After originally debuting as a very different game back in 2002 the Utawarerumono series received tons of attention many years later as not only did the original game later end up being released across numerous consoles, including a reworked one in the future for current generations, but it finally saw two more games in the story over the course of two years. Now while the other entries have been SRPGs, Utawarerumono: ZAN is a bit of a spin on things as it works as an action entry but is it worth picking up for fans?
With no memory of who he is or anything about his past awakens in a cold snow-covered wasteland, he is saved by a strange girl animal eared girl by the name of Kuon. After saving him from a strange creature she begins to take charge of caring for the man who she decides to name Haku. After explaining the situation to those at the nearest village Haku and Kuon stick together and after assisting with the disposal of a monstrous creature, the pair are invited to the capital where they meet many new allies and foes.
If it seems like that may be a brief and hurried description of events from Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception there is a reason for that and it happens to be the fact that Utawarerumono: ZAN is exactly that, an extremely cut-down retelling of the events from that game. Considering the original release was a lengthy visual novel with strategy RPG battles and Utawarerumono: ZAN is instead an arena brawler it does make sense that some of the story was cut down a bit but even those who may have played the original game a couple years ago may find themselves missing details here and there thanks to the fact that so many plot points are rushed or flat out ignored in an effort to keep things as brief as possible.
This makes Utawarerumono: ZAN a game that is not only a bit rough storywise even for fans but one that would be basically inaccessible to newcomers who want to try a different brawler. In fact even the ending to the original game finds itself shown in the opening video so newcomers are warned to stay away from this unless you just want a taste of the story before diving in for the original storyline later on as barely any new content is included in this game’s story that isn’t present in the original. It is also worth noting that there are a few odd inclusions to the game’s missions that make us wonder if it may have meant to cover not only the events of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception but also Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth only to find itself cut short.
In interesting fashion, Utawarerumono: ZAN starts out a little different than your average game as it immediately places players into the campaign mode where they are introduced to the story a bit and taught a number of different gameplay mechanics before the rest of the game is opened up to them. For the most part though the campaign plays similar to how it did in the tutorial as every chapter features a story segment and generally a fight in a 3D battle arena, though some chapters do focus entirely on story.
Combat in Utawarerumono: ZAN feels a bit like normal brawlers as players can utilize the square and triangle buttons to string together attack combos utilizing light and heavy attacks respectively but it is unique in its own way due to the fact that there is a bit more depth to these combos than initially presented. Holding down an attack button, whether light or heavy, will perform a different style of attack even if performed in the middle of a combo. Players will also find that as they dish out damage their characters will fill a Zeal bar and this can be used to either use a powerful Chain attack, that can be strengthened and used at a reduced cost through timed circle presses, or to enter an Overzeal state. The larger the Zeal bar is when entering this state and the more buffs the character receives, potentially unlocking a cinematic cut-in attack called Final Strike that devastates foes. This Final Strike is limited to one use per battle for every fighter so it is possible to use it more than once if players swap between their units enough in a fight.
Generally when players enter combat they will have four characters fighting on their team and while some story missions do lock certain fighters in players can usually select their four favorite characters to fight at a time. Despite only offering twelve playable characters it is nice to say that each character plays remarkably different from one another with every fighter having a unique set of attack strings and feel to them in combat. The flipside of this however means that a couple of fighters feel far weaker than others even when leveled to a higher degree due to their style of combat. That being said, players can generally power through with their favorites even if their styles don’t mesh well together as the game’s combat is far from challenging outside of a few boss fights.
Outside of the campaign mode players will find that there are a number of side missions that they can tackle but unfortunately most of these missions tend to be fairly simplistic in nature and also happen to re-use maps that players have already fought on in the core story mode. This may work well enough for a short time but outside of the campaign these side-missions, with sub-objectives that can be completed for various rewards like extra money or in-game music, tend to be the best offering as the co-op mode that allows players to fight alongside three others is already rather empty.
This means that unfortunately outside of once again challenging the game’s campaign on hard and going for various sub-objectives in these replay missions, the game can be rather thin on side-content. In fact even the costumes that players can unlock for every fighter is generally just a color swap of their standard costume. Powering up characters relies on simply using points they earn from participating in battles to boost specific stats or equipping them with scrolls obtained using the aforementioned in-game money called Sen through an odd gacha system that rewards costumes and powers up already obtained scrolls when a duplicate is obtained leading to a game whose side content grows rather tiresome quite quickly.
Visuals & Audio
With Utawarerumono: ZAN being an arena brawler rather than a strategy RPG the character models this time around have undergone quite a bit of improvement as they now are not only more detailed to match their character portraits better but also feature plenty of flashy moves to unleash on their enemies, with the aforementioned Final Strikes being a great example of this. It is worth noting that throughout the storyline the game does use some of these character models for dialogue sequences but the game often flips back and forth between these 3D character models and simply showing off CGs from the visual novel which feels like a bit of an odd choice at times. The enemies players face are fairly straightforward in their designs though players of both of the original games will notice a few odd appearances here and there given the game only covers the events of the first game.
The soundtrack features a nice collection of music that works well during combat as well as a stellar opening theme performed once again by Suara. All of the original Japanese voice actors have reprised their roles in this release so fans will be delighted to hear their favorite characters sounding the same as before.
Utawarerumono: ZAN is a bit of an odd release for the Utawarerumono franchise as not only does it present itself as a game that is incredibly rough for any newcomer to try out without being lost about most of the story but also doesn’t offer too much content for longtime fans who have already played the original release of Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. The combat system does control rather nicely and features plenty of variety despite the low number of playable characters but outside of the campaign mode and sinking time into side-missions, there really isn’t a lot of variety to be found here. As such Utawarerumono: Zan ends up being a game that only fans of the Utawarerumono series who want to spend more time with their favorite characters in a solidly designed, thin on content, brawler will want to try out.