I enjoy reading slow, dragging fiction. I really do. I love a methodical, in-depth look at a created world. Uncovering characters and motivations and rich histories over the course of hundreds of pages at a pace that leaves a slime trail is my jam.
Masquerada is slow. It starts slow, builds slowly, and continues plodding along (at least it did, right to the moment I turned it off and said, audibly, “Fuck it, I’m done”). Combat is peanut-butter-covered-marble-rolling-down-a-gentle-incline slow. Gameplay segments are separated by a loading screen every five minutes. The world is infuriatingly static. Rock-solid voice acting and writing are wasted on a history unworthy of the words.
This is our Masquerada: Songs and Shadows review for Nintendo Switch.
Masquerada is a broken game, but “broken” like a mirror as opposed to “broken” like Fallout ‘76. Every individual piece serves its purpose but in an unsatisfying way. You get no sense of the bigger picture from the reflections of the pieces.
In the game, you play as some guy (his name was given and showed up in cutscenes, but he’s such a blank-ass cookie cutter character that he never stuck) who is returning to his home citte (the game’s word for “city”) after a five-year absence in order to meet with the Vaorone (“president”) to help solve some issue involving mascherines (“masks”) and the Contadina (“tomato sauce”) or something. Along the way, you meet folks and uncover a conspiracy of sorts involving strange beings called the Fae or the Fay or the Faye, mystically sentient creatures that take on the properties of whatever objects are nearby.
While this sounds like a serviceable twist on standard fantasy fare, the story was told in so many busted-ass chunks and was strung together with so many detailed-but-contrived-and-over-written codex entries, that whatever interest might have been possibly deflated like a cheap balloon almost immediately.
And Christ, don’t get me started on that codex. 160 entries for lore? Some of them pushing the thousand-word mark? Kindly go fuck yourself.
Remember the last time you were watching a movie, getting into it, enjoying your popcorn and your spectation, but then the action just paused, and some gomer gave a ten-minute voiceover explanation of something that happened fifty years ago that has little to no bearing on what is going on right now in the movie? And then the movie started moving again and telling its movie story? Remember that?
NO SHIT YOU DON’T REMEMBER THAT BECAUSE IT DOESN’T HAPPEN BECAUSE EXPECTING PEOPLE TO FILL IN THE BLAND BACKSTORY ON YOUR BLAND WORLD BY READING YOUR BLAND WRITING IS A SHITTY WAY TO ATTEMPT TO TELL A MEANINGFUL STORY IN A GAME YOU TWATS.
And speaking of things that seem antithetical to the spirit of games and interactivity, your stroll through this coma-inducing, Venetian-inspired realm of fantasy and politics will be one of walking directly toward a big red exclamation point at the edge of your screen, over and over, forever. The hand-holding, especially in a world that spends so much time explaining how vast and intricate it is, is insulting.
The game seems aware of this limitation, and attempts to make light of it with a quip from the main character, who says, “At least the path is straight. Imagine how much work we’d have to do if it wasn’t.”
Get it? In case you don’t, the joke here is that the game designers didn’t allow for exploration of the world they created, either by design flaw or by lack of resources. Ha. What a joke. What a thing to call attention to, that utter flaw.
I would totally excuse the game’s snooze of a story and static, linear gameworld if the combat was intricate and challenging and interesting.
It’s not. It wants to be, but it’s not.
When I first got to choose an element for my character, I thought, Oh, cool. When I was given a long list of skills to choose from, with damage ranges and modifiers and a limited skill tree, I thought Oh shit, here’s where it all comes together. It’s been a little boring so far, but combat is going to be awesome. What are elemental tags? How do these different stances affect my attack power/speed/sexiness? How well am I going to synergize with other elements? Is this the build I want? What are the other builds like? So many possibilities, so much excitement.
But then I entered a battle and attempted to do anything in a purposeful, meaningful way. I paused and strategized and changed behaviors for my teammates. None of it mattered; it all boiled down to a Dragon Age: Inquisition-level popping of whatever skill wasn’t on cooldown, then holding down the auto-attack button in between to deal piddly damage. The spell effects are underwhelming and, despite a system of applying and utilizing elemental tags, they never seemed to synergize in a meaningful way. Defense consisted of slowly walking toward parts of the battlefield where there weren’t big, red enemy attack indicators, waiting out the ensuing attack, then slowly walking back toward the enemy in question to pop cooldowns and hold down auto-attack. Like most other parts of this game, it hides a shallow reality beneath a promising veneer.
I had high hopes for Masquerada at first. The art is bright and unique and the lore and battle system give off an aura of depth. As I progressed, though, there just wasn’t a lot to say or do behind that first look. The beautifully-drawn courtyards and dungeons are linear and restrictive. The lore is densely written, but digging in reveals a lack of soul and meaningful drama. The battle system is an intricately carved hammer: it might look like it has a lot going on, but it really just pounds shit. Masquerada, behind the glamour of its mask, just pounds shit.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by PR.
- Isometric Dragon Age: Inquisition
- Transistor without the interesting abilities and enemies and style