian city. Not only is the game visually captivating, but the characters are fully-voiced as well. Each protagonist has a well-suited voice and emotions that cannot be expressed from written text alone. Many RPGs do not offer this, and truthfully it probably works out because Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a fairly short game. However, this feature really helps with setting the tone and mood that the characters are currently feeling, and being able to hear the happiness, relief, and regret in their voices make them seem even more relatable.
As a linear RPG game with no room for real side quests, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows focuses on the story and gameplay more than upgrading stats and grinding for days. The game autosaves at checkpoints and there is no need to level up to defeat bosses. While this is a breath of fresh air for gamers who fear the long hours put into RPGs, its 15 to 20 hours of gameplay can also feel short for those who wanted to invest more than a weekend to play. Of course, this also depends on if you want to completely read through everything, how lost you get when trying to find your way around, and if you want to play the game at a more challenging level, all of which will add to your hours as well.
Stop, Read, Play, Repeat
Despite the straightforwardness of the story, there is a lot of reading involved, which was slightly discouraging because it was a lot of reading. Over the course of the entire game, you can pass by different areas and collect information to read at your own free time. In these pages of text, you will find more information about the characters you’ve encountered, different types of magical beings, and bits and pieces of the city’s history. Some of this information can seem random, while others are valuable towards understanding the story. However, it gets tiring after the first hour when all the information is given to you in the form of written words rather than actual story-telling. And yes, they are mostly interesting tidbits, but I often found myself caught up in the game’s action and pacing that it did not feel comparatively important enough for me to pause my journey to read.
Once you beat the story there is a New Game Plus available, which allows Cicero to control all four elements, reset skills at any time, and more. It gives the game another chance to be replayed, which is great to have especially for a game with such intricate details in the storyline. Definitely playing through a second time answered the questions I had when I played it for the first time, and the actions of the characters made much more sense. A personal complaint I had though was that all the information I gathered in the initial run-through were gone – none of the facts I collected about people or places were kept in New Game Plus. Personally, I would have liked to have them still in my files so I could go and collect the things I didn’t manage to find, but maybe some players will enjoy rediscovering the information. A matter of preference, really!
All in all, the game was enjoyable from start to finish and I am really hoping for a sequel. The characters were charming, the plot was exciting, and the combat system was refreshing. If Witching Hour Studios has any plan to add more content into what they currently have or even make Masquerada into a series, I am fully supportive of it. The story was creative and there were so many little details that I am confident they can make more happen. I already miss Cicero and the rest of the group, and I’m sure if you play and finish the game, you will too. Next time, maybe less reading involved?
*** Switch code provided by the publisher ***
- Well-written characters
- Excellent voice acting
- Imaginative and creative plot
- New Game Plus offers more options and replayability
- A lot of reading is required
- Tutorial is tough to follow