Leave it to NIS America to return another beloved franchise to the west – we’re looking at Utawarerumono: Zan, now out on PS4.
Of course the Utawarerumono name isn’t new, as Zan is a new game in the Aquaplus franchise most well-known for its blend of visual novel with tactical gameplay. If that’s your gameplay style of choice then Utawarerumono: Zan is probably going to be a bit of a shock, as it’s more like a Musou-type brawler than any visual novel I’ve ever played.
Zan is still a spinoff project of the original works, so you’ll see plenty that is familiar if you’re a veteran of the franchise. A lot of fans will be sad to find out that Utawarerumono: Zan is limited in the amount of content it covers though. The story is based mostly on what happens in Mask of Deception, so you miss out on what is about half of the total story (so far).
Speaking of the story campaign in the game – it’s divided up into sixteen chapters, but they don’t equate to sixteen missions in the Musou-sense. Some of them are mostly narrative in nature, staying true to the source material but feeling a little lost in the middle. A lot of fans of the visual novel source material will feel like the shorter and flashier presentation here doesn’t do it justice, whereas fans of the Musou genre generally aren’t too fond of too much of a visual novel feel.
Speaking of being a little lost in the middle, the same can probably also be said for the fighting in the game. Although they’ve nailed the Utawarerumono look and feel, the combat itself feels overly generic. Button mashing is enough to plough through most of the enemies you encounter, and there isn’t enough of a difference between the twelve characters on the roster in terms of forcing you to adopt different styles for your four player team. For most scenarios, you’re just charging at enemies and cutting them down – there isn’t a lot in the way of tactical decision-making here, something which Koei has gradually introduced more and more to their titles in recent years.
Boss fights do offer up interesting challenges though, and there is a good amount of extra/optional content to keep you busy beyond the story mode. I just can’t shake the feeling of wondering what the best target audience for Utawarerumono: Zan is though – the story delivery isn’t that great and as a hack and slash title isn’t not refined enough either. As a result, I wonder who’ll stick around in the long run.
My best guess is that Utawarerumono: Zan is for those who really enjoy the source material and its characters, and would love to see it come to life in a different format. There’s initial delight in seeing that materialize, especially because the visuals look the part and the audio is excellent – some of the best in the Musou genre with great voiceovers and ditto music. It’s a shame the game doesn’t succeed as a crossover product, but I do hope Utawarerumono makes a return in the future.