Masquerada: Songs and Shadows may claim to follow in the footsteps of some of the RPG genre’s greatest greats, but Pat finds something completely new in an early build.
RPGs always disappoint me. There I am, keyed up to play, full of the preview promise of immersion and plot, only to be left eye-rolled by a reality of tedious bloat. Yes please, says my imagination. Being a fantasy dude in a thrilling, hundred-hour thing is something I absolutely want to do. No thanks, says my shooter-fried peanut brain after I’ve watched the eighth pretend orc, dripping in triple-A sweat, prattle on for half an hour while I fall asleep to the groan of stuffed hard drive. Take me back to the pew-pew.
But maybe, finally, I’m about to find an entry point. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, developed by Singaporean studio Witching Hour, bills itself as following the tradition of Dragon Age and Baldur’s Gate (I’m afraid I’m going to have to assume that as truth. I tried to play Baldur’s Gate once. All I remember is a large amount of little words on the screen before I pressed “off”), but, thankfully, this is different. There’s nary a goblin in sight, and the story’s delivered in bites small enough to maintain balance between compulsion and boredom. The combat’s instantly accessible (right-click to attack, press numbers for skills, execute them with left-click) but is undercut by the ability to pause the action and assign attacks, movements and buffs to individual party members. Tactics a-go-go. Masquerada doesn’t require RPG master status to play, but it isn’t lightweight. That suits me fine.
Genre cliches are limited to ancient civilizations and isometric visuals, and can be forgiven immediately thanks to dashing heroes in Venetian masks, or Masherines. It’s the right kind of odd. Ability hotkeys are set on a music staff and the overall style lends more to The Three Musketeers than The Hobbit. It’s refreshing, a welcome break from the turgid nonsense we’re used to seeing in fantasy RPGs.
The Renaissance thing lends Masquerada a cartoon lightness. Apart from the obviousness of the masks, we have the European flavour of names like Dieci and Amadea. Witching Hour’s RPG also stands out for its presentation and surprisingly hot voice-acting. If you’re familiar with The Mysterious Cities of Gold, you probably have a decent handle on how this feels.
While there was little in the way of environment interaction in the the short demo I played, combat was great fun. You can switch between party members in real-time during combat, or pause the action and assign actions in a more leisurely fashion. It’s up to you. The team in the demo included a light chap with a rapier, a tank with water magic and an earth mage.
The generous set of character skills offsets the simplicity of the setting, and should provide a good challenge in the final version. The main character, for example, is able to fire a projectile, drag enemies into a central area before hitting them with a lightning bolt, surround himself with protective vapours and teleport around the battlefield. It’s truly satisfying when you grasp his abilities in real-time, and mastery of the entire party should prove sufficiently engrossing for, well, pretty much anyone.
But what’s exciting about Masquerada is the sum of the whole. Its basic building blocks of cartoon art, an orchestral score comfortable oscillating between melancholy and rousing, peppy dungeon crawling and neatly realised group combat are underpinned with story elements intriguing enough to keep you involved for what will hopefully be a lengthy plot. The presentation drives the package up into the realms of double-A. The demo annoyed me by ending. A good sign.
Take a look at the reveal trailer below, and check out the official site. It’s out for PC, Mac and console (“TBC”) early next year.