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Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
PAX Prime 2015: Hands-On Preview
"Masquerada is a Western game by an Eastern studio, composed in loving detail."

In the indie scene, many Western studios have revisited RPG genres pioneered by Japanese companies in the 90s and early 2000s and combined the charm of that era with modern design sensibilities. It seems comparatively rare, however, for that kind of nostalgia to run from East to West. Masquerada fills that gap; created by a Singaporean studio, it is a "pause-for-tactics" Western RPG in the Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age tradition.

Masquerada follows Cicero Gavar as he is recalled from exile to investigate a kidnapping in the city of Ombre. Inspired by ancient Venice, Ombre is a fantasy world of political machinations and furtive dealings. Cicero is a knowledgeable and capable "Inspettore" or inspector, but his journey will shake the foundations of power in the city and encounter no small opposition.

Luckily, Cicero is not just a detective; he is also a skilled swordsman and wields powerful earth-based magic. Combat in Masquerada should be familiar to anyone who has experience with this genre of Western RPG. Even for someone not terribly familiar, like myself, the basics are easy to grasp. Parties of three encounter enemies and fight in real-time. The player can pause at any moment to assign specific commands or attacks, and switching characters on the fly is also easy.

Unlike in some other games that are more action-oriented, pausing to issue attacks in Masquerada is frequently necessary to overcome even regular fights. Ally AI works reasonably well to target and attack, but more nuanced situations like healing and buffing require a guiding hand. For example, placing barriers to disrupt enemy ranged attacks or pathfinding is an important tactic that the AI will not engage in by itself. It is also possible to stun enemies by hitting them with an appropriately timed attack of the right element. This is not a game where you can blindly brute-force your way through encounters. Micromanagement of your team is made bearable by the fact that most encounters are scripted, at least if the demo is any indication.

Visually, Masquerada has a vibrant, colorful style that brings the fantasy renaissance setting to life. The developer, Witching Hour Studios, says that the team drew inspiration from old comic books, and it shows. There are nice flourishes, such as the detailing on the masks each character wears (masquerada, get it?), that are lovely to look at.

Masquerada is a Western game by an Eastern studio, composed in loving detail. Every aspect, from the voice-acted dialogue to the tactical combat, gleams with polish uncommon in an indie studio. If you have been missing the tactical action of Western RPGs of old, give this one a try.


© 2015 Ysbryd Games, Witching Hour Studios. All rights reserved.




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