It is with great pleasure that I welcome fellow councillors to this community/OT thread. Utawarerumono is a special series which deserve more recognition both from Visual Novel and RPG fans alike. With the imminent release of both long-coveted and long-awaited PC version of Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth, I feel the time is right to bring this series from relative obscurity into the spotlight of MetaCouncil's most played games of all time (or so I hoped!) In this thread, I hope both long-time fans of the series and curious bystanders can interact and discuss the world of the Utawarerumono at great length.
2. What is Utawarerumono?
Utawarerumono (lit. "The One Whose Song is Sung") is a Japanese fantasy video game series which draws its inspiration from the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, their tradition and culture. Although the aesthetics and culture of the world of Utawarerumono may be drawn from Ainu culture, the director of the series Washimi Tsutomu has said that during the making of Uta as a game, it is not their intention to appropriate Ainu culture at the risk of misrepresenting it, but rather an exercise in subtleties. Avoiding direct Ainu symbolisms but instead creating unique clothing patterns and motifs, craftmanship and architectural designs which are unique to Uta, Tsutomo treated the culture they draw their inspiration from with the utmost respect, intending to preserve an endangered culture while inspiring players to uncover more about the unique world of Utawarerumono.
Like most fantasy titles out there, Uta has their own set of terminologies, ranging from noble titles to flora and fauna, from deities to foodstuffs. The story feels inherently Japanese, with a few similarities to feudal/warring states history with twists of their own. Every character in Uta feels unique, and this is being reflected on the gameplay as well. On a personal level, what I love the most about the series is the way the story unfolds organically in the way that is both unassuming and genuine. Uta has many scenes where character interaction in them reinforces both world-building but also serving as character studies. All the while, the secrets of the world is revealed at a methodical pace and naturally draws the characters we encounter into conflict, camaraderie and love in equal measure. This style of storytelling may not be anything new, but the distinct motifs of Uta feel very unique and unlike any other.
Currently, there are three mainline games available in the English language, two of which are official releases, and one with the aid of a fan translation patch. A remake of the original game is planned for an early 2020 release for console platform, with PC version planned. I won't attempt to produce an exhaustive list of Uta games and media, but I will attempt to highlight the most important releases to help newcomers to delve into Uta. To keep things concise, I won't highlight other media such as Drama CDs, manga, doujins or the recently-released mobage Lost Flag and the musou spinoff Utawarerumono Zan.
Utawarerumono (PC/2002 | Developer: Leaf | Publisher: Aquaplus)
https://dlsoft.dmm.co.jp/detail/aquap_0016/ (Warning: NSFW screenshots)
The first game in the series. While the game ended up to be ported and remade for multiple consoles and mobile platforms, the original PC version remained the only one which features adult (R18+) content. Unavailable for years for the western audience, Mirror Moon translation group released a translation patch in February 2008. While the translation quality and terminologies have shown its age since then, I can still recommend this game, even if only for historical curiosity. Some of the adult content will seem questionable especially in today's sensibilities, however, there is still a lot to be liked in this game, all things considered.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (PC/2020 | Developer: Aquaplus | Publisher: DMM GAMES/ShiraVN)
Originally released in Japan in 2015 for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, this second game in the series finally made its return to PC. This second game features a stellar localisation and accurate character names, places and other terminologies which were nothing short of a miracle in terms of quality. While the lack of English voice acting might not be palatable for some prospective fans, the quality of the translation brought characters personality to life with their distinct personalities intact. It remained one of the best localisations Atlus USA has ever produced, matched in quality only by the next game in the series, Mask of Truth.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth (PC/2020 | Developer: Aquaplus | Publisher: DMM GAMES/ShiraVN)
As the third and final game of the series, the original Japanese version was released about a year after Mask of Deception. Atlus USA on localisation duties yet again, keeping the quality intact throughout. As a direct sequel to Mask of Deception, it is not recommended to play this game before completing the former.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen (PC/TBA | Developer: Aquaplus | Publisher: DMM GAMES/ShiraVN)
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen | Coming Early 2020
A remake of the original game, Uta Prelude features not only updated graphics, new game modes and updated SRPG system to bring the mechanics closer to those of Mask of Deception/Mask of Truth. While NISA on localisation duties may cause an alarm to most people familiar with their handiwork for the past decade, their recent endeavour with the updated release of Ys VIII PC and planned release of Trails of Cold Steel III PC by way of PH3 Games is a welcome change, enough to make even the most jaded of fans starting to tread carefully. The jury is still out regarding localisation quality, but cautiously optimistic remain the best approach for the time being.
