Friday, November 3, 2017

REVIEW: How to Take Off Your Mask (game)

How to Take Off Your Mask is a fantasy romance visual novel. You play as Lilia (name customizable, although I think if you choose something other than the default the characters don’t say her name in spoken dialogue). Lilia lives with her grandmother and helps out at her bakery. Lilia hasn’t had parents around for years, but she’s kept it together by focusing on her young friend Ronan and being the best “big sister” she can for him. They’re now in their late teens (I think? Or maybe early 20s) and Lilia still treats Ronan like a younger brother who needs constant supervision and protection. However, things are starting to change.

Lilia wakes up one day to discover that her body and speech have entirely changed. It turns out that she’s half-luccretia. Luccretias are feared and hated by many humans, and anti-luccretia sentiment has been growing lately. Half-luccretias look human until their first transformation, at which time they transform into their luccretia body, which has cat ears and a tail. Some luccretias talk like normal humans, while others end their sentences with “mya” or “nya.” Lilia is one of the “nya” types. Her luccretia form also happens to be several years younger than her human form, maybe 13 or 14.

As the anti-luccretia group makes its first moves, Lilia interacts with Ronan both as herself as as “Leea” (name customizable), her luccretia form. Because Ronan has no idea they’re both the same person, Lilia gets to see another side of Ronan and realizes they’ve both been hiding things from each other. Will they be able to take off their masks and finally be honest with themselves and each other?

I started playing this in order to see whether the sequel, How to Fool a Liar King, was worth getting, and it turned out to be much better than I expected. Individual elements were a bit so-so, but the package as a whole was wonderful.

Gameplay was blessedly simple, although it took me a good chunk of my first playthrough to figure out the effects my decisions were having. Every decision point included only two options, and those options affected two things: whether you’d end up playing the Human Side or the Luccretia side, and your romance with Ronan. I only ever chose maximum romance options, but I assume if you went for the non-romantic options the game would end at the closing credits rather than continuing on with Ronan’s return. Trust me, that’d just be disappointing. It’d be sad but kind of understandable with the Luccretia Side and a tad confusing if you played the Human Side.

Okay, what do I mean by Luccretia Side and Human Side? Well, at a certain point in the game (maybe Chapter 4? I can’t remember), the story forks. If you end up on the Human Side, you spend the rest of the game primarily as Lilia. If you end up on the Luccretia Side, you spend the rest of the game primarily as Leea. The game’s events are generally the same, but various details change and Ronan behaves differently depending on who he thinks he’s talking to.

Although I thought Leea was very cute and I enjoyed how cool Ronan seemed in the Luccretia Side, I thought the Human Side was overall better. It did a better job of explaining certain details. Also, although Leea was technically more honest about her feelings than Lilia, in the Human Side Lilia was more honest with Ronan overall than she was in the Luccretia Side. This was even reflected in the way the ending played out. Lilia’s continued reluctance to tell Ronan the truth about herself really bothered me in the main story and the Luccretia Side, so I found that I preferred the Human Side ending.

For the most part, the romance was sweet but extremely predictable. The biggest plus was that it wasn’t rapey in the slighest. Well, unless you count the age difference between Lilia’s luccretia body and Ronan. Even Ronan was a little disturbed by his feelings for someone who he thought was only a child. That was another reason why I preferred the Human Side over the Luccretia Side - it had less of an “ick” factor to it. The Luccretia Side had Ronan explicitly deciding that it was fine for him to be attracted to Lilia, no matter her form, because her mind was always the same even if her luccretia body was that of a child. I could see and even sort of agree with his reasoning, but it still felt a little gross. On the plus side, I don't recall the Luccretia Side even having a kiss scene.

The sprites were nicely done and attractive. The backgrounds were a little bland, but they got the job done. The voice acting was great. I thought I’d end up skipping through a lot of it, since I normally read visual novel text pretty quickly. However, I actually found myself pausing long enough to hear the full dialogue, even though I don’t understand more than a handful of words in Japanese.

All in all, I recommend this. Visual novel newbies and those who get frustrated with trying to chase down story paths and new dialogue in more complex visual novels will appreciate how simple this one is to get through. The story is fluffy and a bit bland, but I still enjoyed it, and the artwork and voice acting are nice. The biggest issue was the age difference between Lilia’s luccretia body and Ronan, but I didn't think it was handled too badly.

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