Utawarerumono – Prelude to the Fallen review (Vita)

A remaster of a 2002 original, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen has just launched on PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation Vita. Published by NIS America, we couldn’t pass up the chance to play another high profile Vita title.

When I saw the download size (of over 2GB) for Prelude to the Fallen, it hit me that I hadn’t installed a game this big in ages. In fact, I had to look it up and the last time was when the Persona 3 and 5 dancing games came out back in 2018. Since then, nearly every Vita title out there has been a smaller production – though there have been some real gems like the Ancestral Edition of Darkest Dungeon as well a few fun indie titles. It’s nice that publishers like NIS America are still releasing games like this though, especially because of the two other Utawarerumono games that were previously released on the Vita back in 2017.

Those two, Mask of Truth and Mask of Deception, were tied together narratively, but Prelude to the Fallen is a standalone title that acts as a prequel of sorts. I say “of sorts” because this was actually the first game in the series to be released, and thus not initially meant as a prequel even though it now serves that purpose if you’ve played the other two already.

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If you didn’t, not a problem. Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen features a completely different protagonist and a unique storyline. It centers around Hakuowlo, who is found heavily wounded in the forest by Eruruu and Aruruu, two girls who take him back to their village to nurse him back to health. When you regain your senses, you have trouble figuring out where you are and why. It’s those circumstances that lead to you getting your name Hakuowlo, not knowing your true origins.

Once you recover, you start playing in a role in the village, which acts as your new home. This quickly spirals into a situation where you face off against the powers that be outside of the town, which of course ties into your mysterious past at some point as well. What makes Utawarerumono work well in the narrative sense is that the world this all plays out in feels like a very richly detailed game world. This isn’t even about lore – this is the first game in the series, after all – it’s more about how every little aspect was thought through to the point of being included in an in-game encyclopedia of sorts.

In terms of gameplay, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is part visual novel, part strategic role playing game. Unlike many visuals we’ve seen in recent years, Prelude to the Fallen is strictly linear and doesn’t feature a branching storyline. You still have choices to make in your interactions, but these don’t move you away from your path, instead just leading you to a few different scenes that inevitably all end up giving you the same ending. While this hurts the replay value of the game, there are very few visual novels that I would consider replaying a second or third time on account of their lengthy narratives – I’d rather spend 10 or even 20 hours playing a brand new tale instead. For that reason, I didn’t mind the game’s relative lack of a branching story.

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Once you get a decent way into the story, turn based strategy confrontations are introduced that are somewhat reminiscent of Vita classics like the Disgaea games. Very tactical in nature, positioning your characters plays a large part in your chances of success, and you’ll want to try and get behind an enemy while also facing in the right direction to avoid being flanked or attacked from behind by someone else.

You can gradually level up by playing (and replaying) through these battles, but another way to win is to effectively make use of your zeal meter, which charges as fights go on. You can use a limited amount for additional attacks per turns, or you can let it charge fully to gain access to “final strike” attacks. Since Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen takes places in a fantasy kingdom, magic is also part of the combat, which adds even more tactical options to battles. Turn based combat is a nice mix with the visual novel narrative as it breaks up the pace, and both elements feel interwoven nicely.

Visually, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen looks decent enough – especially for the Vita, but much of that 2 GB install is reserved for voiceover work. There is no English dub available, but the original Japanese voices are very well done and deliver an over the top emotional layer to the writing even when you don’t speak the language.

This is a great way to start the Utawarerumono series if you haven’t delved into the previous two releases yet, and although it doesn’t bring anything radically new to the genre we’ve had to wait quite a while for another high profile turn-based strategy title like this on the Vita. If you enjoyed Mask of Truth and Mask of Deception you’ll want to play this for the full experience, and if you enjoyed titles like Disgaea 3 and 4 on the Vita you’ll certainly want to check out the Utawarerumono games – starting with this one.

Score: 8.0/10

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