Square Enix's games are extremely high definition, mechanically complex and most of all, LONG - all things that would seem to make the company steer away from iOS. Strangely enough though, Square seems to be embracing the platform with the recent release of both Deus Ex: The Fall and stylish vampire RPG, Bloodmasque. Although as RPGs go, Bloodmasque is more aperitif than entree, its beauty and interesting take on multiplayer make it satisfying enough.
Square games tend to wrap players up in layer upon layer of melodrama, and Bloodmasque is no different. It's the late 19th century, and humanity is enthralled by a race of unscrupulous vampires. Fighting against these bloodthirsty monsters are the Guild, a group of hybrid human-slash-vampires determined to destroy the vampire race once and for all. The Guild's central command is in Paris—lucky for us, since it provides Square with a great excuse for some killer settings in the seedy-but-sensual Paris of Toulouse Lautrec, absinthe and the Moulin Rouge.
You play one of the Guild's many hunters, a fighter sworn to defend humanity till your last breath. Characters in Bloodmasque are just as beautiful as those in Square's other games, albeit lacking the usual anime-indebted features. You can choose to play as either male or female (and a delightfully liberal feature allows you to change gender at will) and can customize your character to some degree, using a decent range of presets. You can also, if you dare, use the iPad camera to take a photo of yourself (or use one you already have) and slap it onto your character's face.
It's a fun gimmick but no matter what you do, your photos fail to match the character models' heads very well, and most characters end up looking like something made to scare dogs and small children. Some players even do frightening things like slapping Cartman's face onto a tall, elegant vampire hunter and well, once you've seen that, forget about ever sleeping again.
Anyway, Bloodmasque starts nicely, setting you up as a powerful and super-model-gorgeous vampire hunter. In addition to choosing your facial features, you also choose your blood clan from four different options: Lust, Wrath, Greed and Pride. Each clan has its own strengths and weaknesses and you can change clans and level each of them up any time you like.
At first, Bloodmasque looks like an extremely deep, juicy RPG. There's all kinds of gear and stats and skills and you can raise both your rank (level) and Bloodclan and create blood bonds by sharing blood with other players. Unfortunately, not a lot of these things can be directly controlled. As you gain blood (xp) you level up and gain more hit points. You can alter your abilities to some degree by choosing specific armor and weaponry (and fangs!) but the role playing is highly simplified.
Although this, coupled with the usual built-in Square level grind, does make for a bit of a let-down, Bloodmasque is still entertaining, thanks to its non-concurrent multiplayer. Hunters always fight in threes, and that means whenever you head out on a mission, you need two trusted compatriots to go with you. Before each mission, you choose from a roster of other players who aid you during battle, more or less like helper NPCs. Once the battle's done, you can share blood with them in order to form a blood bond that will make them more accessible for future partnering, and give them Accolades which appears to be a somewhat meaningless reputation system.
Battle itself is as straightforward as it gets: basically, you execute all your attacks with a tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Dodging is done by swiping to left and right and Blood Bursts (typical mega-attacks) are done via a timed mini-game. Anyone who's played a Final Fantasy game will get it all immediately, right down to the bosses being knocked down and jumping right back up, health bar replenished and/or augmented as they tranform into their “true form”.
Battles can become quite repetitive, especially when you're trying to beat certain difficult story-related bosses, but the reward for getting through the grind is a story told with really nice, fully animated, and often fully voiced, 3D cutscenes. The music too is really nice, full of quintessentially Parisian bistro tunes. Bloodmasque can also be completely Facebook-integrated, just in case you want to annoy your Facebook friends with photo after photo of you as a vampire-killing, supermodel hunter.
Although Bloodmasque doesn't live up to Square Enix's reputation for deep RPGs, it does offer some of the genre's flavor wrapped up in a thoroughly appetizing package. And although the face-capture/custom character tech isn't exactly awe-inspiring, the storyline and non-synchronous multiplayer make it a fun game to play and check back with on a daily basis.