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  1. #1

    [PS4] Utawarerumono - Itsuwari no Kamen

    If you are wonderig, yes, this is directly related to the anime series currently airing. The game came out two weeks before the series started to air, and both should follow the same characters and storyline, only that the series certainly has a better pacing.

    Developed by Aquaplus and Sting, Utawarerumono Itsuwari no Kameno follows the story of Haku, an amnesiac man saved by Kuon after he was wandering in a snowy wasteland and came under attack by monsters. Itsuwari no Kamen (InK for short) takes place in the same world as the first Utawarerumono, only some time later; how much I'm not sure, I'm not particularly knowledgeable about the Utawarerumono genesis.

    Being primarly a developer of visual novels, Aquaplus brings this style into Utawarerumono as well: turn-based missions are sandwiched in between sequences where characters talk. And talk. And talk some more. And then more.
    I'm very displeased to see that Aquaplus didn't learn from Tears to Tiara II and still drags dialogues to incredible lenghts, to the point that I once spent an hour skipping dialogues between missions. And the dialogues weren't over yet, so I turned on the option to skip all unread text.
    The pacing in the first hours of the game is absolutely unacceptable. Maybe I say this because I can't read what's going on, but I doubt this will change if the game was in English. The effect of such long cutscenes, filled with characters taking tens of minutes to get a point across has the side effect of making cuts important to the story completely overlooked, as you patience for reading has expire long time ago.
    It doesn't help that character portraits have very few expressions and that a lot of times you are just shown a static background; no matter how good those can be, it's simply boring witnessing such long dialogues that most of the time have little to no relevance to the story.
    And it's not like that character portraits or backgrounds look good, they are great: portraits, while not on Vanillaware's level, have different shadings based on environmental lighting; backgrounds are lovely crafted, though I spotted perspective errors in a couple...and you have plenty of time to spot those.
    Dialogues are entirely voiced, so far no line has gone without being spoken by someone, even filler characters; so, it's clear that Aquaplus put a lot of effort in these sequences, but not enough to make them interesting.
    As a final note on the visual novel part, the game features points where you choose which location to visit, but that apparently doesn't change the story, character interactions, or missions you'll face. If Aquaplus wanted to make the VN part of InK meaningful, they should have taken their time to implement such possibility, and above all, learn to cut their cutscenes.

    This leaves missions. And I wish I could tell something more than they are turn-based, characters move on a grid, and each has his or her own sets of abilities. I really wish. However, out of the 5 hours I've played (and I tell, once again, that it's 5 hours with skipped and fast forwarded dialogues), I played 5 missions, each 10 to 15 minutes long.
    All the pieces seem to be there, and the interface feels good enough, but I can't really say anything else, because the amount of time I've spent actually playing (issuing orders to characters, rather than being uninterested in what they have to say) is nothing.

    If you are interested, here's a look at the first hour of the game.


  2. #2
    Cheers for writing that. I was interested in this game but the thought of long conversations interspersed with a moment or two of gameplay had put me off. Will give this a miss.

  3. #3
    The adventures of Haku and crew continue, without too many changes from my initial impressions. From the somewhat lighthearted introduction the story evolves into a fight between two kingdoms and goes deeper into Haku's past. At first I thought that Itsuwari no Kamen was simply set in the same world/universe as the first Utawarerumono, but hello character from the first game. So, the two are linked and probably not set too apart in terms of in-game years; if I caught that correctly,

    Haku might be Hakuoro's brother (Hakuoro being the first game's main protagonist).



