As far as games go, the Venetian setting has been left relatively untouched. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows not only touches on the time period, it creates a remarkably narrative experience that hinges on the very framework of its gameplay. Masquerada is an isometric RPG with a two-dimensional art direction akin to older French and Italian comic book stylings. Gameplay has a heavy focus on four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. Most people can only be ascribed to one element, but you are not most people. You play as Cicero Gavar, and you are the exception.
Comparisons to Avatar are immediate. While I’d rather avoid any juxtaposition, it’s a complimentary relation. Though they may share a similar characterization of the elements, Masquerada quickly establishes its own identity with an incredibly refreshing story and tactical, real-time gameplay. Three characters (out of five) will constitute your party, and you can switch control between them at any time. Each character has their own set of skills that are attuned to a specific element and can be strategically used at specific times during a fight for an increase in effectiveness.
Enemies will occasionally grow elemental weaknesses and using the skills of your party accordingly will lead to a satisfying victory. Elemental combos eventually add another layer of strategy to the game, often inflicting debilitating status effects like blindness when steam is created from a mixture of fire and water. For as interesting as Masquerada‘s gameplay is, its incredibly in-depth narrative captures just as much of attention.
Masks hold a staggering amount of importance to the people in Ombre, the fantasy city in which Masquerada takes place. They act as conduits for magical ability and are incredibly difficult to find, so the rich and powerful tend to control most of them. Social division and an improved prowess in battle are but a few of the many by-products created from the masks’ existence – they also provide a strange form of immortality for those who bear one.
There are no gods and no religion; death is a constant. Immortality comes to a mask bearer in the form of a song after their death, granting the recently deceased an eternal retelling of their life’s accomplishments tied to a melody. No mask? No song. Your life and its impact will vanish into the shadows without a hint of remembrance, so it goes without saying that masks have an understandably heavy weight to their importance among the people. Five characters have personal stories for players to unearth, each with their own well-developed personalities and intentions. Skill trees, spell modifiers, and various battle tactics are made available to help further customize your party to your liking and offers a pretty remarkable level of flexibility within the game’s narrative constraints.
Gameplay mechanics are often tied to the game’s story, creating a beautifully polished RPG that makes the game incredibly hard to disregard after having played it. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows doesn’t stop there as it throws a big ol’ fat cherry on top with Felicia Day, Jennifer Hale and others contributing their talented voice acting skills to the game’s already impressive presentation. High quality voice overs mix well with the game’s book-like narrative structure, making cutscenes seem like subtlety animated comic books. Between the exquisitely minimalistic art direction, fantastically tactical gameplay, and intriguingly macabre story line, Masquerada looks to provide a promising adventure that players won’t soon forget.
During my thirty minute hands-on demo with the game at E3, I don’t think I once looked away from the screen. If it enchanted me to that degree amidst the chaotic backdrop of the show floor, I personally cannot wait to see Masquerada‘s ability to enthrall from the comfort of my living room.
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