Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Play as Cicero Gavar, an investigator for the government over Ombre, as you investigate the disappearance of your mentor and uncover the reason behind the lack of Mascherines. Become involved in a Civil War between the lower and upper classes and befriend four unlikely companions as you travel throughout the country, solving the riddle of Ombre's mysterious history.
-Wear beautiful Masquerade masks called "Mascherines" as you use them to control the elements
-Become enraptured by the enchanting and tragic story of Cicero and his four companions
-Travel to beautiful locales, including The Hall of Songs and the White Spire
-Unlock abilities with skill points and upgrade them to your choosing
-Customize your characters and their masks with special add-ons to give buffs in battle
PC: September 30, 2016
PS4: August 7th, 2017
Developer: Witching Hour Studios
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Rating: T for Teen
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is an intriguing game. It began as a kickstarter that was successful and was originally only released on Steam. Recently, it came out on the PS4 and soon will be released for the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Spiritual Content: Within the world of Masquerada, there are gods that are unknown to the people. Throughout the game, there is one god called “The Lady” who is behind a lot of the events in the game, but we are not told who or what she is. We do not even know what her agenda is. As the story continues, the player uncovers history showing the worship of gods and the possibility of these gods still being alive.
Violence/Drug Use: The story starts in war time. The upper class is at war with the middle and lower classes, so there is constant fighting and violence. There is not too much blood—only a few scenes where Cicero discovers a bloody room and when characters cut themselves to summon creatures. Other than that, there are no graphic scenes.
There is drug use in the game. In one mission, Cicero must track down a man who has tricked people into buying his drug, Stone Salt, causing them to become addicted and making a fortune off of it.
Language/Crude Humor: The only language we see here is the use of the word d**n every now and then.
Sexual Themes: Sexual themes are minimal in Masquerada except for one major topic: homosexuality. In the game, homosexuals are referred to as “Talos” and they are frowned upon, as is anyone who chooses to not bear children. One of Cicero’s companions is a Talos and once had a partner. There is a large story arc all about this character and their sexual orientation being accepted by the government, Cicero, and ultimately everyone. The narrative seems to push the fact that being a Talos is not a bad thing and that whoever one loves, whether it be a man or woman, should be accepted. While the game doesn’t dwell on this forever, it is something to consider when choosing to play Masquerada.
Positive Themes: At the same time, Masquerada emanates positive themes and tackles a variety of topics. From freeing a care home that has been turned into a brothel by a wicked woman to saving a man, woman, and child from the hands of those who would kill, there are admirable themes all over. One of the best moments in the game is when Cicero must stop one of his companions from hurting himself due to the fact that the government might take away his property since he is a Talos. Cicero shows compassion and unrelenting love in consistently stopping his companion from self-inflicted damage. This reminded me of Jesus and his unrelenting love for us. Even though this man is in sin—as we all are—Jesus would love him all the same and would stop at nothing to show him that he is loved.
In Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, one plays as Cicero Gavar, an investigator who was exiled until now. Cicero is given the task to look into the disappearance of his mentor and to find the reason behind the unexplained lack of Mascherine. A Mascherine is a masquerade mask that is able to give anyone who wears it the ability to control four elements: wind, earth, fire, and water. Only the upper class is allowed to use Mascherines because of the lack therewith which leads to an uprising from the lower class. Those who wear masks are called the Masquerada. The idea of using masquerade masks in order to use magic and control elements is a fantastic idea and imaginative to say the least. It is refreshing to see a game with a brand new refreshing ideas used in new ways. While Masquerada might remind you of Baldur’s Gate, Bastion or even Majora’s Mask, it excels in imagination and at piquing one’s curiosity.
One of the locales you visit. This place contains a hidden temple to explore.
Throughout Cicero’s adventures, he picks up four companions, who all control a different element. While fighting, the player is able to switch between characters, thus getting a taste of each of the different element’s fighting styles since they can only choose one element at the beginning of the game. Because Masquerada allows the player to see what all of the other element’s abilities are through playing the different characters, its replayability and challenge factor are low. One can see any possibility and outcome within a single playthrough and not feel the need to go back and play again. Once the story is beaten, the game offers a “new game plus” mode, offering stronger enemies, but that’s all. Even though this is the case, one playthrough ends up being a full and entertaining experience, in which one could spend hours on exploring the different abilities alone.
