Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is a remake of an old visual novel. One which I recall playing more than a decade ago in fact and one which has stuck with me ever since. Over time it has come out on new platforms, add voiced acting, improved graphics, and even had changes in the battle system and balancing. However, this is the first time it has had an international release. And can I say; It’s about time!
This version of the game is coming to PlayStation 4 and PS Vita with Cross-Save courtesy of NIS America. Shiravune later published a version on Steam with some additional text updates.
The story follows a man who was found gravely injured in the forest by a young woman named Eruruu. As he awakens in Yamayura Village, he finds that he cannot remember anything about his past, including his own name. Eruruu and her grandmother – the village elder and a healer start to treat his injuries and give him the name Hakuowlo.
Yamayura Village is a tiny place with few residents, barren fields, and no riches. They survive, but not much more. It is a village steeped in the local traditions. We start to learn about this world’s mythology and cultural practices through this lens. One particularly interesting aspect of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is that the world it builds has its own distinct culture with some influences from the Ainu people of Japan in the clothing shown and some other aspects. I found this refreshing after playing so many visual novels based in modern Japan or a very similar world.
The villagers may find Hakuowlo to be quite different from them. He does not have more bestial traits such as furry ears or a tail as the rest of them do. What he does have is a mysterious mask that cannot be removed. Despite his differences, he soon fits into the village and grows attached to the people there. While recovering, he uses his knowledge to improve their way of life and works his way into being an important member of the village. He helps in the fields, comes up with plans, and befriends the others. Watching Hakuowlo integrate into the village worked quite well to give a sense of attachment and get to know the world and people.
Unfortunately, he is too successful. The corrupt local lord hears of their success and decides that he wants to profit from it. This triggers tensions, which spiral into a conflict affecting much more than their own village. The sound of clashing swords, piercing arrows, and spells being cast become common.
The story continues with a much wider scale than the village. Hakuowlo visits many different countries and meets people from all over. It is a story involving constant wars, politics, deceit and between it all, some more relaxed scenes where you get to know a wide cast of characters. In one scene you may be talking about the assassination of a political figure by another country with a serious tone and in another, you may be watching and laughing as a character puts herself in danger to feed her gluttonous stomach. It does a great job of ramping up the tension at certain points, but balancing it with lighter moments.
One particularly notable aspect is how the game builds up the world over time. The first few hours introduce you to some of the characters and the general way of life. From there it continues to introduce new concepts, whether explicitly explaining them or more often allowing you to learn through context.
You often meet new characters as you proceed through the game. As such, there is quite a wide cast. Despite this, I was impressed at how much effort was put into developing the main cast and even several of the secondary characters. They all get at least some screen time, though this is sometimes alongside another character. With such a large cast, you don’t get a very deep dive into all of the character’s histories, but I felt like they all have their own distinct personalities and many have their traits and the reasons behind them explored.
I found the pacing to be good throughout most of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen, as it is constantly either adding something to the world, adding something to the story, or further developing the characters. This is kept interesting by the use of either drama or humor. I say most as while the story pacing was consistent, I did feel like it was broken up by battles too often at some points nearer the end.
It is worth mentioning that there are choices through the game, though these are not too meaningful. There is only one route and one ending, even if there may be some slight differences in your experience on the way there with some missable scenes. I was impressed at how well foreshadowing was used too, with many things tying together even if not obvious at first. This is a benefit of only a single route – it’s far easier to do this when not splitting into multiple branches.
Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed the story aspect of the game. It was an interesting story, supported by a great cast of characters. There were quite a few surprising moments along the way and it all came together at the end, if in a way that would be a surprising turn for a first time reader. It has quite a lengthy story too. Completion took me over twenty-eight hours in total, though some of this was participating in battles.
Utawarerumono for PC was originally an adult game. Hakuowlo meets a lot of women in his journey and gets to know many of them very closely, both in an emotional and in a physical sense. This changes quite a bit in the console release.
The game handles censorship in a few different ways. These can range from leaving in the implication of sex but fading out very early on to completely removing the reference to it happening at all. There is only one nude CG remaining and this is censored by a beam of light.
I personally feel like it censored it so much that it had a negative impact. As an example, at one point there was a proclamation of love, but without the relationship development through a removed scene, it felt like it came out of the blue. There was another set of scenes that I felt were much less powerful than the original too.
On the other hand, half of the characters involved look, act, or are referenced to as if they may not be of age. Hakuowlo treats several characters as if they are much younger than he is. ‘I need to punish naughty children who cause me to worry’ is a direct quote about one of them. Oddly though, references to sex are more often removed or lessened for older looking characters than the younger.
In the end, there has to be some censorship for release and it won’t be limited to this version but any of the previous console releases of this game too. It is still worth noting the impact it has on the story. I feel like they played it too safe and made cuts in some unusual places.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen has two types of gameplay. Story scenes and battles.
The vast majority of the story is told in a visual novel format. Background art, character sprites, music, voicing, and text. This is fairly standard. You get occasional choices which sometimes determine which scene you see, but often there is only one choice or you can choose all of the choices. This makes choosing feel like an illusion at times. The choice does not always exist, so is not always needed.
