So this is the first visual novel game I’ve reviewed… and honestly the fact that this is also a tactical RPG (sometimes) can be very trying. Not for the reason you might think, I think I’m used to something like “Fire Emblem: Three Houses”, where I can settle into a known pattern of when battles come and when socializing come, or even the format of the “Persona” games. With Utawarerumono, I feel like I have zero clue when story relevant events will occur, when tactics gameplay comes in, and really any sense of pacing. It might also just be my inexperience with visual novels. Most of my experience visual novels are with Ace Attorney or Steins Gate, which has limited gameplay relatively speaking. That being said, Utawarerumono: Prelude of the Fallen is a Visual Novel with gameplay sequences resembling final fantasy tactics with a 2.5D perspective. You do not have an avatar creator: you are an early 30s guy who woke up in a village hut with a teenage catgirl and her troop: Grandma and prepubescent catgirl (she really resonated with me because I love me those deadpan lolis FBI I SWEAR I-) ANYWAYS… Most of the events in the game involve depicting a tragic war between neighboring factions, and how it starkly interrupts the otherwise wholesome rural living of the village. The main character has limited memory of his purpose and is afflicted with a mysterious curse that produces stabbing pains throughout his body. The tone of the game shifts pretty rapidly, but writing (and the English translation) is pretty workable, if horribly cliched by veteran anime fan standards.
Tactical RPG gameplay-wise, I was unable to complete the game, but there’s a basic “critical hit” meter that charges as you attack or defend, and characters have loose classes (healer, fighter) with limited customization between battles beyond some basic experience stat allocation. Some of the equipment and item management seemed to have some depth put into it, and there are some neat interactions that reward positioning your units in certain formations for special techniques as you progress further into the game. There are also elemental advantages to take into account, as it can really change the course of battle, especially if you find yourself on the wrong side of it. You can see the Adv. and Dis., so it’s not crazy difficult to track, but it gives another layer of strategy to consider. Things start off very simplistic, but as you unlock character skills with varying ranges and targeting, things go beyond attack end turn. Maps look varied, but there really aren’t a lot of ways to interact with it, or anything like cover, overwatch, or any sort of attack of opportunities to play around with. There’s not much more to divulge beyond spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. All in all, I’m satisfied with what’s available, but when I compare it to some other anime strategy games, this doesn’t stand out all that much.
Visual novel gameplay is extremely linear from what I can tell with very few dialogue trees or optional content to explore. You are presented options to pick from that will tell you that you can access either a major story event or just filler, slice of life moments. The entire game is voice acted, which impressed me as they’re not mere canned reactions for the majority of scenes. You can replay lines in the script, replay audio, and save your progress at any time which is pretty bog-standard for the genre, but hey, I figure I’d mention anyways. There’s very few if any relationship meters or waifu simulator aspects. You never really manage your time or gamify any parts of the game outside of the turn based tactical part of the game. In this way, the gameplay and the story sections felt very detached, especially compared to something like, as I mentioned before, “Three Houses”. In that way, I find that there isn’t much more to bring up. And unlike similar games in the genre, I don’t really see reasons why I’d replay it to try other options besides maybe focusing on different characters in combat, but even then there isn’t that much depth in terms of customization. However, I do think the characters that are introduced receive a good amount of attention and character development, even if many of them start off very unlikeable and corny. I especially found the way the main protagonist opens up to the village to be heartwarming and a good anchor for the story. I’m pretty burned out on the zero personality blank slate protagonist most JRPG games with romance undertones can have, and I’m happy to be nowhere near that with this game.
All in all, Utawarerumono: Prelude of the Fallen was a middle of the road game for me. There are moments of character writing and scenarios that held my interest, but the entire experience didn’t feel cohesive at all. I never felt hooked or compelled by any systems or a core gameplay loop. I might just be complaining about not having enough gameplay in my visual novel, but nonetheless I think the gameplay that’s there is pretty good. I just find myself spoiled by Fire Emblem or Persona which seamlessly merges its differing game styles in a connected way that rewards experimentation and personalization. I won’t give this one the seal personally, but this is a game I would be perfectly fine if you went for it anyways especially if on sale.
A review copy was provided by publisher, DMM Games.
Hellfirebam has not awarded Utawarerumono the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval. I still think this was more of a personal disconnect as someone who loves strategy games and enjoys detailed decision-making in story driven games.