In the madness that is EGX, a free leaflet and badge cut through the noise. The shiny new badge meant one thing: I was at the booth of Witching Hour Studios, showing off its 2.5-D isometric RPG by the name of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows.
Masquerada is set in a “Venetian-inspired fantasy city” called Ombre, where magic can be cast by those that have access to rare masks. The game’s unique style is apparently motivated by French comic books and games such as Bastion. Gamers will play as – among others – Cicero Gavar, an Inspettore (inspector), as he returns from “exile to solve a kidnapping that will shake up the foundations of the city.” This already had me interested, but before I sat down to try the game out for myself, I wanted a little bit of insight into what makes the studio tick.
Masquerada was inspired by the developer’s initial love of Dungeons & Dragons, which led the way for development on a title that has also been said to be heavily influenced by Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, and Dragon Age. This definitely showed each time I eagerly glanced over at the demo being played, and I couldn’t wait any longer.
Instantly, I fell in love with Masquerada‘s visual style, which perfectly suits the game’s 2.5-D isometric viewpoint. I was also gripped by the voice acting, which gave each character personality within seconds of meeting them. This is because Witching Hour Studios believe that voice acting of the highest quality creates a more immersive, fulfilling experience. After playing Masquerada for a very short time, I can’t help but agree. The list of professional voice actors is quite impressive, and includes Jennifer Hill (female Commander Shephard, Mass Effect), Dave Fennoy (Lee Everett, Telltale’s The Walking Dead) and Matthew Mercer (Chrom, Fire Emblem: Awakening).
Adding further to this enchanting experience is the game’s novel mechanic for battling enemies. Similarly to the games from which Masquerada draws its influences, the characters can be directed to navigate environments and head into combat with hostiles. It is here where things get interesting. Once in combat, the characters can be left to their own devices, if desired, and they will use their basic attack over and over until they defeat the enemy (or die).
However, at any time the player can pause the game, giving themselves as long as they like to plan their strategy or next wave of attacks. For example, in the build I played at EGX, I was able to switch between three different characters on the fly, and try out their different abilities in the heat of battle, while also being able to slow things down by pausing and planning. I might have Cicero take the lead and use a skill on the enemy in front, send another character to head off the hostiles sneaking up from behind, and all the while healing the whole group with my third character. Being able to pause and still control the characters really provided the breathing room to devise such a strategy, and given the colorful, fast nature of fights, this was a blessing.
Even so, once the action resumed, I sometimes felt that I was unable to see the abilities I had chosen in play, either because there was too much going on, or because I had tried using an ability that wasn’t ready; I wasn’t always sure which. Also, as I’m not naturally a PC gamer, I found that I was often pressing ability keys (num 1-4) when I actually wanted to switch between characters (F1-F3). This took me out of the experience slightly, as I had to focus on the keyboard more than I would have liked when I wanted to be drinking in the beautiful, Venetian visuals.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows feels like it is going to bring a classic style of gameplay into a modern era with eye-catching designs, quality voice-acting from seasoned actors, and a pause-and-plan game mechanic that keeps fast-paced battles manageable and strategic. Witching Hour Studios is aiming for a PC, Mac and potential console release in early 2016, and it won’t be the last you hear about it from us here at IGM. Even if I wasn’t personally excited about the game, we just can’t get our EiC to shut up about it…