Heavily inspired by Venetian history, Masquerada: Songs & Shadows is an adventure game that takes you through a fantasy world steeped in history and culture. The game is billed as an RPG but offers players very little responsibility or choice when it comes to the narrative and characters of Masquerada.
The story that unfolds throughout Masquerada’s 15-hour campaign can be cumbersome to digest at first, which is only due to you being thrown into a fantasy world that genuinely feels alive. The city of Ombre has history hidden in every one of it walls and just about every character has a story to tell. It’s through these stories and the history of Ombre where Masquerada really comes to life – The last game I played that embraced its narrative history as much as Masquerada was the excellent The Witcher 3.
As previously mentioned, it can take a few hours to really understand what is going on with the main story line, but once you have a basic understanding of the different characters you’ll regularly interact with and various historical terms, then you’re in for a treat. You play through the story as ispettore Cicero, who has been appointed by the Registry to find a missing scientist. But what starts as a missing person case soon turn into a fantasy tale around the origins of the mysterious Venetian masks worn by so many inhabitants in Ombre known as mascarines.
These magical masks provide the bearer with unique magical abilities, which can be controlled for use in combat, but more on that in a minute. The main over-arching story is shared with the player through brilliantly voiced dialog and charming graphic novel like animations. Although these interactions will provide you with enough insight to understand the main story, you’ll need to read through the well-written journal entries to gain a full understanding of what is really happening in Masquerada.
A quick warning, there are a lot of these entries, and some of them can be pretty long. If reading chunky elements of text in video games isn’t your idea of fun then you’ll probably switch off pretty quickly when it comes to Masquerada – but if like me you love chewing through meaty texts of lore, then you’ll love learning more about the different cultures, locations, and history of Ombre.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Masquerada is sold as an RPG, which seems odd, as the game offers very little in terms of role-playing mechanics. Although the story here is very good, it’s also very linear — the game will always usher you from point to point, offering almost no exploration in-between. To add to the lack of RPG mechanics, Masquerada only gives you two opportunities to make a decision as a player – both of which link to the combat. There is not a single point throughout the entire story where you are asked to make a decision, which I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with. Developers Witching Hour Studios have clearly put a lot of love into creating the stunning world of Masquerada, but only to take us on a train ride through the striking world and its story.
The combat in Masquerada does provide you with a little bit more responsibility on your decision making. You have control of how you distribute skill points to your parties skill trees, allowing them to perform different abilities in battle, you also have to option of changing their mascirine, which, in turn, provides them with a new ultimate ability.
All combat plays out in a real-time manner, with you having the option to pause the gameplay and set up your companions action before diving back into the action. One element that really stands out with the combat is just how good it looks. Don’t get me wrong, as a whole Masquerada is a visually striking game with an adorable shell-shade art style, but this is shown off in its full glory with slick animation of the different combat abilities.
With a very linear approach to its gameplay and only a few select choices that you’re responsible for, I find it very hard to refer to Masquerada: Songs & Shadows as an RPG. However, what the game lacks in player choices it makes up for with its narrative. If you’re willing to sink your teeth into the text heavy back story of Masquerada then you will be richly rewarded with a truly memorable fantasy adventure game.