Utawarerumono (2006 | TV Series | Oriental Light and Magic | 26 episodes)
AniDB AntiLeech - AniDB
An anime adaptation of the first Uta game. The voice talent from the PS2 remake of Uta makes their return in this series. While the adaptation is mostly competent and the pacing decent, it feels a little rushed towards the end, with some character arcs removed and edited for brevity. However, while the animation quality has started to show its age, the series is still a very good watch.
Where to watch: https://www.funimation.com/shows/utawarerumono/
OVA Utawarerumono (2009 | OVA | Aquaplus+Chaos Project | 3 episodes)
AniDB AntiLeech - AniDB
A collection of short stories starring the characters from Utawarerumono.
The Watchtower's Lullaby — Ulthury took it upon herself to rear an abandoned baby. The joy of parenting, however, turns out to be all but a romanticised dream.
Prescription for a Secret Love — Eruruu is kidnapped by a strange group of people who want her to make a special medicine. Hilarity ensues.
Sheathing Sound of the Deep Mountains — Touka and Aruruu have a little adventure in the mountains after a fishing expedition went a little pear-shaped.
Where to watch: Stream Utawarerumono OVA on HIDIVE
Utawarerumono: Tusukuru-koujo no Karei Naru Hibi (2018 | OVA | White Fox | 1 episode)
AniDB AntiLeech - AniDB
A story of Kuon's childhood antics. Not recommended if you haven't finished playing Mask of Truth. A bonus from the premium edition of the Japanese release of Utawarerumono: A Lullaby for the Falling Ones, known in the west as Prelude to the Fallen.
4. Story Synopses
Near a remote village, an apothecary has a chance encounter with a man with a strange, unremovable mask with no memories of his past. He was gravely injured but soon nursed back to health by her somewhat eccentric, but loving family. While adjusting to his newfound life in this idyllic village, the man's peculiar dispositions and strange but advanced knowledge attracts both friends and foes alike. Everything was good, for a time. But sadly, the man's fate refused to consign him to a simple life, but rather, it will carry him into fulfilling a much greater destiny almost as old as the earth itself. The man's name is Hakuowlo, and songs will be sung in his name.
II. Mask of Deception
In a strange turn of fate, a man nearly lost his life when he was attacked by a monster in a snowy forest. A certain wandering healer helped the man, but soon she discovered that the man does not have any memories to speak of. Thus, the traveller decided to take the man under her wing and even gave him a name and a keepsake. Haku, as the man was once called, has the strangest propensities for trouble in all forms, but his oddly magnetic personality draws not only comrade-in-arms but also enemies in the order of magnitudes. Haku yearns for a simple and carefree life, drinking and spending time with his friends devoid of any responsibilities. Ironically, what destiny has in store for him is anything but, and he soon realises that no sacrifice is too great when the fate of a country is hanging in the balance.
III. Mask of Truth
The conclusion of the strange tale of the mask-wearer. Expect catharsis.
The mainline titles of Uta are Visual Novel and Strategy RPG hybrid games. The story is told in a visual-novel style, while game progression requires the player to clear turn-based tactical RPG scenario objectives. During the game, the player can choose to follow a selection of substory vignettes, although there are no "routes" to speak of and the games ultimately concludes in the same way, similar to a sound novel. While Leaf designed the SRPG mechanics in the original game by themselves, Sting Entertainment of Baroque, Yggdra Union and Dungeon Travellers 2 fame has developed the gameplay since the Uta PS2 port. While the difficulty of the gameplay can be considered easy when compared to Fire Emblem series, or XCOM series, the mechanics are still enjoyable to play, and there are extra challenges in post-game battle arenas.
In the original game, battles take place in maps with an isometric view. Victory in these battles is achieved by completing the map's battle objectives. Battle objectives vary from simply routing all enemies, escorting a unit from one location of the map to another, attracting enemies to a specific map tile, survive for several turns, and so on. Objects are rendered in 2D with sprite-based animation.
The player moves their units into their respective attack range to defeat the opposing party by unleashing a single melee attack, or a ranged attack. Units can perform a "combo" attack by clicking the left mouse button when a receding white ring is momentarily displayed during their attack animation. When the click is timed correctly just before the circle disappear, another ring will be displayed and the player repeats the action. If the unit's Vitality gauge is full, after several successful executions of this action the final ring will change colour to red and they can unleash an ultimate attack ("Critical Hit") with a special animation which is very powerful compared to normal attacks. Each character has their own unique ultimate attack animations.
However, these combo attacks are very difficult to achieve on modern PC, since the animation is tied with framerate and more powerful PC can produce high framerates. The only way to successfully perform these combo attacks on modern PC requires a speed hack by way of Cheat Engine to force the game to run in a fixed framerate.
