Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Review – Playing Politics (PS4)
I’ve reviewed a lot of role-playing games over the past three years, and rarely do I find myself wanting to really learn more about the worlds that the characters inhabit. When I see scrolls full of lore, I typically find myself skipping them and concentrating on gameplay. Despite this, I found myself checking every corner for collectibles and reading every small piece of information I could find in Masquerada: Songs and Shadows. Developer Witching Hour Studios have created one of the most compelling virtual worlds I’ve seen in a long time, and I craved for more information.
At the core of Masquerada is politics and a polarizing class divide. Humans are typically divided between those who have powerful masks that enhance their combat abilities, and the regular folk who couldn’t dream of wielding such power. Despite a focus on magic and fantasy, this is a story that anyone can relate to since it’s not far off from the real class warfare that we’re seeing in countries all over the world.
While there’s a class divide, the politics are even more polarizing within the wealthy mask-wearing community. Despite having more in common than they’d like to admit (always remember that those in power are awful), the mask-wearers are split into several different groups that wear separate colors and don’t get along. It’s much more complicated than I’m presenting it, but Masquerada is filled with a city that’s divided into several factions. They all must begrudgingly cooperate, though, when one rogue group attempts a hostile takeover.
Stop, Hammer Time
For the most part, the action in Masquerada takes place during an active battle-system. Not unlike other action RPGs such as Diablo, players have direct control of their character and can have them unleash special skills while they auto-attack enemies by default. Effectively managing cool-downs controls the ebb and flow of battle, and players can customize their skills over the course of the game’s 15-hour run time. Overall, it’s a very solid system mechanically.
The coolest part of the battle system, and this becomes more necessary to use on the higher difficulties, is that players can actually pause the action at any time. Players can then micromanage all three of the characters in their party, perform everyone’s skills, and then unpause the combat. The AI is generally good at controlling the player’s partners (and their behavior can even be customized), but this really frees up the player to decide how much they want to be involved with each battle.
Players will get as much out of Masquerada as they put in. Those playing on a harder difficulty will really begin to appreciate the nuance of the action, but there’s also a story-focused difficulty that allow players to tone down the game’s difficulty. I ended up experimenting with several of the difficulties, and it’s great to see a game that can appeal to all skill levels. The only disappointment comes from outside battle, as there aren’t many chances to actually explore the world.
Characters that Matter
What really impressed me with Masquerada was how much I ended up caring for every single character that joined my party. I started out disliking most of them, but I quickly became enraptured in their personal goals. They weren’t presented as noble people off the bat, but rather they had their own selfish and believable goals as to why they were cooperating. As I learned about their background, and slowly watched their growth unfold, I started to really like all of them.
While every main character ends up having a meaningful story, I was particularly caught up in the hulking Kalden’s tale of love and grief. His tragic tale of heartbreak wasn’t what I was expecting from the character’s stoic manner, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to end up crying when he finally confided in my character. Despite taking place in a fantasy world, Masquerada wonderfully deals with some very touchy topics that are relevant to modern-day society. It’s also one of the few games that have made death really matter in a story. This isn’t a fairy tale, and the tragedies of war are constantly unfolding around the player.
Through a combination of a fleshed-out world and interesting characters, Masquerada is the rare role-playing game that really sticks with the player after the credits roll (and that’s not just due to the game’s cliffhanger ending). Rather than deal with trope-filled characters, every member of Songs and Shadows‘ cast feels like a real person, and this makes their actions seem much more believable when they’re forced to deal with some truly terrible situations. The story is the star here, and Witching Hour Studios have crafted a narrative they should be proud of.
Masquerada PS4 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.