The Utawarerumono series has generally been pretty hard to recommend to anyone outside of Japan. While the final two PlayStation 4 and Vita entries in the trilogy were localised and released globally, the first game in the series was a Japanese PC release in 2002 that never saw the light of day outside of Japan. Even as that was later ported to PlayStation 2 and even PSP in Japan, the only option English-speaking fans had to engage with the game was to watch an anime adaptation full of skipped stories and character changes. Even once Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth came along nearly a decade later not much had changed.
Thankfully, the English release of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen finally squashes all of these issues. As an HD remake of the original 2002 title, not only does it bring the entire trilogy together under a shared aesthetic and gameplay style, but it also finally brings the trilogy together in one, seamless experience for fans and newcomers across the globe.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is essentially a visual novel. Of the 20+ hours you spend with the game, most of it will involve reading. Much like visual novel hybrids such as Sakura Wars or Zero Escape, though, major story beats in the Utawarerumono series are capped off with tactical grid-based battles. As much as I love visual novels, the lengthier ones can be hard for me to sit through unless they sprinkle in moments of more interactive activities like this.
A big part of the suite of upgrades made to the original experience of Utawarerumono through the Prelude to the Fallen remake is the fact that these battles feature all of the gameplay improvements, 3D models, and special skills introduced in the modern PlayStation sequels. One of the most interesting of these is the Chain Attack ability, which lets each character perform instant follow-up attacks if you manage to hit the attack button just before shrinking attack ring disappears. It’s a small but significant system that adds an incredible sense of real-time action to your battles.
While they aren’t frequent, many of the battles in Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen will require serious strategy and planning if you want to come out victorious, and fully utilizing abilities like the Chain Attack or your Final Strikes are key to victory.
As fun and polished as these battles are, the narrative of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is where the heart of the experience lies. The game takes place in a world devoid of modern technology, where scattered tribes of humans with beast ears and tails live off the land and live in peace and harmony.
Our main character isn’t one of these mysterious beast-people, however. Instead, he’s a normal young man who was found gravely injured by a girl named Eruruu, who brought him back to her home in order to treat his wounds. With no memories, a mysteriously modern understanding of agriculture, and a strange mask stuck to his face, he slowly becomes a member of the village and is given the name Hakuowlo.
Having this amnesiac character seemingly plucked from modern society be our mirror into the world of Utawarerumono is great because he’s often just as lost or uninformed as the player is. As cultural differences or new factions are made clear, they’re revelations for Hakuowlo and the player as well, and that joint sense of desperately piecing together your place in the world adds an incredible sense of immersion to the story.
As the story continues, a few awkward hurdles make themselves known. Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen starts strong in the first few hours, but the story soon settles into an almost episodic format that ultimately strips away a lot of the intrigue and tension of the story. Much of the middle portion of the story consists of new enemies and allies appearing, battling, and exiting from the story with little fanfare.
These moments are coupled with regular bits of cheesy, anime-style slapstick perversions that might throw you off if you aren’t used to that sort of thing. Thankfully, the lumpy pacing of the middle portion of the story gives way to a final act that makes all of that awkwardness worth it in spades. Plenty of key characters get to shine in the final section of the story has massive narrative bombshells drop, and a few loose threads are left unresolved that have got me way too excited to dive into the next part of the trilogy.
While Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen gives the battle system of the original game a major facelift, it also does a great job of updating the aesthetic of the entire experience. The original character portrait art from the 2002 version of the game is used in this remake, sharper than it’s ever been before. There’s an incredibly nostalgic style to the art of this game that manages to whisk you into the world of early 2000s visual novels without ever feeling dated or sloppy. You can match the classic style of the art by listening to the original soundtrack of the game, or opt for a rearranged BGM that slots in new remixes and tracks from the sequels to spice things up a bit.