The Utawarerumono series has always had a somewhat unique barrier to entry for those who have wanted to see what it has to offer. The first game in the series was released long ago in 2002 as an eroge in Japan and, considering it featured a number of sex scenes to go along with its visual novel storytelling and strategy RPG combat, a Western release was never in the cards. Years later an anime adaptation was created and eventually brought to the West but for the most part, many Utawarerumono fans who jumped into the two sequels in the series’ trilogy would be needing to do either some research, try out the original release themselves through fan-efforts, or go in blind. Now though, the first game in the series has been brought to the West with a number of updates in the form of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen. With two games following in its wake and serving as a significant building block on how those stories unfolded, is this first entry finally worth revisiting?
Being set as the first game that led directly into the two games, Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth, players who may have already completed those two will likely already have some clues as to what to expect regarding some of the events that happen in Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen but thankfully not only do these sequels still leave plenty open for players to learn in the original release, but players lose nothing by jumping right into this entry first should they choose to, given it is the original game after all.
Players will take on the role of a man who awakens in a small rural village where he has been grievously injured. With help from the villagers, he manages to recover enough to realize that he has no idea who he is or even what he is, but the existence of people with animal ears and tails are not a familiar one to him. To make things worse, besides his memory loss Hakuowlo also appears to be the only one without any of these animal-like traits but instead has a mask permanently stuck to the top of his face.
After some mishaps, his caretakers, Eruruu and Aruruu, name him Hakuowlo and invite him to join their village and nearly as a member of the family at the same time. Despite his memory loss, Hakuowlo’s knowledge of how to properly farm and handle a number of tasks that one would think of as simple by modern standards appear nearly magical to those who live in the village. With the village thriving and managing to defend itself against wild monsters, it isn’t long before they draw the eyes of those wishing to take advantage of this prosperity as the actions of a greedy lord lead towards a rebellion rising from within the village, led by Hakuowlo in an attempt to protect those he holds dear, even if it means growing into a nation of their own.
Those familiar with the Utawarerumono series at all will know that the franchise is one that likes to focus on small interpersonal events while also delivering massive grand scale developments at the same time and this holds true especially in Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen. While things may end up becoming a bit slow at times, there is something to be said with how well the relationships between the cast are interwoven with major plot developments.
Players will get to spend plenty of time with most of the cast and see their interactions with one another and Hakuowlo, especially when it comes to most of the female cast, leading to a greater attachment to what they are truly fighting for, providing proper build-up for significant scenes to play out. It is interesting to note that players will likely want to make sure to regularly check the game’s glossary (accessible at any time) as it updates often with the names of characters, villages, countries, and much more and considering how heavily these terms are used, it is best to become familiar with them.
This also plays into how deep and developed this storyline becomes over time as things are never quite what they seem and while going any further into it would be considered spoilers, even for those who have tried the sequels, Prelude to the Fallen goes places players never would have expected.
While the majority of the player’s time with Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen will be with the game’s visual novel portions where, outside of the occasional choice of what event the player wants to see first, is a kinetic novel one, there will also be plenty of tactical battles mixed in as well. Anytime battle is entered in the story, players will find themselves placed on a grid-based map and assigned a certain win objective, usually these involve defeating all foes or reaching a certain location, and loss objectives ranging from having Hakuowlo be defeated to having too many turns pass and numerous other variations.
Combat is handled in a turn based order with each unit being able to use one action such as attack, use an item, or perform a skill, and move during their turn, though it is worth noting that Eruruu is the exception and can only perform healing on other units instead of attacking. The straightforward combat system is something that might be a bit unusual for fans of tactical RPGs that usually require a bit of extra thought and layout but generally the only thing players need to worry about when it comes to taking down foes in combat here is positioning and proper healing.
Attacking a foe from the side or from behind deals extra damage and there is something of a timing system to attacks that allow characters to earn extra “Zeal” when timed properly. A character with a full zeal gauge can dish out a combo attack that deals extra damage and eventually can unleash powerful Final Strikes that can devastate a foe when used properly. It is interesting to note that players will also have access to a “Rewind” feature that can be used to undo a previous action should the results not play out in their favor or they unnecessarily overkilled a foe. This can lead to things being a bit on the easy side on Normal difficulty, though there is the option to play on a harder difficulty at any time should the player choose.
With maneuvering and positioning your team being the only real strategy here, players will not really need to be too concerned about character progression though it is available in some minor ways here. While fighting any units that deal damage or heal an ally will gain experience points and level up, growing stronger across the board, while “BP” accrued from fighting can be used to boost only three stats in the form of attack, physical defense, and magical defense, and equipment is kept to a fairly small scale here, allowing players to only have one item per unit to provide some boost in strength. This lack of depth will likely disappoint many looking for a more tactical RPG but is something that is easily accessible to most newcomers to the genre or those who simply want to enjoy the story.
Visuals & Audio
When one considers that the original game was released in 2002 and eventually given a PlayStation 2 release in 2006, it is clear that Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen has come a long way, even if it often seems like many of the combat arenas and scenes feel more like remasters from the original than something built from the ground-up. The character models have seen a solid improvement with a unique looking art style in battle but where the game really shines is during its visual novel sequences. These moments have been touched-up and look outstanding with plenty of variety when it comes to character portraits and a great sense of design for the majority of the cast. There are also a number of amazing looking CGs that regularly appear throughout the title, often to introduce new characters or show off important scenes.
It is worth noting that this release features only the original Japanese voice track recorded by, seemingly at least, all of the returning voice actors for the cast and they play their roles incredibly well here with some great localization efforts being handled by NIS America. The soundtrack can come in two different versions should the player prefer. The original music is available should the player want to have the most well-tuned experience with the scenes being portrayed but there is also a version that mixes in additional tracks from the latter two entries in the series, giving a more updated approach and this ability to choose is highly appreciated.
After all these years and finally seeing the sequels released and localized in English, the original Utawarerumono game has finally made its way to the West in official fashion and it continues to tell an amazingly detailed storyline with a great sense of character and relationship building used to drive the major plot events home even harder. It is a bit unfortunate that while the story may be as great as ever for the series, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen’s combat can leave a lot to be desired at times as those looking for a deep system will be disappointed by the simpleness of customization and tactical combat options.