    However, getting there takes a lot. Due to excessive lenght of the visual part novels, I turned on the ability to skip all the dialogues, and skipped the vast majority of the story, which is essentially filler anyway: once a character is introduced, there are several scenes of her (if it's a male, just one or two) settling in with the party and to have understand the player her personality. Thing is, one scene is enough. Atui's a airhead, got it. Rurutie is shy, got it. Nekone's the autoritary loli, got it. There's no need of hammering these points for hours where nothing happens. Slice of life moments are fine, but it took 5 hours of skipped dialogues to get there. 5 hours. Skipped dialogues. And it's not "press circle to skip dialogues once they appear", it's fast forwarding everything. Based on the few scenes that I didn't skip (the few ones that actually brought the story forward), I guess it would have took me 4 times that amount to get me there.

    I promise I won't complain anymore, BlazBlue story mode.

    And in between all this huge wall of text, tactical missions, what I consider the real game, took 20 or so minutes to play each. And I think that up till now there have been less than 10 battles. Due to their low number and how far they are apart (even skipping dialogues takes considerable time, especially if you don't know if a scene will be relevant to the story or not), I can't really say if the tactical system is good or not. Everything seems in the right place, but there are so little and so short chances to actually experiment that I simply don't know the ups and downs of the combat. For example: characters gain more experience by taking part in a battle rather than defeatng enemies in one, a rather odd choice; but this allows characters not used during a mission to quickly stay in line with the main party, and everything balances out with the enemies found in the mission at hand, that always offer a resistance that's neither too strong or too weak. When attacking, the game asks you to provide Paper Mario-like inputs, which might seem out of place, but failing those will never make the damage drop below what the game indicates before beginning a battle, it's always a plus, and gives that little risk-reward in sticky situations: an enemy is almost dead, and threatens some of my characters with low HPs; the active character cannot kill it with a normal attack, but if I nail the prompts I might. It's actually a nice addition that doesn't feel over- or under- powered, it's just that I don't have the chance to say what truly is.

    So I guess that I should think about Itsuwari no Kamen as a visual novel, and to judge visual novels you need to read them, to understand if they are well written or not. Due to the language barrier I can't say this, but based on the amount of filler content, I'd say that everytihng should have been trimmed down by half or more, because the "real" story is incredibly diluted in what should be ancilliary moments, and not the norm.
    So far everything has played out as a straight line, no chances to influence anything or anyone. There are points where the game asks you where to go, but every single location has to be visited because they don't show what Haku is doing at the moment, but what everyone is. The "visual" part has been partially forgotten as well, because a lot of dialogues just show backgrounds, not even character portraits. Few precious scenes are enacted with 3D models (the same used during battles) and go a long way in making things more interesting.

  4. #4
    Completed the game few days ago, and the final stretch actually improved my outlook on the game: missions are more frequent, the story picks up the pace, and there are more illustrations and animated scenes.
    However, it doesn't end. Haku's story takes a rather strong turn, but several plot threads are left hanging; there's a cliffhanger about Kuon after the credits have rolled! By skipping tons and tons of dialogue, I clocked up about 12 hours, and I think that 6 to 7 of them were about filler dialogue; I'm fine with slices of life, but the game introduces two wars, undead creatures, a coup d'etat, and demigods, only to leave most of their storylines unfinished. Itsuwari no Kamen is clearly a setup for a third Utawarerumono, and that is really disappointing, considering that the story could have been completed by skipping on what are, in the end, repeated scenes. I get that Aquaplus is (was?) and eroge brand and risquee scene with women are a given, but at least don't spend 30 minutes on those, or at least change the setup from the "oh, I thought the bathroom was empty" routine.
    And the last part of the game features so many strong scenes that further make evident that the rest is just there for almost fan service purposes, or that smply Aquaplus was planning a third chapter even before producing the game. Just like the story, character development doesn't really go anywhere: Haku and Kuon relationship starts and ends in the same way, and I don't mean it had to evolve in a romantic way, but it had to evolve more that "Haku does something, Kuon punishes him". Interesting character traits, like Atui going berserk when facing strong opponents comes out of the blue and never really explained. So much waster potential, because Itsuwari No Kamen tries to weave a story that goes beyond the same ending of the original, it succeeds in doing so, but then ends, giving no closure.

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