While the community has a lot of mixed opinions about ports and remakes, they can be a great way to bring newcomers into a franchise. This is a guiding thought with Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen. By taking fans back to where the franchise began, we get an idea of the events that took place prior to the Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth or if you played the spin-off, Utawarerumono: ZAN!. This gives players an idea of where the franchise came from, some of the key characters, and a better understanding of the world, at least if you played the later titles, but is it really something players should be interested in?
For the most part, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is a visual novel that occasionally has battle sequences. This means you will read a lot of dialogue before seeing combat and most of your adventure will be reading interactions from a wide variety of characters. Thankfully, the story is engaging enough to hook players relatively quickly.
The story of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen begins with Eruruu, a young healer in training, saving a young man who she found near the village. Despite having rather grave injuries, the man recovers to find himself in a strange world and situation, with no memory of who he is or where he came from. Some things, like Eruruu, her family and village, all having pointed ears and tails stand out, especially when he realizes they’re real, are quickly forgotten when he learns he is, for some reason, wearing a mask that causes him pain when he tries to remove it. While all these elements will eventually be explained, things start off simple with Tuskur naming him Hakuowlo, due to his resemblance to her now-deceased son.
Given the kindness Hakuowlo received from Eruruu and the village, he seeks to repay his debt in whatever way he can. As the story progresses, you learn of a field that is inhospitable for plant life, resulting in the villager’s efforts to cultivate the land to fail. Despite things taking place in a seemingly simpler time, Hakuowlo is aware of the problem and the elements/resources needed to fix the land. Thanks to the efforts of the village, he is able to turn things around, an event that would have untold consequences.
This is essentially the turning point in the story where things move from worldbuilding and more of a slice of life to one of conflict and larger issues. There are enough stories and charm to make the characters interesting and details to justify investing in the actual adventure. It’s clear, even from the beginning, there is a lot going on in the background and as your journey evolves from a village gaining tons of resources, to war to fantasy even starting to branch into sci-fi, it’s an experience you’ll likely enjoy and be invested in from the start.
Between story segments there will be occasional strategy RPG elements. This can be hit and miss, as the AI can sometimes make things extremely easy or difficult for you, though this is where Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen shows its age.
Like most strategy RPGs, you can control a variety of characters and move them across a predetermined grid. If an enemy is within your proximity you’re able to attack and potentially defeat a unit. As you progress moves become a bit more complicated, allowing for deeper tactics, though a lot of it is going to come down to trading blows. Where things start to get annoying is all the additional commands and dated elements. Even something relatively basic, like using healing items, requires you to literally equip them and have that specific unit use them. It was fine for the time, even now it isn’t a deal-breaker but it gives you an idea of just how far things have come.
These aspects of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen also takes a lot longer to come into its own. For a relatively straightforward, at least for those familiar with the genre, system, you’re going to need to do a good amount of battles, planning, and thoughts before you start seeing abilities, finishing attacks, and anything more than attack, move or heal. Thankfully, these sections are limited and oddly forgiving if you make a mistake. In addition to being able to freely retry, you can actually go back to a set number of moves and redo the fight. So, maybe your tactics were flawless but an unlucky critical hit did enough damage to destroy your momentum, you can potentially go back prior to that event, ideally not take as much damage and turn the tide. But if you find you’re unable to change the outcome, retrying a whole fight is always an option.
In addition, to combat feeling a bit dated, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen also looks rather old. Given it was created in 2002, it is very reminiscent of anime designs around that time period, with it being extremely similar to the popular visual novel Clannad, which released about two years later. Much to their credit, things look great, the opening movie is a chilling display of what is to come and backgrounds have a lot of life to them, it just doesn’t make things feel any more modern. And if the designs don’t stand out, you’ll likely notice most characters are limited to two or three expressions, with a good number of characters having a one. Not that these are dealbreakers, just something you should know before picking it up.
Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen Verdict
As a visual novel, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen is pretty good. It doesn’t hit the heights of a masterpiece like Steins;Gate but it is engaging, interesting, and charming, all of which are more than enough to motivate you to find out what happens next. Dated designs and lackluster combat hold it back, especially if you just what to find out what happens next but are not enough to stop it. As long as you’re willing to invest the time and effort to get to know these characters, it will be an experience that pays off in the end.