Rating: Not Available
Available for: PC, Mac
Witching Hour Studios’ Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (2016) introduces a world heavily inspired by the Venetian masks and their aesthetics and interweaves it with a intriguing story involving magic and politics. Masks, here referred to as Mascherines, play a prominent role in the game, allowing their user magical abilities based on natural elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and consequently causing all sorts of political strife due to their limited nature. Throughout the game, they provide a multifaceted symbolism that is placed front and center in both imagery and message.
Masquerada’s story focuses on Cicero Gavar, as he returns to the Citte after five years of absence, five years since his brother died as part of a revolution between two factions of mask-owners. These two factions consist of the Registry, a government entity that possess the Citte’s collection of Mascherines, and the Maskrunners, people of the Citte who have obtained Mascherines through other means. Much of the tension between these factions are a result of the Mascherines going to members of each of the various guilds. Cicero, as a former member of the Registry, has been tasked with finding Razitof, an old friend who had been sent by the Registry to find how Mascherines are made. Cicero is soon joined by members of each of the guilds, including Razitof’s brother and an old acquaintance of Cicero’s brother, and before the long, the group find themselves uncovering truths behind their masks and their world.
Masks are popular for symbolizing hidden selves, representative of secret agendas not immediately ready to be narratively explained. Masquerada displays a duality between expressed self vs hidden self, and it becomes apparent in different forms. The most obvious form would be that of the politics between the guilds, with the guilds holding a monopoly over Mascherines. Possession of a Mascherine serves as a sort of permission slip to participate in political games between the factions. Cicero himself easily jumps right back into the dance upon his return to the Citte, while Tizania, a companion from the Luca Guild, indicates her reluctance that such games are necessary for communication in these circles. The emphasis on the divide between guilds becomes most apparent in the climax of the game and the metaphorical masks must finally come off in order to resolve the conflict affecting them all. I would have liked to have seen more of the relationship between the guilds throughout the game and what they each represent, something I think that would have given greater impact to the clashing powers dominating the Citte.
The second form of the masks’ symbolic purpose are amongst Cicero’s own companions. At first it would seem that the characters would be a little more forthright about their intentions for accompanying Cicero, but you soon find that they are each keeping their personal secrets, well, secret. This is noted among Cicero’s entries about his companions, indicating that while he doesn’t want anything to take away from his investigation, he can’t help but be curious as to everyone else’s motivations on this journey. As the story progresses and the stakes get higher, the characters begin to reveal their hidden lives, each with significant impact on the story itself. It was interesting to watch how each companion reflected on their past and how significant it was in motivating their actions. The moments felt very personal too, with a slow build up to each of the reveals and it only being revealed to Cicero in a private conversation.
While the first two forms of symbolism are more apparent, Masquerada also goes beyond using masks as merely something to hide behind, giving them this sort of physical representation of power and particularly power at the cost of another. As mentioned before, the Mascherines are mostly limited to the guilds, which gave way to a rising tension and then war between the Maskrunners and the Registry. The guilds, which are meant to represent different pillars of society, started focusing more on themselves than on the people they were meant to represent, something that ultimately led to the corruption of power seen throughout the game. Cicero serves as an intermediary in the narrative, reluctantly working for the Registry again but also understanding the plight of the Maskrunners and their daily struggles. Some of the other companions are or become sympathetic to the Maskrunners as well, understanding that the Crown is no longer what it was supposed to be.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows present a world rich with magic and purposeful aesthetics, reflecting the very symbolism they hope to convey in their narrative. The masks were not just meant to be used as a form of combat but rather, they represented a deeper message about Masquerada’s world, and the fact that they made the image so central to their game indicated just how important it was for the story as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, I would have liked to have seen more concerning the politics between the guilds and versus the Maskrunners just to strengthen how high the conflict was by the climax of the game. That aside, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has a wonderful story with very compelling characters, and I would recommend you to check it out!