More fantasy tale than game

In Masquerada: Songs And Shadows, you can customise your character's skills, which you can unlock using skill points gained when you progress in the game.
In Masquerada: Songs And Shadows, you can customise your character's skills, which you can unlock using skill points gained when you progress in the game.PHOTO: WITCHING HOUR STUDIOS

I was not too impressed during my first hour of playing Masquerada: Songs And Shadows.

For one thing, its prologue puts you in the middle of a key event without explanation or context.

But the game and its story, told primarily through comic-book- like cutscenes, soon grew on me.

By the end, I would not say no to a sequel.

Creator Witching Hour Studios has obviously put in a shift at building the game world. Perhaps, too much, because the lore entries that players can collect are sufficient to fill a novel or two.

These entries can be a bit overwhelming at the start, especially when they use made-up words like "vegilus" for scholars and "portieri" for the police.

  • 7/10

  • RATING

    PRICE: $34.99 (PC)

    GENRE: Role-playing game

Your character, Cicero Gavar, is thrust into Ombre, a city reeling from an ongoing conflict between its ruling elite, empowered by magic masks called Mascherines, and the lower classes that lack these gifts.

Recalled from exile to solve a crime, Gavar will uncover the origins of these mysterious masks with the help of a small band of companions, each with his or her own backstory.

The voice acting is excellent. I would often listen to the characters, voiced by top talents like Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect) and Matthew Mercer (Resident Evil), finish their lines rather than skip ahead after reading the subtitles.

However, the linear story means that there is little incentive to play it again after completion, which should take around 15hr or less.

Gameplay-wise, Masquerada is a tactical role-playing game (RPG), presented in the isometric style of old-school titles like Dragon Age and Baldur's Gate.

This means you can pause at any time during combat to issue commands to the three members in your party.

The alternative is to let the game AI take over. In the settings, you can customise a few basic rules to guide the AI's behaviour.

This hands-off approach usually works for normal enemies, but not for boss fights.

One boss, in particular, was extremely frustrating because its area of effect attacks would leave damaging puddles on the ground that my party members kept walking into, resulting in a loss of health.

After many failures, I finally won by holding a party member in reserve (and out of harm's way) and using him to revive his fallen teammates.

In other words, there is a fair amount of micro-managing, though it feels great when you pull off an intricate sequence of moves.

Those expecting a conventional RPG will be disappointed. There is practically no loot to collect, no experience points to accumulate and zero avenues for exploration.

Occasionally, you find new Mascherines with different abilities that you can swop with. There are also inks and engravings that can be used on the masks to boost your characters.

One thing you can customise is your character's skills, which you can unlock using skill points gained when you progress in the game. You can reset the skills at certain locations, so don't be afraid of trying out new ones.

  • Verdict: After a rough start, I was ultimately won over by the game's stellar voice acting and interesting cast of characters.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'More fantasy tale than game'. Print Edition | Subscribe