What if, instead of Prince Albert dying, Queen Victoria traded his life to vicious aliens who would subsume the city of London beneath the Earth and change the lives of Londoners forever? That’s the premise of Fallen London, the popular online game by English developer Failbetter Games. And now, the latest spin-off set in the world of Fallen London is the visual novel, Mask of the Rose. But what, you may ask, is the mask hiding?
Mask of the Rose is inherently connected to the world of Fallen London, taking us further back in the timeline than most previous games. It’s set in the year following the Fall and that is a large part of what makes the game accessible for newcomers who haven’t played any of the previous games. You don’t need to know the entire history of the series or how the world of the Neath works, though prior knowledge does help. For veteran players, it’s an interesting peek back in the timeline that gives a very on-the-ground look at the start of English life in the Neath, offering plenty for players of any experience level.
Like many visual novels, the story of Mask of the Rose is complex and morose, following a number of people adjusting to life in the Neath. There are several story threads to follow and a number of different endings to pursue. While the game takes approximately three to four hours to complete one playthrough, you’ll need to replay it with different character backgrounds and character choices to fully unravel the mysteries that you find and to discover all of the secrets in store.
There’s a wide variety of characters who can be alternately befriended, alienated, or romanced by the player, from the loyal and high-class Griz, to the menace eradicator and notorious skirter of the law Ferret, to the downright terrifying Master of the Bazaar Mr. Pages. Your relationships with these characters affect what decisions you’re able to make, and the way you influence relationships between them changes the course of the story. They’re all complex, well-dimensioned individuals, with their own motives and reasoning, and backstories that we get to explore.
Mask of the Rose utilizes several game systems that can take a while to get the hang of. Not only is your gameplay and choices affected by your character’s background - are you a scholar? A dockworker? - but it’s also affected by what you’re wearing. Clothes can open up new dialogue options and actions for you to take, but alternately they can mark you as a target and put you in harm’s way, or arouse another’s suspicion. Between gifts from other characters and clothes available to buy at shops, there’s a plethora of options to mix and match. As a way of constantly changing your character and experience, it’s rather ingenious, allowing you to choose the type of person you are on the fly, rather than have your options set by choosing an arbitrary personality type at character creation.
There is also a story system, where you can use characters, motives, and actions to theorize on events and potentially ask other characters about your hypotheses, as a way to get closer to solving the many mysteries of the Neath. This system definitely took a bit more time to pick up, as not every hypothesis you have will hit the mark, and it’s sometimes hard to know, particularly if a guess is out of left field, or worse, the solution is utterly bizarre, even by Fallen London standards. Collecting motives, actions, and characters to use in the story is easy enough to do, but the rest of it can feel like slapping words on a wall until one sticks.
Mask of the Rose’s character creation system is absolutely fabulous and follows the best tradition of the Fallen London games. Unconstrained by gender, you are free to choose your character’s background, cameo portrait, salutation, and name, and feel free to mix and match as you like. Would you like to be called Cynthia and walk around with an obviously bushy mustache and monocle? Go for it! The game also has options for your background story that imply a character is transgender or has changed themselves for any other number of reasons in the Neath, and the system also lets you choose if you’re looking for friendship, physical intimacy, romance, or some combination of the three, allowing you to play as a canon asexual in the game. For those players who are looking for romance or physical intimacy, your character is free to pursue any gender of character, even those without traditional human genders, and can romance members of a variety of other species as well. While it has always been an inclusive and non-judgemental game series - because who cares about something as silly as gender when you’re literally living under the surface of the earth and the rules of physics no longer apply? - these options are still phenomenal representation and inclusion.
Overall, Mask of the Rose is another strong addition to the Fallen London universe. With compelling characters, a complex mystery, and a variety of ways to play the game, it’s one of the best visual novels I’ve played in years. While the complexity of the game’s story system can get overwhelming, the plot is still accessible to newbies and veterans of the Neath alike and offers much to be enjoyed by all parties. Just, maybe don’t eat the rubbery lumps, if you can avoid it.
Mask of the Rose was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer over the course of 4 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Complex characters and an engaging story
- Accessible for those familiar or unfamiliar with Fallen London lore
- Diverse character creation options with inclusivity
- Complicated Story System to Develop Theories
- Requires several playthroughs to get the whole story