The wait is finally over. 19 years after its original release, us in the West can finally play Utawarerumono in English and on PC. It comes a year after we got the two sequels Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth, completing the trilogy on the platform and opening up the series to all.
Now, before I begin, I should give a brief explanation on what exactly this game is, because I know a lot of people just look at the title and are scared off by how long it is. In short, it’s a visual novel with tactical RPG gameplay segments and the first in the larger Utawarerumono series. It’s a bit confusing as we actually got the second and third game in that series (Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth respectively) released on PC last year, so it may have been released out of order, but at least the trilogy is complete now and those that have been holding off on the two sequels can get started with this one.
As for the story, that is where Utawarerumono shines. Having watched the 2006 anime adaptation of the game, I went in already knowing how the story would go, but somehow found myself sucked into it yet again. Before I knew it, five hours had passed, a rare occurrence for me when playing visual novels. It starts off relatively slow and mostly lighthearted, but eventually builds up into this bigger, more ambitious fantasy story – one full of likeable characters, interesting plot developments, and a nice overall sense of pacing.
In fact, the pacing was largely the reason why I was able to keep reading without noticing the time passing. That and I’m personally a huge fan of fantasy stories with a good grasp on worldbuilding, which is exactly what the beginning of this game offered. However, even when it does get a bit more serious, it never quite loses that lighthearted charm that it starts with – similar to how the plot develops in Mask of Deception. It’s quite unique for the medium and a welcome change of pace as someone that plays a ton of these games.
And for those that have seen the anime, the game provides some really good context and insight into the events from it. I watched it many years ago and had a good time returning to that story while also further immersing myself into it – I was actually surprised with how close an adaptation that anime was now that I’ve been playing the game. It is a long one though. The anime may have been 26 episodes, but this is a 30-hour game, so there’s a lot of ground to cover – even if it is the shortest of the trilogy.
However, this game isn’t just a straight-up visual novel. There’s also a sizeable tactical RPG side to it that comes in the form of turn-based battles on a grid, similar to the Disgaea games. The gameplay during these segments is pretty straightforward and not too in-depth, but an otherwise nice distraction from the story. There are character-specific skills, equipment bonuses, usable items, a leveling system, and even boss fights. It’s not too bad on normal difficulty, but can be ramped up to hard for those that want a challenge. I personally found the normal difficulty to be a nice balance between being able to enjoy the story and having the occasional challenging fight.
On the topic of art and music, there’s a bit to say as well. Right off the bat, what I immediately noticed was the difference in art style between this game and the two sequels. I mean, there was a 13-year gap between them in Japan, but I had thought the art would have been updated to look more in-line with the sequels given that this is a remaster. And honestly, I’m glad they didn’t. The art has been brushed up since its original release for sure, but it still maintains that distinct early 2000’s anime aesthetic. It’s hard to explain exactly what constitutes that, but it was actually quite nostalgic as someone that has seen a lot from that era.
The character designs are simple, yet a perfect match for the fantasy setting and the occasional CG to better illustrate certain scenes was a nice touch as well. Then there’s the music, which is just as good as it is in the sequels and even expanded a bit here. You’re able to choose from the original music and the new “special extended” music when starting up a new game. I tried and enjoyed both of them, each providing the story with its range of laidback, slice of life fantasy tracks and more energetic action tracks for the gameplay parts.
I should also talk about the port, as this game is based on the PS4 version released last year by NIS America. Just like the two sequels, it runs at 720p and is locked to 30 fps. However, it does offer in-game options for higher resolutions, it just scales the game to display at them rather than do so natively – the opposite of most VNs that simply change the monitor to match the in-game resolution. These specs are the standard for most visual novels on PC, but I won’t deny that it would have been nice to see higher-res art offered, especially because there are gameplay segments and you can easily tell they are being upscaled.
Otherwise, the port is alright. It’s got the usual VN settings (text speed, auto-mode and skip, and voice cut-off), but also offers remappable keyboard controls on top of that along with controller support (although those controls can’t be changed). This release is actually the definitive edition of the game because it also adds auto-saves and improves the translation a bit compared to its release last year.
For those wondering if there are any H-scenes, the short answer is no. The original 2002 release had them, but all subsequent re-releases and remasters had them removed – and it’s honestly for the better given that many compare them to Fate/stay night’s case in that they are completely unnecessary and even detract from the overall story.
With all of that said, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen easily earns my recommendation. It’s an excellently told fantasy story that pretty much gets everything right, with likeable characters, good worldbuilding, and some really nice pacing – enough so that I hardly noticed the time passing while playing. Then there’s the solid art and music backing it up, cementing the game (and by extension, the series) as one of the best fantasy VNs on the market. Honestly, I could see myself using this as a recommendation for those looking to get into visual novels, especially for fantasy fans.
Quote: Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is one of the best fantasy visual novels on the market, with an excellent story, fun characters, great pacing, and solid art and music backing it up.
You can buy Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen on Steam here. A bundle with all three games is also going to be available at a discount (if it’s not out already).
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.