Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is a remake an adult Visual Novel Tactical RPG released for the PC in 2002. This remake mostly follows the story beats of the original but leaves out all of the adult content. From a story perspective it’s chronologically the first game in the franchise. A franchise in which I’ve already reviewed two titles – Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception & Mask of Truth.
For those unaware, the Utawarerumono series has a mixture of visual novel and strategy elements with the visual novel aspects taking centre stage. This hasn’t changed with Prelude to the fallen so if you’re not at least comfortable sitting and reading text for hours upon hours, then avoid this like the plague. For an example you’ll be required to read dialogue for roughly 2 hours before reaching the first tactical gameplay section. It is of course possible to skip this dialogue but that’s heavily inadvisable. These games’ strengths come from their story so skipping any of that weakens the overall appeal of the product.
In essence prepare to read as if you’re watching a subbed anime.
Our protagonist is a man who wakes in a strange house while enduring immense pain. As he looks up he sees a strange girl tending to his wounds and as they begin to interact it becomes apparent to them both that he has absolutely no idea who he is. Add to that he dons an irremovable mask on his face and grasps quite a few concepts foreign to those he meets. These people live a simpler life similar to those in feudal Japan, with their major difference being they all have tails and animal type ears. Our protagonist on the other hand is as human as they come with regular human ears and no tail. As the plot progresses he is given a name and propelled into the complex world and the politics which govern it. Leading to conflict and thus we get to the tactical aspect of the game.
Oh did I mention that this game has some of the best Japanese Voice work? Well it does.
As a tactical RPG Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen seems as average as it gets, however calling it average would be inaccurate. In battle you are capable of moving your characters on standard grid based maps with varying degrees of elevations. All filled with enemy units, torrents and some destructible objects. As you defeat or destroy them you’ll gain EXP, AP, items and zeal. EXP works as you’d expect. As in certain amounts of it will allow your units to level up. Leveling up gains your units new moves, ability and HP but nothing else.
If you wish to increase their Attack, Defense or Magical Defense then you’ll need AP. You gain this currency by using unites in battle. With the amount needed to improve each attribute being different for each character. More physical characters may require less AP to improve their Attack, but require more for their MD. This AP system also provides the game’s only real difficulty control. By not using AP gained you can artificially increase the difficulty a bit for yourself.
Switching from normal to hard difficulty doesn’t change much else than the Attack and Defence of enemies a little. The overall Ai itself doesn’t change and it’s not that challenging. My recommendation is to have at least one character with 50 ATK and leave the rest between 30 and 40 ATK. This will allow you to steamroll every encounter until some you get to post game segments.
The rest of the combat is a mix of QTEs and strategy. Before each stage you’re able to select most of the characters for your party, equip them with items for buffs and healing, allocate AP, train or mess about in other menus. Once in battle your party is capable of attacking, healing or using magic. Most attacks and healing include QTEs. By pressing the X button when the larger circle reaches a smaller one the player is able to gain extra zeal, inflict status ailments and critical damage. Once leveled up enough each character is capable of using uniquely timed chain attacks and ultimately a Final Strike – an executable attack at max zeal.
Unused zeal can also be carried over to other battles so don’t feel pressured to use it if you don’t need to. Adding to the intricacy each character has abilities which affect adjacent blocks, elemental strengths and weaknesses, co-op attacks and so much more. Most of it is well explained while others were a big surprise like a certain character being weaker when in water or rain. For more ease the game also has a rewind feature with no limitations, auto chain attacks by holding L and a simulation function.
Visually it looks almost identical on both the PS Vita and PS4. Characters look well detailed, attacks have the right amount of flair and environments acceptable. It’s not winning any awards for graphical appeal but it is one of the better looking options in this genre. I especially liked the 3D character models and the Visual Novel art – something I wish there was more of .
OK so after all that praise I’m sure you’re wondering if this game is perfect. It is not. Prelude to the fallen suffers from poor pacing due to massive gaps between the VN and SRPG sections. This disparity will overwhelm some thanks to extremely long VN sections resulting in many unfinished copies. With VN sections that are literally long anime cutscenes without the animations. Its difficult to accept the need for pressing X or returning to a hub menu when there are no branching paths. To be clear, this is linear narrative and nothing else. Since it’s all in Japanese you’ll find yourself reading for hours non stop. It’s obvious the devs knew this because you can save at any time, revisit any dialog you miss and even skip it (which as mentioned before is not advisable).
Those aforementioned issues however are inconsequential to the poor censorship efforts by the devs. In an effort to remove the adult aspect in the original, the devs created unnatural gaps in an otherwise appealing story. Thanks to their execution it led to more confusion than anything. Despite trying their damndest to hide it’s “shameful” past, there were still a few ecchi moments. Some were just dialog (prepare to imagine). The others are just censored weak subversion for an imaginary consumer. For a game rated M its not clear who they’re trying to protect. Censorship attempts like this do more to hurt the overall appeal of a product if not properly replaced.
Do I recommend this game? Yes. Similar to the other entries in the Utawarerumono series, this is not a game for everyone. It’s for fans of VN and reading. Those who prefer a bit more action in their games may wish to sit this one out. Others will find solace in some of the charming writing, great characters, interesting story and brilliant Japanese voice acting. Just keep in mind that some story segments will fall flat due to poor censorship and possibly let’s face it, bad translation.
The copy of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen used for this review was provided by it’s publisher NIS America.