Have you ever wanted to play Sherlock Holmes in the Renaissance, only with a good dollop of magic? Of course you have!
Luckily for you, Witching Hour Studios have just released Masquerada Songs and Shadows on Switch.
Masquerada Songs and Shadows Review
The citte (city) of Ombre is vividly Venetian and rife with inequality due to the limited number of masks that are owned by some of its more affluent inhabitants. These masks allow their owners to wield the power of the elements.
The population is divided into three categories: commoners, nobility, and the rebels who aim to steal these masks to aid in their rebellion.
You play as Cicero Gavar, previously exiled for turning a blind eye to the rebellion and now summoned home to Ombre to investigate the kidnapping of one of its diplomats.
You immediately have the option to play through a tutorial, controlling Cicero’s brother Cyrus as he kicks off the rebellion that remainder of the game revolves around. The artwork of Masquerada Songs and Shadows is displayed in its full glory, bright and unabashed.
It works beautifully on the Switch, rendering clearly and running smoothly. It’s a clever method to draw the player into what is a beautiful and compelling story, full of diverse characters negotiating complex politics and social issues.
So much care and thought have been put into the backstory and the world building of Masquerada Songs and Shadows. Whilst I love myself some lore, the amount of it felt excessive. The game utterly drowns you in the terminology and stories of its world.
To help you with this, you’re supplied with a codex of — I kid you not — over 150 entries, some of which are veritable essays.
Yo Dawg, I Heard You Like Lore
Unfortunately, I had to refer to these a lot in my confusion about what each term meant and to recall the backstory of a character or event. Who are the Contadani again? Is that some kind of food? What’s a Regenti? Wait, which factions are fighting which?
The constant pauses really halted the flow of the game for me and frankly felt like pulling out a dictionary. Which is about as fun as it sounds. And of course, once I’d looked something up, I had to look up another thing that was mentioned in that entry. A veritable Wikipedia trail of an adventure!
Also intent on breaking my immersion were the load times between scenes. This is so unfortunate as the game is gorgeous and otherwise runs so smoothly, and because the transitions between scenes are frequent.
The story is detailed and utterly gripping, but completely linear. It’s dull to just direct Cicero and his pals around endlessly to simply follow a big red arrow. I’d have liked to explore my surroundings more — which you can do to a certain extent, but all you’ll discover are more entries in your dang codex. You don’t have any choices of dialogue, or branching options to explore, nor gear to loot and upgrade. It can, at times, feel like a very pretty walk ‘em up.
Combatting this sentiment, I approached my first battle with a great deal of optimism. I’d heard about its pause-and-strategize approach and was pretty keen to pick a good fight.
You gain skill points as you progress which you can spend on your talent tree, and some of the talents sound very cool and unique. Summoning killer squirrels to your aid?
Hit and Miss
Sadly though, when it came to it, the choices I made didn’t seem to make much of a difference as I found myself devolve into sheer mindless button mashing, and smashing out whichever skills weren’t on cooldown, whilst avoiding the enemy’s targeted areas.
And your buddies really seem to have a raging case of derpery during battle. Seriously, they stand wherever the heck they feel like, with no thought to where the enemy is likely to drop an attack next, and their attacks feel downright ineffective.
You do get the option to pause and take control of the members of your team, but this can all become very confusing in the heat of battle, especially as it can be so tricky to discern which side has the upper hand at any given moment.
Smooth, Dulcet Tones
On the upside, the voice acting in Masquerada Songs and Shadows is spectacular, spearheaded by big names like Matthew Mercer, Jennifer Hale, Ashley Burch, and Felicia Day. It’s performed with sensitivity and nuance; you can really feel the tension between the characters and get a sense of the conflicts that have taken place before the events of the game.
At the end of the day, Masquerada Songs and Shadows is a great addition to anyone’s Switch library. If you’ve enjoyed games like Baldur’s Gate or the Dragon Age franchise in the past, love a good mystery story, and don’t mind a spot of button mashing, you’ll have a great time with Masquerada Songs and Shadows.
Masquerada Songs and Shadows was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by Witching Hour Studios.
Game Title: Masquerada Songs and Shadows
Game Description: An RPG with an intriguing magical mystery and a beautiful Venetian feel.