As a fan of Persona 5, I held some hope for Masquerada: Songs and Shadows at first. Maybe it was the intriguing art style, people with masks, RPG elements, or a combination of the three. But even without that unfair comparison, this is a game with flaws purely from its individual pieces not fitting well together.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a top-down tactical RPG with a Renaissance setting. There’s a political conspiracy at play behind the scenes that your character, Investigator Cicero, must solve. Find clues, speak with important figures, and battle enemies to get to the truth.
Crawl, don’t walk
Unfortunately, the “truth” you will quickly find with this game is that it is incredibly slow and plodding. Tactical RPGs aren’t known to be fast-paced by nature, but Masquerada really takes its time to its own detriment.
The story seems like it could be interesting at first, but the way it’s told is done in frankly the most uninteresting way possible. Each section feels disjointed from the next. Meanwhile, you rack up codex entries that are supposed to tie everything together. I’m sure they do. However, if you expect gamers to sit and read these things (some at over 1,000 words), then you’re deluding yourself.
There are a couple of bright spots, one being the art style. While it won’t blow you away, it is pleasing to the eye. I certainly enjoyed when cutscenes would play out in a motion comic sort of way. Plus the voice acting certainly did its damnedest to sell what is an otherwise ho-hum plot. Having the likes of Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect) and Matt Mercer (Resident Evil) is great. It’s just too bad their efforts largely feel wasted.
Then there’s the loading. Oh, the loading! It feels like Masquerada has to load each and every scene that takes place, which is just frequent and long enough for each time to be a pain. And considering how much of the gameplay revolves around running from one spherical pillar of light to the next, you’ll feel it even more. At least give me something to get hyped with anticipation before you have me watch a percentage go up on a black screen again.
Prattle and battle
When you’re not skipping through dialogue and walls of lore, there is the occasional battle. Again, this is a tactical-style RPG, but with the option to play either in real time or pausing the action to map out moves.
You’ll most likely do what I did and just run up to enemies cycling through moves. Characters automatically attack whoever is near them, so playing in real time definitely feels a bit off. Skill points are also earned and spent on new moves and upgrades.
The moves available will be determined by which of four elements you choose near the start of the game. It gives some decent variety if you wish to do multiple playthroughs. However, it doesn’t really save the auto-run feel of the combat itself. If that’s your bag, have at it. Otherwise, I found the battle system to be too hands-off for my liking.
Like its characters, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows puts on the mask of a good game. The above par voice acting and art style will certainly lead you to believe that. But the excruciatingly slow pace of its weak story, uninteresting combat mechanics, and relentless loading ultimately tell the tale. The sum of its parts just doesn’t jive together nearly as well as RPG fans will hope.
A review code was provided by the publisher.
David has been involved in games media since 2012 running his own blog, YouTube channel, being a founding member of RETRO Magazine, and now as host/producer of ARGcast – Another Retro Gaming Podcast. He also dabbles in voiceover and is occasionally a stunt double for Jude Law.