A Magical Journey
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows centers around Cicero Gavar, an inspettore’, investigating the disappearance of a close friend. Part of the intrigue stems from the magic of the world which comes from mysterious masks, referred to as mascherines, and anyone who wears them can wield a range of different powers. Along with the disappearance of his friend, Cicero stumbles upon a mystery tied to the mascherines as he discovers that something is causing them to became scarce throughout the kingdom. As Cicero teams up with other mascherine donning heroes he stumbles upon a mystery that could threaten the fate of the entire kingdom.
The artwork of Masquerada is beautiful and reminded me a lot of games like Banner Saga with a storybook kind of feel. The only downside is that due to the set path the game takes you on there isn’t really an open world aspect to the world. You are only able to investigate the areas unlocked during whichever portion of the story you are in at any given time. However, it important to explore as much of the map as possible when you can because that is how you find new masks, codex entries, and optional conversations. My only frustration was that the artwork was so enrapturing I wanted to explore as much of it as possible, which wasn’t always something I could do.
Variety in Masquerada truly lies within the combat system which is pretty unique for a tactical RPG, mainly because of something left out of it. Health potions. I had not considered what combat would be like in an RPG without them, but in Masquerada healing is done purely through the abilities of you and your party members. At first it was a bit of a learning curve as it requires you to pay attention and upgrade the abilities that allow you or other members of your group to heal themselves or the people around them. Unlike other games that incorporate pause enabled tactical strategy there’s no halting combat to consume craft-able potions. I found that this made me think more strategically than I normally would and be more selective about which skills I chose to use in combat.
In your initial play-through you can select one of four elements as your primary focus, fire, elemental, water, and earth. No matter what you choose to be Cicero’s element on your first turn at the story the party members who join you will each use a separate element so you will have plenty of opportunities to see how each set of skills works with each other. Each skill tree has abilities that enable the caster to tag enemies with their element making them more vulnerable when combined with other tags. It is very important to try and flank your enemies and avoid area of effect attacks as much as possible. Although party members can be revived mid-battle it takes a few seconds which can be tricky to pull off, especially if you find yourself as the only one left standing during a particularly hard fight.
The only thing about Masquerada: Songs and Shadows that is more impressive than the level design and story are the performances of the voice actors and the musical score. The game features the talents of Jennifer Hale, Dave Fennoy, Ashly Burch, Felicia Day, and Mathew Mercer as Cicero. All important in-game conversations are accompanied by fully animated avatars that show up in conjunction with text. It may seem like a simple addition but it’s all very well executed and adds more depth to conversations that happen outside of the cutscenes. The cutscenes are done in a dynamic motion art storyboard style, reinforcing a fairy-tale feel that is very fun to watch play out as the story unfolds.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has a distinct charm and I feel that it is an essential experience for anyone who loves magic, inclusive stories, and great indie games with a lot of heart built into them. It is currently available on PC, Mac, PS4, and Xbox One for $19.99. It is well worth it, especially since it includes a new game + mode with a large number of perks including new dialog, hidden bosses, more speciality masks with new abilities, and much more. Witching Hour Studios really made something special.