Title: Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen
Release Date: May 26, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
Genre: SRPG/Visual Novel
An amnesiac man waking up in a fantasy world entirely populated by people with animal ears and tails sounds like a very generic harem anime setup. Well, this just so happens to be the premise of Utawarerumono’s anime adaptation that debuted in 2006.
The game, on the other hand, was released in 2002 for PC and managed to procure two sequels in 2015, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, both of which came to the west in 2017. However, we’re not talking about either of those. The first entry in the Utawarerumono trilogy never reached our shores, despite rereleases on PS2 and PSP. At least until now, as Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is the 2018 remake of the original game, remade in the same engine used for its sequels. This story centers around a masked man named Hakuoro, who has woken up in a field without memory. After being found by a local physician in training, he learns about the world he’s in and begins to adapt to life there.
Things are going rather smoothly for the protagonist until he finds out a corrupt ruler is oppressing the village he’s living in. After a series of events, he finds himself leading a rebellion and sort of accidentally taking over the country. And that’s only the first quarter of the game. It turns out peace is hard to maintain, and lots of other countries are just a little bit conquer-happy.
The cast is initially a few villagers but adjusts as the scope of the story widens and more famed royalty and powerful warriors join your side. Whilst not everyone gets to stay always relevant to current plot events no one gets left behind either, with almost all characters receiving extra scenes, interactions, and development with other members of the cast as Hakuoro works to maintain peace.
Prelude to the Fallen has a strong focus on its story, which is told in a visual novel format. There’s a good amount of special effects and transitions to work with as the game focuses on a warfare based storyline. Furthermore, this is backed by good music and musical shifts.
Instead of lengthy story scenes between fights found in the sequels, there are breaks where you get to select which event you’d like to go to before the plot moves on and battles break out. These battles have a variety of objectives and take place on a grid. You’ll move your characters around until your foes are within range before attacking with their respective weapons.
Throughout the battle, you’ll increase your zeal gauge. Once it hits 100, you’ll be able to use your zeal to add an extra attack to your combo for additional damage, it’s not much, but as you level up, you’ll be earning extra combo hits. Once your character has their combo maxed out, their zeal will be used to initiate a super cool and powerful final strike. Aside from final strikes, zeal is the subject of various skills and becomes a vital resource to have on hand. But don’t make the mistake of hoarding it as powerful attacks will grant you additional experience. Also, as you progress, you’ll find more ways to replenish it.
The battle system also introduces Prelude to the Fallen’s biggest flaw. Damage dealt influences how much experience you earn, which makes it very easy to leave some of your units gimped if you aren’t willing to grind them out. Characters with fewer hit counts seem to deal less damage, and if you don’t focus on them getting hits and taking out enemies or obstacles, they don’t receive much BP.
BP is an essential tool, as it is converted to stat growths of your choice. There’s no reason to focus on anything other than attack, aside from characters you want super buff. Attack translates to an amount of tankiness as well, which allows characters to deal more damage, which gets you more XP, which means you gain more levels. Also, the magic defense is almost pointless because so very few enemies use magic, and they have low stats, so I never paid attention to that.
Regardless, the battles are super fun, especially when you figure out how to shatter the game’s difficulty, even on hard. It’s not terribly difficult to do so, but there is a bit of strategy at play as the game tries to counter your movements. It’s a flashy battle system that doesn’t take too long to get used to, and battles never go on longer than they need to with some substantial weight behind each encounter. Each battle capitalizes on the story and characters that lead up to it, and there are enough downtime moments for interactions to stop characters from feeling especially shafted.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen gives western players the missing piece to this almost 20-year-old story. The updated visuals and balance of narrative and battles creates an experience that’s more approachable to new fans, but still true to the series. It was nice to play this entry in the west finally, and thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint.
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