To unlock abilities the Mascherine has, skill points must be used. These points are earned through battles and are given to the player based on progress through the story. This means that one is only given enough skill points to unlock four abilities to their full potential, or to unlock all abilities but only upgrade them all to about halfway or so. Because encounters do not happen more than once, the ability to “grind” for experience points is absent, leading to another unfavorable point: the game’s linearity.
While the story is involving and immersive, it’s single-minded in that it only allows the player to follow one path. There is not much exploration and free-roaming, if any at all. The extent of exploring is reduced down to, say, simply walking into a room in the far corner of your current allotted area. If the player does go exploring, they are rewarded with another Mascherine mask and/or journal entries in the record of lore that Cicero keeps, so it is not all bad. Despite the linearity, the environments are still very artistic and charming.
One of the things that is great about Masquerada is its world of lore. One could spend an hour or so just reading about the backgrounds of all of the different factions within the government, the backgrounds of characters, or even Cicero’s thoughts on his companions. It’s a big, wide world, and the lore makes the player feel that the country of Ombre (where the story takes place) is tiny in comparison to the rest of the known world. One could also look in the journal for more information on magical powers, enemies, and locations.
One of the best Locales the player will visit is the Hall of Songs. Here, songs are made for the dead once their life ends and it is here they are kept forever. In the middle of the Hall of Songs is a giant tree, which houses all of the different songs from thousands of people. The idea of songs being sung for someone once they have died is another reason why Masquerada is full of imagination.
Upgrading is as simple as choosing an ability and choosing the next module on its branch. The next upgrade could extend the time the attack is active, grant status ailments (like “bleeding” damage), or buff Cicero and his party members. As long as the player continues to upgrade abilities and to power through, the game will be a cinch. At times I found myself simply pressing “auto-attack” to defeat my enemies.
Unfortunately, Masquerada is a bit unbalanced and its difficulty is uneven. While the rest of the game can be a breeze, there are certain parts that are unnecessarily difficult and will make the player question if they need to reset all of their skill points or not. Trust me, you’re fine. Masquerada simply has a strange tendency to spike the difficulty in the most random of encounters. I feel that this is a growing trend in video games today—a boss battle won’t be that hard, but there will always be that one enemy or group of enemies that will almost break the game and cause the player to die a thousand deaths. This can be annoying and off-putting.
As stated before, Masquerada‘s story is deep and immersive, taking us through the backgrounds of 5 different characters. Cicero almost seems like some sort of counselor the way he tries to solve his companions problems. Throughout the game, Cicero goes on missions, mostly for his investigation, but almost every mission leads into the background of one of your companions. My favorite story background mission was when Cicero had to make his way through the enormous library of the government. Here, he traverses with Tiziana, who blames her handicapped mother for her hero father’s death. Real problem? Yes, but Tiziana’s repentance and reconciliation happens all too fast. One does not simply let go of years of pain and hatred in just a few hours. I say a few hours because the whole game takes place over a total of five days. Seems to be a short time to change the lives of five different people, but the writing still remains the best part of the game.
While it has great story content and beautiful scenery, Masquerada suffers a bit in gameplay and sometimes feels poorly developed. The cutscenes are mostly like comic strips and makes one wonder why even have a cutscene when a lot of the action happens in real-time. Also, the characters can come across as conveniently heroic, especially the main character, Cicero. Even among the shortcomings, the game is special with its Renaissance style and its use of masks to control the elements. With a layout similar to that of Bastion and a fighting style like that of any live RPG, Maquerada is a game full of lore, mystery and heroism. It is no wonder this game has captured the attention of many. At less than twenty dollars, it has more than enough content for its low price. If you want to experience something new while being wrapped in a captivating story, then Masquerada is for you.
+ Good story
+ Memorable Characters
+ Beautiful art and concepts
+ Original and Refreshing ideas
- Too much linearity
- Cutscenes are poor
- Game can be too easy
- Complexity unnecessary
- Challenge is unbalanced