A visual novel is an ever-daunting task to partake. Something that, for the most part, would take unsurmountable hours, a huge wall of text and dozens of caffeine-infested beverages before its story can be set to a close. So when Aquaplus announced it was taking the series in a brand new light, it got me really excited. But while I can’t deny the fact that the women with animal ears got my attention, I also have to emphasize that it was also the tail that really got me looking. So before I sound like a total and complete donkey getting teased with a carrot, we might as well get this cart rolling. Hee-haw!!!
Utawarerumono: ZAN is essentially Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, the tactical role-playing visual novel turned action-brawler. It tells the reimagined story of Haku, a man without his memories that was found by a traveler named Kuon, and the great conflict that would unfold in their lives as they meet new friends, discover hidden secrets and forge everlasting bonds. Although despite its great story and amazing cast of characters, there’s very little exposition and most are done in brief chapters that leaves little to love about its world and often its environment. Most of my time would be on starting a new chapter only for it to end minutes later without any fighting involved. Yet for me, its greatest flaw has to be its dull and lifeless animations towards the visual novel-esque scenes with the 3D models of the characters front and center. It’s disappointing to see that replaying the anime adaptation offers far better content over the game itself.
But as an action-brawler, similar to the likes of Senran Kagura or Valkyrie Drive, it delivers the fun in spades. Providing the players a touch of fluid combat, seamless character swap transitions and an ever expansive horde of enemies to beat’em up to a pulp. The characters of twelve heroes, while they may not have the largest of cast, offers a diverse lineup of varying playstyles to make each of them an essential part of its roster. Having Nosuri with her quick reflexes and martial arts style paired with a bow definitely offers some great moments while the fan-loving Haku delivers a unique breathe of fresh air (no pun intended). Unit composition also provides a certain level of strategy which is ideally balancing your attackers from your tank and healers to make the battle encounters a pleasant one for the most part. It’s an enjoyable experience that is only accompanied with its rewarding and ever-important character optimization options that would ultimately provide new chain attacks and equipment slots to provide abilities or stat boosts as you deploy the characters in battle and gain experience.
There’s also quite the variety of mission types to make each mission unique while not being too far off the game’s style. From stuffs like collecting specific items, beating a certain amount or specific enemies, surviving the fight for a stipulated amount of time and many more that can be seen within and outside the story mode. The free missions which is technically the game’s side missions reward a character’s unique chain attack along with a few BGM aside from the obvious experience and in-game currency. And speaking of currency, they are called Sen which is an essential part of the game to make characters stronger through equipment upgrades. These upgrades follow the traditional gachapon mechanics in which spending Sen lets you obtain items in a pool of 10 per quality rank but with duplicates increasing the level of the item until everything has been drawn and maxed which can vary from 55 to 60 pulls. Which is still better than pulling out gachapons containing panties in Senran Kagura.
Visually, the game offers gorgeous and crisp graphics to its character models that is only hindered by its dull and lifeless animations throughout the story. Its environment and areas offer plenty of room to move around in but doesn’t come as vast or as flourish for a next-gen console. But for an overall presentation, it’s something that is fairly decent paired with good voice acting and the upbeat soundtrack.
Utawarerumono: ZAN is ideally a step in the right direction despite stepping in a few cracks of the road that made it tumble. With such a niche series, it is however far from what a newcomer should be picking up as their entry point as it fails to educate what the game is about and only has its focus on the actual combat.
This is a game that is only best suited for the fans of the series as well as fans of action-brawlers or hack n’ slash games that just needed a breath of fresh air while they wait for their next big title jump yet for its full asking price on par with a AAA game, it’s something that is even hard to recommend not to mention DLC characters requires additional expenses which are characters that are already seen multiple times in the game’s story.
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