What brings you to a game and keeps you playing? Is it the gameplay that captivates you? Is it seeing how your actions influence, and maybe even save, a whole world? Could it come down to falling in love with a story and the people you’re working alongside? Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen places people in something of a precarious position. It’s a game where some elements, for example the story, are very good. But, at the same time, the tactical affairs can trap you in tedious, tumultuous battles.
Hakuowlo is a man of mystery. After an earthquake hit a nearby village, he was discovered by a young woman named Eruruu and her little sister, Aruruu. While he knows nothing about himself and has nothing to offer, Eruruu and her grandmother, Tuskur, heal him and offer him a place to stay. The whole village of Yamayura welcomes him, and his presence helps them thrive. However, when a corrupt ruler tries to force their hand and treat them unjustly, Hakuowlo finds himself in a position to recruit allies and enemies alike and perhaps even unite a country previously plagued by near-endless wars.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen Review – On the Frontlines of a War Epic
It is an underdog story, to be sure, but one littered with intrigue. The concept of an amnesiac protagonist isn’t unusual. It’s a JRPG staple and even what the protagonist of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is dealing with at the outset of the adventure. But what sets Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen apart is how it handles things. Hakuowlo seems as human as us, but seems exceptionally astute and aware, has a mask bound to his face, and steps into the role of a leader with ease. Everyone around him has animalistic qualities, like ears, tails, or wings. But at the same time, there are other anachronistic items that stand out and make you go, “Hm.” The tale paces these out in a way that keeps you going and considering them, all while you’re helping to depose corrupt individuals and unite people searching for a better life.
In fact, in terms of the story, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen far outpaces its successors. Which is a shame, because now that we do have this, it helps bolster the sequels that we actually received first. Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth were fine, but there was always this expectation that people had at least some awareness of the original game, especially by the time the events of Mask of Truth roll around, and many of the reveals that are “shocking” here lack the punch in the follow-ups. The pacing is better, both in terms of general events and when battles appear, and the progression keeps the plot moving forward at a steady pace as well.
It feels like this war epic where we see how a revolution begins, deal with the major battles, then find what it is like to hold a position and clean up the aftermath. It never shies away from harsh realities but does reward us with occasional moments that make all the fighting worthwhile.
That said, while the story is better, there are moments where you can see where Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen’s “adult” roots were once buried. While this isn’t a visual novel with as much fanservice as some, with many of the heroines rather modestly dressed, the harem anime tropes are definitely out there and the intentions of some characters make it easy to imagine what really happened back in the day on PCs. But, things are generally handled well and to be fair, people who aren’t aware of its backstory wouldn’t find it too different from any other game with fanservice sprinkled throughout.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen Review – War Can Be Hell
By now, you’re probably thinking, “But wait. This isn’t just a visual novel, right? There’s actual fighting too?” Yes, there is. Unfortunately, it’s in a position similar to its predecessor. The strategic, turn-based battles in Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen can be a simple, but tedious chore. They don’t feel great and they don’t look great.
Given that this does follow a rebellion’s underdog story, you will eventually have to fight. Some battles even have multiple facets to them, with a bit of exposition between the two parts. The problem is, they aren’t especially engaging or taxing. (Unless you go with the Hard difficulty, in which case things are “Too Hard.”) You choose a few units to deploy, but can’t determine their actual arrangement. You can influence their stats by doling out accrued BP before or after battles, but it’s always the minimum and some characters already have tendencies where it might not feel worth it to expend a lot of points on a stat they’re already not great in. Nailing the timing on hits doesn’t feel all that accurate. In short, even with co-op chain combos and elements where Zeal can boost the number of hits or leveling up in a fight can mean more damage, it gets rather boring.
To its credit, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen does offer some user-friendly options to make things a bit more bearable. The goal isn’t always to beat certain people, for one. Plenty of maps have more varied tasks. You can fast forward by holding right trigger to skip attacks. If you mess up, you can head to the menu to rewind or retry. There’s an option to suspend if you need a break. And there are optional free battles too. They’re niceties, to be sure. But it isn’t enough to make you really embrace this facet of the experience.
It’s a situation where you may find yourself wondering if one element outweighs the other. If someone is a visual novel fan, then Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen’s story will definitely be reason enough to devour this feast. If someone is considering it because they enjoy strategic RPGs and are hoping for something challenging and new, they’ll likely find themselves disappointed. I would say the saga is strong enough that it makes enduring an occasional, brief battle every once in a while, but people who feel like they need more would be justified in not helping Hakuowlo pick up the pieces.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on a launch PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.