October 10, 2016

Andreas Betsche

Welcome to the city of Ombre! Review of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows

October 10, 2016 | Andreas Betsche

Young Cicero Gavar has returned to a Venetian-inspired city after years of exile. He was once an Inspettore of the Registry, and has been summoned to lead an investigation to find his friend Razitof, who has gone missing. Razitof was responsible for finding a solution to the disappearance of the powerful magic masks of Ombre (Mascherines).

This is the beginning of a true detective story full of intrigue, friendship, betrayal, and danger, which is not afraid to tackle controversial topics such as homosexuality, prostitution, drugs, and corruption.

Masquerada Title Screen
Masquerada’s title screen gives us a glimpse at the beautiful game world.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is an outstanding game mainly because of its captivating story. The game’s creators, Witching Hour Studios, have managed to build a believable and interesting fantasy world. In the game, you play the role of Cicero who meets several other characters, who are all members of different guilds in Ombre, each with their own unique backstories. The writers have done an excellent job of portraying these characters through well-written dialogues or diary entries. As I progressed through the game, I grew fond of characters like Kalden, a healer from the Mariner’s guild, and Amadea, the young historian with dark roots. In fact, at times, it felt like the secondary characters had more depth and effort put into them than Cicero, whose motivations are not always clear. Nonetheless, all dialogues and cut scenes in the game are fully voiced, and the actors did a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life.

Masquerade Cut Scene
Sometimes, the story is told in cut scenes.

Masquerada’s musical score is its highlight after the story. The game designers have put a lot of effort into creating beautiful opera choirs and elegant chanting that play an important role in the cultural history of Ombre. The audio design is perfectly interwoven with the game world, which is explored by the players from an isometric point of view. The game features parties of three characters who traverse beautifully drawn and colourful 2D backgrounds with their 3D characters. However, there isn’t much to do other than explore, talking, and fighting. While there are some hidden bonuses, most of the world is not very interactive. It might be better to think of the game as a visual novel with some exploration, light RPG elements, and fighting.

Masquerada Game World
Cicero and Kalden are looking for clues on Razitof’s whereabouts. The yellow circles indicate points of interest.

In my opinion, the biggest flaw in Masquerada is its fighting system. Throughout the game, players engage in numerous battles with different types of enemies, including challenging boss fights. The conflicts occur in real time, but players can pause the action to issue commands. Each party member has unique special abilities, and an elemental tag system requires players to employ tactics. Unfortunately, the fighting mechanics in Masquerada do not work effectively. The AI is erratic, and it does not follow orders well. Furthermore, the special abilities produce too many effects, making it difficult to keep track of the battle situation. Fortunately, the game offers a “Story Mode” difficulty setting that allows players to focus on the storyline without being bothered by the frustrating fights. In my opinion, a turn-based fighting system would have made the game much better.

Masquerada Fighting
Too confusing and frustrating: Battles in Masquerada.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a game that offers an engaging story and a richly detailed lore. It’s important for players to read as there is a lot of background information hidden in texts. The game’s setting is unique, and it has many ties to the cultural diversity and politics of Singapore, which is the home country of the developer studio, Witching Hour. Players should not expect a classic RPG experience like Baldur’s Gate or Dragon Age, but rather a well-designed and well-written adventure that is fairly linear. The game’s epilogue suggests that there will be more adventures for Cicero and his friends, and I’m hopeful that there will be a chance to revisit the world of Ombre in the future.

Masquerada Tree
Masquerada offers many beautiful scenes, such as this giant magical tree.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is available for PCs on Steam / GOG / Humble. There are plans to release the game on PS4 in 2017.

Full disclosure: This article is based on a free review key from Witching Hour Studio that I thankfully received upon request.

Andreas Betsche

Andreas Betsche founded Virtual SEA in early 2016 after researching Cambodian mobile games for his Master’s thesis. He has a background in Southeast Asia studies and has worked and lived in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Since he has been actively playing games since the early 90s, combing both worlds in Virtual SEA brought together both of his passions.

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