Review: Masquerada: Songs And Shadows

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows launched on PlayStation 4 in 2017 and came from developer Witching Hour Studios out of Singapore. What caught my eye was the striking art style and locations, by using an inspired Venetian backdrop where magic and political drama are part of the culture. The more I played, the more interested in the world I found myself. Poring over the lore, searching for it in the nooks.

Set within the Citte of Ombre, you’ll notice that there is a clear class division. Even though the game wears its Venetian-inspiration on its sleeve, it also picks up on issues like discrimination. Those who wear Mascherines, can use magic. Those who don’t however, are seen as lesser people. As such, the opening moments of Masquerada introduce Cyrus instilling the roots of a rebellion within the lower class Contadani. The Masquerada – are nobles within Ombre, which then split into the Registry and Seimora – and the Maskrunners, who illegally use masks for their own agenda.

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Playing as Cicero, the brother of Cyrus, the story begins nearly five years after Cyrus began the rebellion and Cicero finds himself back in the city. If there is something you don’t understand, the game will gladly tell you what’s happening within the story. There’s a ton of lore, and clearly, Witching Hour spent a lot of time fleshing every aspect of the story out. And while that’s fine, a lot of the conversations use the lexicon so often, it ends up meaning nothing until checking the in-game codex.

Masquerada presents a ton of dialogue and it’s wonderful. It’s easily the highlight of the entire game and at times left me fuming, distressed, or pleased. All of this unfolds with a wonderful, experienced, voice cast, and each actor delivers a stellar performance. Matthew Mercer, Felicia Day deliver excellent performances and veterans like Jennifer Hale and Yuri Lowenthal round out the cast.

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Combat in Masquerada takes place in real-time, and by pressing ZR, you deal damage to enemies. Face buttons are tied to elemental attack, each with their own cooldown, so don’t expect to button mash each encounter. You’ll need to pay attention and think of how to proceed. After a while though, combat becomes a chore, and the way Masquerada unfolds, you’ll need to fight to experience the story. The A.I becomes a nuisance at later stages thanks to their unreliability, and even though their behaviour is customizable, the changes are superficial.

The Mascherines play a big part in battle, serving as an ultimate attack. In lieu of a traditional levelling system, a class system unlocks new skills used in a skill tree, earned as the campaign progresses. It’s a neat little system offered in Masquerada but ultimately not the most engaging if you’re looking for a ton of customization.

One thing to note is the striking art style found in Masquerada. Easily the highlight of the game is the detailed characters, and hand-drawn backgrounds oozing in Venetian-flavour. Beautifully animated avatars for major characters animate conversations, bringing the world to life. The flipside is the world isn’t explorable and most of your time is spent moving to the next objective.

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Masquerada offers a coherent and exciting game. Through and through, the quality of the game shines and fits perfectly on the Nintendo Switch among the other indie titles gracing the eShop. If you’re in need of something different, brimming with lore and dealing with the nastiness of politics; pick up Masquerada. For an RPG, it’s short but for those limited on time, it’s the perfect length and doesn’t overstay its welcome but that’s because there’s little to explore with no sidequests. Thankfully, the focused narrative is worth the price of admission.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]