When you think of Square Enix, the developer of games like Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Chaos Rings, the last thing you would ever think of coming from them is an Infinity Blade-style game where you can take a picture of yourself, stick your face on a character and fight vampires in the streets of Paris. But these are the days we live in, and Bloodmasque is the game we’re playing. It’s an interesting mash-up of ideas that more or less comes together in a fun and unique game.
One of the first things Bloodmasque has you do, right as you boot it up, is to take a picture of your face and place it onto a character model. You can change things like skin tone, facial expressions, hair, hair color, and even the shape of your face. It’s probably the most interesting way of bringing a player “into the game” that I’ve ever seen, but it was entirely successful as I was never able to make myself look like anything more than the Toxic Avenger’s slower, uglier brother.
Part of the problem with this is that even though you have a bunch of options to change how you look, they’re all pretty superficial. You really don’t have a whole lot of control with morphing your face to make it fit right or look entirely believable in the predetermined face shapes available. My face ended up looking like some sort of weird death mask. I’ve seen pictures and videos of people who have managed to make it look great, but for me it just wasn’t happening. Luckily, you can use one of the many generic faces the game provides, alter it with the same options, and after that you’re off to the races.
Even though the face gimmick wasn’t entirely successful for me, the area where Bloodmasque is phenomenally successful is with its incredibly cool story and the interesting strategy that’s involved with the gameplay.
Bloodmasque is set in Paris in the early 19th century. The world has been overrun by vampires and vampire/human crossbreeds, and regular humanity lives in constant fear that their bloodsucking overlords will wipe them out entirely. Over time a small but dedicated team of vampire hunters and resistance fighters rise up all across the globe in order to push back against the evil. Bloodmasque follows the exploits of you and other fighters in Paris as they deal with the vampire threat and prepare for the rumored return of the powerful vampire queen.
It’s a great story, with a plot full of twists and turns, political maneuvers, ever changing allegiances, and really intriguing lore to give some weighty history to your constant battles against the vampire scourge.
The gameplay is pretty similar to Infinity Blade, but with enough changes to make it seem a little less dated in some respects, but more repetitive in others. As with Infinity Blade, you move around the map finding quests (aka battles) to do and loot to pick up. You can also find question marks that when tapped give you a little more background on the world at large.
When the battles actually happen is when you’re presented to both the old and new ways of doing things. You fight enemies by doing nothing more than tapping repeatedly on the screen to swing your weapon, and swiping left or right to dodge. It’s a simplistic take on the Infinity Blade style that can get boring rather fast, and the game doesn’t always register your taps and swipes as easily as it should. But where Bloodmasque gets really interesting is with the other elements you can bring into battle.
See, every vampire is part of a certain blood clan and those bloodlines bring certain benefits with them. Before you start every battle you’re able to choose a different bloodline to align yourself with, and since some bloodlines are opposing forces to other bloodlines, choosing the right one gives you certain benefits during battle. You can choose one that gives you more damage, or one that gains you more loot. Different blood clans also have special attacks that you can use during battle. Just like in Infinity Blade, once your power meter is filled you can unleash a devastating special move that if you time it just right has the potential to inflict an ungodly amount of damage on your enemies.
On top of this, you’re able to recruit other members in your battle, for a total of three, and they can give you benefits depending on what clan they’re with as well what special abilities they have from their equipment. What’s even cooler about this is that the other party members can be computer generated, or they can be other players made by real people. There’s a whole blood-bond system that allows you to form bonds with other players and you can take advantage of their talents when you have the chance. It’s a surprisingly complex system that if used right can be a great boon to how you play the game. I’ve had other players form bonds with me even when I wasn’t playing.
If you’re victorious in battle and you’ve successfully staked your foe and siphoned their blood and shared it with your friends, you gain experience from the blood you’ve collected. Your character can then potentially increase in level and blood-clan abilities. You can even gain blood from other players that you’re bonded with, even if you’re not currently playing.
There are so many ways that you can affect your success in battle that half the fun of playing is experimenting with what works. Whether it’s different equipment with special abilities, different blood-clan powers or what players you bring with you, the game provides you with a wealth of options of play around with.The gameplay system is deceptively simple but actually quite involved and complex.
The games big downside is in buying new equipment. Most of the really good stuff (like better stakes that net you and your party more blood) is pretty expensive, and Bloodmasque wouldn’t be an iOS game if it didn’t have an alternative currency– in this case it’s Blood rubies– that you gain at a snails pace. This can lead to the inevitable grinding and constant searching through the map for more rubies if you don’t want to spend more money on top of what you’ve already paid for the game. Of course you can buy more rubies through an IAP, but that sort of thing just rubs me the wrong way.
Bloodmasque is a bit of an odd duck. While I didn’t get much out of the photo aspect of it, I’m sure others will have a great time with it. But what really stuck with me was the intriguing gameplay, the blood bond system, and the cool story. To top it off, the graphics are usually stunning and the voice acting, when it’s present, is surprisingly good. Sure, the simple tap-based battle system can get annoying and the slow pace of gaining gold and blood rubies is obnoxious, but all of the other positive aspects that surround those negatives make Bloodmasque so much fun to play that I ran down the battery life of my iPad on more than one occasion. Bloodmasque is just a heck of a lot of fun to play.