Utawarerumono ZAN is the retelling of the original game in the franchise, Mask of Deception. While initially the game clocked in around 30 to 50 hours long depending on how in-depth you went, this updated and much better version is way shorter, and for good reason. Utawarerumono ZAN is a reimagination of the story of Haku, a man with no memories and a great conflict that consumes the land he calls home. No longer a tactical strategy roleplaying game, players are thrust into an ever increasing popular genre, the Musou. Non-stop action and brawling at every second, you have full control of your character and use different buttons to attack, jump, and dodge. Even though this release is just a retelling of a story we already know, there are some slight differences that do matter and the gameplay, in my opinion, is so much better.
Title: Utawarerumono ZAN
Publisher: NIS America
Available On: PlayStation 4
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: September 13, 2019
Game Provided By NIS America for the Purpose of This Review
When you are playing the game you are able to proceed with the story at your own pace. On the main menu, you can select Hakuou Arena where you’ll be presented with four different options to choose from. The main story, which consists of 18 total chapters, is pretty self-explanatory. You could theoretically rush the entire story and finish the game fairly quickly, but I would recommend against doing that. One of the other options you can select under Hakuou Arena is Battle Recollections. This is where you can go to revisit and play through all of the battles you’ve previously seen in the campaign. I always enjoy when games present this mechanic, very much like Valkyria Chronicles. It allows you to go back and grind levels and experience with your characters in battles you’re already familiar with, and not have to worry about learning a new encounter if you just want to level up, get more money to unlock different scrolls to help in battle, or just want to experience the action again because trust me, the battles really are that fun!
Another option you have is to complete free missions, which I personally had a lot of fun playing through. Each subsequent mission unlocks by completing tasks in the previous one, and this again was a great way to level up your characters along with getting more money to help unlock scrolls. Another thing as well was that if you completed these it would change some of the outcome on the main story. Now with this it was just mindless fun and I had so much fun going through and finishing all the different tasks given to you. If you wanted to just do the main task and move on to the next, there are glowing yellow circles for you to follow. After holding down the square button, the next group of enemies would come that you needed to defeat. For those who want to get the most out of each mission, running around and looking for the blue circles is important, as these unlock a side quest. The only downside here is that a lot of the maps were designed to be somewhat of a maze, and after chasing after a side quest, there’s a good chance you’ll need to do a hefty bit of backtracking to complete it. Nothing terrible by any means, there’s just a lot of downtime with all the running around you have to do to complete the extra objectives.
You were also given the option to do a battle Arena. I personally tried to do this probably a little too soon because I died… A lot. Now for the most part as long as you kept updating your characters and picked who you wanted in battle accordingly most battles were pretty straight forward. You were able to pick four players to help you and you were able to play as all of them. It was a nice touch because if the main character you wanted to play as happened to die during battle, you could switch to a new one with the chance of reviving the character that just died. If they didn’t get brought back to life within 30 seconds, then they would disappear from the battle for good. The extra members in battles definitely made things quite a bit more fun and easier. I know sometimes in games it can feel like they are there just for looks but this was definitely not the case. An example of that is after one battle ended and while waiting for the next one to begin Haru or another character who had that power would do a healing circle and also a circle to recharge your zeal (which I’ll talk about in a moment). Now with all of that when you go into the battle arena each character has the option to be a part of this but the catch is they are in battle by themselves. This was a great way to really teach us the best way to play and dodge as each individual character. Plus if you’re up for a challenge battling multiple enemies by yourself is easier said than done. One really nice benefit if you do complete your solo mission is that you get a lot of experience and you also are able to unlock scrolls to help you in battle.
Now as I mentioned, in this game you have your Zeal powers. When you’re playing you’ll notice a blue bar under your health bar. Zeal is great and you definitely want to make sure you plan on using it at the right time as to not waste it. You first start out being able to use a fire sigil which is for helping you on your attack. As you proceed in the story along with side quests you will be able to unlock more which are Wind, Earth, Light, and Moon. Each one offers you something different and depending on which battle you’re going into you are able to pick which one you wanted to take advantage of. I feel like you still need some strategy in Utawarerumono ZAN but instead of it being in the way battles are done, this time it’s about who will benefit you the most in battle since only four people can participate at one time in your group. So you want to make sure you have a little bit of everything.
So how do you get these scrolls and what do you do with all this money you make from battle? On the main title screen you’re able to select “Equipment Upgrade.” Now with that you are greeted by two characters, which if you’ve progressed far enough in the campaign, they’ll reveal themselves, but until then, they’re just two characters wearing dark clothing. Here you are able to buy different quality scrolls to unlock. These are what are used to equip to your character of choice in battle. For example you could raise someone’s attack by 38% if you have the correct scroll. There are different levels of quality that unlock as you go in the story, from standard, mid, high, master, and eventually God quality. It’s an easy system to use and easy to follow which is always a plus.
Another thing you’ll want to keep in mind while playing is to always check and see how many points you receive after a battle and see if you’re able to upgrade your characters. Taking Haku for example, the more points you earn as him by completing missions, the more you’ll be able to upgrade his attack, defense, special skills, and more. Sometimes you can unlock an extra added bonus on their upgrades as well, which is always nice. Just like the rest of Utawarerumono ZAN, everything is easy to follow, which I feel like was the point of this redesign. It allows the player to enjoy the new combat mechanics and a more fun play style while keeping in tact the excellent story that already existed underneath it all.
Utawarerumono ZAN is a great example of a way to turn a tactical strategy RPG into a much more action-oriented gameplay experience. I had way more fun this time around than I did a few years ago playing through the original release. I do hope that the developers are able to do with the other games in the series what they did with this one, because the stories have all been so excellent. If you’ve not played the original release, it’s still recommended to go back and do so to see where it all began, especially because the character development is a lot more in-depth with deeper RPG elements. But there’s a reason Musou games continue to keep climbing in popularity. They’re super fun to play, and this goes to show that any game can successfully adapt into this genre if done correctly.