Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is on Kickstarter and it just might be worth putting money into

I was alerted to the existence of Masquerada by a PC Gamer article on it and wasn’t too fussed until I saw that a Steam demo was available. It’s a pretty recent build, April 2016, and I had a blast in the half hour that I spent with it.

Here’s how Witching Hour Studios describes Masquerada:

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a 2.5D isometric RPG, built in the vein of Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age where you can pause combat to plan tactics for your party.

Set in the Venetian-inspired fantasy city of Ombre where rare masks are the key to casting magic, Masquerada is dressed in the colours and style of French comic books and vivid games like Bastion.

Players follow the Inspettore, Cicero Gavar as he returns from exile to solve a kidnapping that will shake up the foundations of the city.

After having played the demo, I can quite confidently say Masquerada does a magnificent job of standing out in a genre that tends to stick to the more generic fantasy settings perhaps out of sheer habit. As much as I love Pillars of Eternity, for example, it’s still a very traditional isometric RPG as such things go.

Masquerada’s Venetian setting is absolutely stunning, brought to life by some magnificent art direction, and looks as though it leaped vigorously and enthusiastically from the pages of a graphic novel. It’s easily one of the more interesting fantasy worlds I’ve visited in a while.

And although the demo didn’t offer much in the way of context, it did just enough to get me interested in the game.

For one, it offered up a sizeable amount of combat and if the demo was anything to go by, the final product will have a fair bit of emphasis on fighting. Fortunately, combat feels like it’s been done pretty well. The three characters I had available to me in the demo were all melee oriented but I hope the final game will include a couple of ranged combatants as well. Each character has four abilities available to them, which they will use automatically if left to auto attack. If micromanagement is as much your thing as it is mine, you can pause the game at any given point and issue orders to your party.

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Most interesting is the system of elemental damage that the game uses. Some abilities ‘tag’ opponents with elements – the three I had access to in the demo were fire, water and earth (no surprises there, eh?). One ability on each character activated these tags, resulting in a combo that would either deal more damage or apply some sort of status effect. The only problem was that combat was so frantic that I couldn’t quite make out what effects were being applied or how significantly higher the damage was, if at all there was a major boost.

I chalk this up to the damage numbers that float above enemy heads on screen, which obscured the status effect messages more often than not. I hope there’s an option to turn off the damage numbers because, quite frankly, combat is pretty bonkers and there’s usually a heck of a lot going on – and a great deal to look at as a result. The health bars above characters heads wer emore than enough for me; removing damage would declutter the screen a fair bit, I think.

I also especially love the character and monster design. There’s a video available for Masquerada which I’ve not plonked into this article because it will give you entirely the wrong idea about how the game looks. The 55-second reveal trailer is clearly from a much older build of the game and the version I played looks significantly better – with more vivid, more vibrant, and more fleshed out characters.

There’s also a particular interesting type of creature to fight in the library which I am deliberately not talking about because, if you intend to play the demo, I would very much like you to see it for yourself. I will say, however, that it is as far from an orc as I imagine it is possible to get and, for that alone, my appreciation for what Witching Hour is attempting with Masquerada rose considerably.

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Finally, I also feel I should mention is that Masquerada’s messaging tends to feature ‘fully voice acted’ a lot and with good reason. The voice actors for the party seem quite good, the accents sound just about right and being able to listen to the people I was playing as did a good job of pulling me into the world – much more so than I was expecting, quite frankly.

But it would be negligent of me to not repeat that all of this is based on just a half-hour of playtime. I know next to nothing about character creation – if at all there is a character creation process – or story or pretty much anything else that makes an RPG what it is. The demo is just a very small slice of what I hope is a significantly larger, longer game and, given how delicious this taste was, I’m looking forward to the whole thing.

Even if you don’t put money into the Kickstarter (according to PC Gamer’s article, the funds are for polishing the game and tweaking the balance of combat, not for finishing it) I urge you to at least check out the demo. It’s free on Steam and it was a tremendous amount of fun. It made my somewhat boring day considerably better, and perhaps it will do the same for you as well.

Trevor Coelho

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