Mask of the Rose review Archie and Griz talking

Mask of the Rose review – we found love in a hopeless zee

Are you desperate enough to be looking for love, or is love desperate enough to find you, even in the dimmest place? With our prestigious city having crumbled underground so many days ago, there is not much hope of ever seeing the light again. Perhaps we should give in to pleasure. Come with us, delicious friend, as we’ll unveil a love as vast as the Zee in our Mask of the Rose review.

Failbetter Games has been working on their Fallen London universe for quite some time now. A decade or so ago, the original text adventure introduced us to the decadent Victorian Gothic universe. Sunless Sea, later, expanded and explored further the universe. Now, in Mask of the Rose, we will be going around the sunken London looking for love. This is a visual novel with dating sim elements, so be sure to dress appropriately and behave.

After deciding what our character is called and addressed, we are introduced to Horatia’s house and the other guests, Griz and Archie. Griz is especially central to the narrative, as she gives us census pages to fill in for the Ministry of Census if you’re keen on wanting to gather up some coins. Along with romancing the mysterious long-robed Mr Pages, of course. Coinage will be useful to buy some new garments and hats, depending on what we are wearing we might get different reactions out of people, and well, ourselves too.

Archie is, instead, central to a story that involves him being accused of murder. Depending on your background, you also get access to some starting garments that change the course of the narrative. Can you actually save Archie? Definitely, as this is a visual novel which needs to be played several times to see everything. Along with romancing everyone, of course. But there’s more to romance. Storycrafting does play a role in the Fallen London universe and it is here as well.

By interacting with people, especially Harjit who plays a key role in showing us new places, we get to know new characters and words. They will be elements to be used in our stories that we can then present to other people. They are part of actual quests, so there is a need to be careful in implementing elements (characters’ motives and actions). Still, they feel like they would make a more essential role in the gameplay, but they do not. Mostly, they remain in the background, while you keep busy with other things.

As expected by the minds at Failbetter Games, Mask of the Rose is an absolute joy to read. Every character, along with their reactions and tastes, are finely crafted. They walk that thin line between realism and, well, making a character such as a statue, which often talks in “stone noises”, believable. The universe of Fallen London is used perfectly for that aura of mystery, intrigue, light romance and coquetterie imbued with Lovecraftian horror.

Interestingly, Mask of the Rose seems to target smaller stake stories rather than romance that will sweep you off your feet. Even concluding a run, by successfully romancing the character you would like, does not really feel like an “ending”. It does resemble more like a simple conclusion to your run. This makes sense since, again, the game needs to be replayed several times to really experience everything. But the short runtime, limited relationships and so-and-so story mechanics leave a slightly burned ash taste in your mouth. Or maybe it’s the Auroral Megalop I ate for lunch.

The characters come alive with art which, again, operates in tiny details, such as how their expression changes throughout the conversation. The memories of the night in which London sunk into the ground are also simply rendered, but incredibly effective.

Mask of the Rose is quite the unique product. A finely crafted dating sim more interested in the connections you will build and the universe around you, rather than pure “romance”. Recommended for anyone thirsting for a more Fallen London experience. Quite the right dish also for those looking for something different in their visual novels selection. But for that unforgettable dating sim in the Fallen London universe, I believe we’ll have to wait some more.

Our Mask of the Rose review was made possible with a key provided by the Failbetter Games PR. The game is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Mask of the Rose: Mask of the Rose is an intricate and finely crafted dating sim which takes place in the dark and horrific world of Fallen London. Despite its short runs and limited relationship mechanics, it will leave delicious fans of the genre and universe quite satisfied. Damiano Gerli

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Damiano Gerli

Damiano Gerli was born with a faithful Commodore 64 by his side. It taught him how to program basic adventure games and introduced him to new genres. Then, he fell in love with Sega -- while the Master System wasn't as powerful as the Genesis, it was where he played Sonic and Outrun. Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple. Damiano is a gaming industry professional and historian, loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs. Basically, Damiano is been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on X at @damgentemp.