Certain party members can use magic or has greater attack range but low HP pool. Turn order is not visible to the player, but since player actions don't have any effect on turn order, it's mostly irrelevant. Each character has an elemental affinity, and they can deal extra damage or receive less damage depending on their opponent's opposing affinity. At the successful completion of the stage, the player can allocate BP (Bonus Points) to participating units to increase their stats. The "Tech" stat will cost more BP compared to others, but it will result in more powerful ultimate attack for the unit.
In the Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth, the strategy mechanics has been significantly improved. Battles are now rendered in 3D maps with full polygonal models representing the characters. The turn order is now displayed for the player. Each character now has their own unique attack sets (known as "Action Chains"). Combo activation returned, with ultimate attacks now called Final Strike. Ring action makes its comeback with an additional type ("charge") which requires a button hold and release at proper timing. Successful executions of AC will result in "criticals" and deal more damage. Attacks now can result in negative status inflicted upon enemies, or debuffing their positive status effects. Similarly, a character can gain a positive status effect or HP increase.
Vitality gauge is now called "Zeal" and much like the original game, it can be charged by attacking enemies and completing ACs. Specific AC can consume Zeal and can be considered more powerful than normal attacks. When the gauge is fully charged, a character can enter a state called "Overzeal" where the unit is awarded an extra turn and any negative debuffs are removed. Action Chains will not consume Zeal in this state and Final Strike can be executed. However, this state can only last for a couple of turns because the Zeal gauge will deplete when it has run its course.
BP allocation is largely unchanged in Mask of Deception. However, in Mask of Truth, there is a new ability to increase the number of equipment slots a unit can have by consuming BP, although the BP cost for it is exponentially higher compared to other stats. Elemental affinities have been improved, this time adding weather element into the mix. Certain unit's elemental activity can be activated if the weather is right. Elemental activation can result in extra damage or positive status effects. Another unit is capable of transforming a map tile into a special tile. When a unit is moved into this special tile, they can receive a positive status effect or HP increase.
A new addition to the game mechanics is an inventory system. A piece of equipment will be awarded upon completion of a stage. By equipping this equipment, a unit can gain extra abilities. A unit may equip multiple pieces of equipment, although their numbers are limited and some units only have one or two equipment slots. Another useful addition to the game mechanics is the Rewind feature. For both Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth, the player will be able to rewind their action up to 50 moves. There's no limitation to how many rewind action can be performed during a stage, trivialising most, if not all story stages.
While most of the story stages are relatively easy to complete, the post-game battle arena (called "Dream Arena") can be rather difficult to complete, with stronger enemies or improved version of the bosses encountered in the story stages. Mask of Truth adds another set of battle trials which serves both as tutorials and a skill test for seasoned players.
Japanese singer Suara provides the musical talent for Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth. Her music has been a mainstay for Uta series since the anime adaption of Uta, where her single Musōka was featured.
Her discography can be purchased on OTOTOY (although one might need a VPN to do so in certain regions)
Suara on OTOTOY Music Store
Alternatively, they are also available on Spotify.
7. Order of Play
There are several alternatives to enjoy Utawarerumono in its entirety. While I can recommend playing the first game, I'm well aware that it's not everyone's cup of tea, and with the remake is still not out yet by the time of this writing, I believe there are solutions for everyone.
Uta Anime (2006) -> Mask of Deception -> Mask of Truth
The anime adaptation retains most of the important part of the series, while it's incomplete compared to the length of the first game, this option provides the least path of resistance since all related media is available today.
Mask of Deception -> Mask of Truth -> Prelude to the Fallen
Although there are a few references from Utawarerumono mentioned in both subsequent games, they are not as involved in complexity concerning the games' plot. While a major event is briefly touched upon, both Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth elaborates the event in great depth so first-time players won't miss many callbacks.
Prelude to the Fallen -> Mask of Deception -> Mask of Truth
Only for the most patient players (or foolhardy Trails fans). Since we don't have an exact date of release for Prelude, and the localisation quality is still unknown, let alone the PC port quality, this is reserved only for those with the patience of a saint.
Utawarerumono (2002) -> Mask of Deception -> Mask of Truth
This is the option I took. To play Uta in English, the physical version is required to apply the fan translation patch successfully since it is incompatible with the digital (DMM) version. Sadly, these days the physical version of Utawarerumono is hard to come by, although some third-party sellers on Amazon does have them, and they didn't come cheap. There is also an additional voice patch which requires extracting the voice assets from the PS2 disc of Uta remake. Only for those not easily offended by adult content and relish in tinkering with the technical aspects of the game.
Utawarerumono finally returns to PC, with ports of the titles previously published by Atlus on PS4 and Vita. How do the ports stack up?
skLaFarebear for the excellent write-up in JRPG subreddit.
Theswweet for input on the PC version of Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth.
Minneyar of Utawarerumono Discord for providing gameplay insights and Cheat Engine speed hack.
The Dalk Fukters Discord.