Let’s face it, not everyone has time to sit through a 40-hour visual novel, even though it might be an extremely good story. The Utawarerumono series has managed to present itself as a little more than just a story by offering the player moments of SRPG battles to break up the hours of dialogue. Now, developer Tamsoft is taking the first half of the story and presenting a more condensed version of it along with new gameplay elements. While the characters hold up and the battle system is enjoyable at times, the game fails to truly stick with as well as the original.
Issues with Utawarerumono: ZAN’s story appears within the first 30 minutes of the game. The issues here stem from the speed at which the characters and setting are introduced. While the story does end up slowing down a little in later parts of the game, expect to not really understand what is going on if this is your first experience with Utawarerumono. This ends up hurting some of the more impactful twists in the game as well as the character development that is a huge focus on the original story.
Thankfully, the character models are really well done and make the dialogue scenes enjoyable to watch play out. Sure, it still feels rushed and some of the moments that the developer decided to highlight are strange, but it is entertaining. It’s best to think of Utawarerumono: ZAN as the cliff notes version of Utawarerumono — you’ll get a good idea of what’s going on, but some things come off like that are missing. It might take until chapter seven, but things do end up getting cleared up after a while.
So what’s the biggest difference in this title? Well, the battle system of course. Tamsoft decided that this series needed to have a little more Musou in it and that’s exactly what they did. Throughout the story, players will meet new characters who can be added to their party, but only four characters can go into battle at once. Each character has a variety of different abilities and skills, but some are clearly better than the others. For example, I wanted to play as the Twins for obvious reasons, but their attacks are slow and tough to land. Most of the time this will mean a quick death when going up against a boss.
There are some interesting systems here like monitoring the Spirit level of your party to get the most out of them. While most of the campaign can be completed without really paying attention to this feature, the tougher side-missions and bosses will require you to spend some time exploring it. Basically, certain parties of four get a boost depending on their relationships together. It’s unique and means that you’ll be trying new combinations of characters.
Levels are gained in battles, but this doesn’t have a huge effect on the character’s stats. Instead, BP gained by accomplishing missions will grant the biggest rewards. BP can be used to level up individual stats on a character, but they’ll need to be used in the battle in order to gain it. Meaning that you might be playing missions multiple times if you want to level up all of your characters.
Campaign missions are all fairly straight forward, which makes the game super repetitive. This is a shame considering the first few missions have somewhat of a variety, such as, running from a boss, something that you never have to do again. Most of the missions have players kill 50 enemies or defeat this group of stronger enemies and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.
The saving grace for the game is that side-missions and post-game missions that give the player some variety with the objectives with things like finding an item or staying alive for a certain amount of time. I’m not sure why they didn’t integrate these missions into the campaign of the game that begs for any type of variety.
Sadly, the character interaction is extremely limited in this game as. There aren’t any friendship or romance scenes implemented in the game, which would have been a nice addition to the story. Playing as your favorite characters never feel rewarding either until after level 25 when they unlock their special skill. There is also an equipment upgrade system where you play a gacha style game that randomly upgrades equipment — it’s just weird though.
Graphically, Utawarerumono: ZAN is a good looking game. The character models look fantastic and the battle system is responsive and fun. I enjoyed the recorded audio as well, especially for the final chapters of the game which is arguably the best part about the game. The music in the game is really good and Utawarerumono fans will feel right at home in that department.
Utawarerumono: ZAN is a condensed version of must-read visual novel SRPG that doesn’t quite stick with you as much as the original. Sure, you’ll get the gist of the characters and the situation at hand, but nothing really stands out in the game storywise. These characters and their story is much too complex to tell over a six-hour story and the game would have benefited from focusing on their introduction a little more instead of two-sentence bios.
Still, in that event that you’re looking for a Musou title featuring Utawarerumono characters, then you’ve found just what you’re looking for. The game has some interesting battle features and some of the characters are really fun to control. The battle system is responsive and I thoroughly enjoyed the final chapters of the game. There is also enough content in the other modes of the game that does end up being far more interesting than the campaign. As much as I wanted to love Utawarerumono: ZAN, it just didn’t cut it.
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