Some story scenes are shown with animated 3D models. Characters are shown moving around, fighting, and so on. This works quite well in certain action scenes or when showing some of the more dramatic scenes.
The battles are of the strategic RPG type. A number of characters can be moved around a grid system. The objective is usually to kill all of the enemies or a particular enemy, but it can also be to reach a certain place, stay alive for a certain amount of time or other objectives.
Battles can be quite long, but generally only take about ten minutes to complete. I did have one take almost thirty minutes once, but that was admittedly my own fault – when it says ‘get to the exit’ or ‘kill one specific enemy’, I often hear ‘slaughter all enemy units’. Murder time is fun time, right? Or have I been playing too much Saints Row the Third: Remastered?
On the first impression, the SRPG system seems quite limited. Take turns in a fixed order. Keep elemental affinity in mind. Attack from behind or the side for extra damage. The only things you can do are move, hit, and heal. That seems to be all. Luckily it opens up more as you get further into the game – it’s just quite slow at releasing the extra features such as special co-op attacks, final strikes, status effects, and magecraft. Even the basic attacks become longer and more powerful as your level increases.
One feature which I want to specifically mention is ‘Rewind’. It’s actually as it sounds – you can rewind the battle. If the battle doesn’t go your way or if you just want to make a different choice, you can go back to a previous step. Along with this, you can usually see the damage you will do before committing to an action. This allows quite a flexible approach and more experimentation.
There is a good amount of customization involved in battles. You can assign each character a piece of equipment and two items that can be used during battle. The equipment choice can help determine your playstyle and the items can be curative or buffing.
When you complete a battle, all units get experience points. This includes those who did not participate and helps them stay a similar level as the others. Only those who participated get battle points (BP), which let you increase stats beyond those gained from leveling up. Each character has their own cost for each stat. So one character may take 70 BP to increase attack, 40 BP to increase defense and 60 BP to increase magic defense. Others will be different. This makes certain characters predisposed to certain builds, but in the end, you will have to choose. Going solely with the most efficient option can work out quite badly. Abilities are learned throughout which may affect how the character plays too – suddenly learning a passive ability that works well in the midst of combat may have you decide to push defense to survive longer at the front.
In the end, this isn’t the most in-depth SRPG system I’ve seen. It is certainly competent though and much better than my first impression of it. It just takes that extra time to open up. The co-op attacks are a feature I had quite a lot of fun with and there are more combinations than you might first expect. Battles work well to break up the story segments too, as this is quite a long visual novel. You can replay battles for extra experience, BP, and items, as well as participating in special training battles too.
On a final note, I should mention that there is a New Game+ mode. You can carry over the progress made. There is both a normal and hard mode, so if you play on normal the first time, hard could be a good challenge next if you play more than once. And if you happen to be hunting for the platinum trophy (guide here), you will need to play it more than once. I do like that it notes which scenes have and haven’t been seen when doing this.
Graphics, Sound, and Options
Utawarerumono was originally a 2002 game, so this is something to keep in mind when we speak about graphics. Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen certainly improves on the graphics and does a great job in one area and an adequate job in another.
The visual novel segments look amazing, with high-quality character sprites, backgrounds, and CGs. I would not have guessed at first glance that this is based on a 2002 game from not long after the PlayStation 2 launched.
The 3D models and environments from the parts of the story told that way and the battles look good enough but are not the most detailed things in the world. The animations do not show a huge amount either, relying on implied motions made after moving. They still do a good job of expressing what they need to in the story scenes though and often a better job than using a visual novel scene would have for action scenes in particular.
The sound is just impressive all around. Most notable is the improvement to the background soundtrack, which combines the original soundtrack and that from the two sequels to make a mix of 107 pieces of music. There is always a fitting piece of music for a scene. If you prefer, you can select to only use the original soundtrack instead.
The voice acting is wonderful too and includes several names from popular anime and video games. I admit to some small bias here, as Camyu is voiced by one of my favorite voice actors (Rie Kugimiya). The voice actor for Hakuowlo (Rikiya Koyama) really steals the show for me though and brings the story to life more than anything else.
While I don’t recommend it, the game includes the option to turn Hakuowlo’s voice off or to turn all voices off. Otherwise, it is fully voiced. Other options included are the basic settings expected in most visual novels for text and audio.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen has an intriguing story, great characters, and a decent SRPG battle system. The story of seeing where Hakuowlo starts and where he goes from there is really the selling point here. I did have some complaints about the censorship going a bit too far and the battle system is not amazing, but overall I have to say the following
UTAWARERUMONO: PRELUDE TO THE FALLEN IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
If you would like to see more Utawarerumono, we have reviewed a hack and slash game of the same series, Utawarerumono: ZAN. This game does have two visual novel sequels; Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. As the title implies, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is the first in the trilogy, fitting in before these two titles in the timeline, despite the later English release.
Many thanks go to the publisher NIS America for a PlayStation 4 review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.