Okay, I’m finally getting around to my review of Sunrider: Liberation Day!
Sunrider did a weird episodic-gaming thing, where episodes 1 & 2 were included in Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius and then they scraped and rebuilt the entire engine for episode 3.
Some [most] of the changes were justified and for the better, but the shift leaves Mask of Arcadius something of a shaggy dog.
The good: Getting rid of the cutscenes for every attack was great, and makes the tactical portion of the game much more playable.
The change to how command points are handled allows for some interesting strategies and flexibility—something that is needed to make the large fleet battles in this game more varied.
The bad: A total reset on all mech and ship specs and improvements. You’re given a default set of improvements to your Ryders and the Sunrider, so if you heavily favored one unit or one particular strategy in the previous episodes, it might take some work to get back there.
For what the system is doing, it should not be so juddery running on a potato. Mask of Arcadius had some minor hiccups, but not like Liberation Day. And considering that we’re talking more or less Panzer General II level graphic, it’s probably more to do with inefficient code/language [I’ve heard that RenPy has some issues on Windows 10].
Okay, this is not really bad, but the decision to have the game fully voice-acted in Japanese was an odd choice, given that it was originally partially voice-acted in English.
The shocking: It’s mindblowing how little effect the Visual Novel portion of Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius has on… well, anything!
None of the character relationship points or leadership axis point have any effect on Liberation Day beyond one upgrade for Icari’s mech, one optional side mission, and whether or not you have to use the Wishall to get Cossette. Nothing carries over storywise except for how you won the fine battle [Legion Destroyed/Ava has an eyepatch | Legion not Destroyed/Ava doesn’t have an eyepatch]. And Liberation Day’s story is on rails; the branching endings are all in an epilogue that’s divorced from the game itself.
Liberation Day allows you to import the end-game save file from Mask, but it didn’t work, probably because I never finished the “side” [finger quotes] mission where you get the Wishall which creates an import exception. But you can just tell the game what choices you made…
While Mask of Arcadius starts out with very small piece counts and eventually ramps up to fleet battles, Liberation Day starts you right out with some pretty big fights that keep getting bigger. You can easily end up with fights where you have ~20 units on your side against a huge enemy force. The light battle cruisers, merc destroyers, and drone fighters not only fill out your ranks, they provide some very particular tactical advantages—the fun is in trying to figure out how to best use all the tools at your disposal to quickly par down any enemy forces and get the economy of action in your favor as quickly as possible.
The abundance of carriers and enemy support mechs is always a first consideration, since they are constantly pushing the economy of action in favor of the enemy. The trick is to use a combination of your command abilities and your normal units to knock these guys out in a way that won’t leave your flagship exposed.
Typical strategy I liked was picking a flank and putting the Sunrider there, offering a strong center with Kryska and some mid-sized ships with some other units holding the far flank—from there, try to crush the enemy flank [a Vanguard blast with requisite warps in and then out, if you can work out the command point numbers just right, can readily handle a large number of capital ships before they can get their first volleys off]. From there, try to push upward or downward, then regroup before enemy reinforcements [there are ALWAYS reinforcements] can get behind your lines.
Overall, I think that the battles in Liberation Day are a bit easier than Mask of Arcadius, but they’re a lot of fun and still pretty rewarding. Even if the VN portion of the game was railroaded until the epilogue, it was still pretty good all around.
Finally, onto the re-ranking of the characters! Spoilers for the playable VN epilogue within:
Wow, they managed to make me hate Chigara more than Claude! That took some doing. For story purposes, they railroad the protagonist’s relationship with the Shinobu. So, not only is she kind of a cringy, eye-roll inducing trope, she turns out to be the traitor/villain/sleeper agent hinted at at the end of the first game. Apparently, there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the fandom that the hero was forced to hook up with worst-girl to move the story forward. While I didn’t think she was worst-girl in the original game, she was pretty close, and given that she turns out to be one of the main villains, she firmly and deeply entrenches herself in the worst girl slot.
The game at least let me kill Cossette, so for that alone, she ranks above Chigara. I don’t know if she gets any worthwhile development if you don’t kill her, but she doesn’t have an epilogue path.
This is a shocking and precipitous fall for Kryska! She becomes more of a background character in Liberation Day, and doesn’t get any characterization beyond being a hammy, dykey lesbian that’s bros with Icari. She doesn’t even feel like the same character from the previous game. One of the best moments in Mask of Arcadius was when she was trying to show the captain the humanitarian work that the Alliance was doing to convince him that even in the most cynical light, the Alliance was doing good and that good was what she personally believed in [then they had to fight their way out of a space pirate ambush]. Kryska gets nothing like that in Liberation Day, and there’s no path for her in the epilogue.
Note: her mech is solid as it ever was and usually the “center tackle” of any formation.
This is another surprising fall, but like Kryska, she loses out on a lot of development in this game. While she started out as this alluring and mysterious beauty, she ends up falling into the Tsundere trope something bad. To the point of being almost ironic/self-aware. Her mystique gets traded in for a lot of “not like I like you or anything,” and while it’s hinted that someday her depths will be revealed in a sequel, no one is holding their breath. Unlike Kryska, Icari has an epilogue path. It’s pretty “oh no bro”.
Her Phoenix is still probably one of my favorite mechs.
Claude is rescued from the scrappy heap in this game, not because she’s that much better, but because other girls cratered. Still, making the dumb big-booby ‘let me UwU you!’ character turn out to be Q was certainly an interesting twist.
With far more units with flak guns, her mech’s gravity gun attack is killer.
I still really like Ava and feel like she deserves better than what she gets [she’s really out of place in the Sunrider universe]. She could’ve held her top slot if she were not so emotionally non-committal in the epilogue. The appeal of a character like Ava is when they eventually open up; she never really does to the point where it would complete her arc, and when she does open up a bit, she close right up again. Maybe the epilogue does her dirty? The regular ending left me feeling a bit better about her than her epilogue ending.
Asaga benefits the most after Claude, I think, from the drop-offs of the other characters, but her characterization also improves so it’s not static–she moves up while the others move down. Part of the main storyline is that as the Captain and Chigara go down their romance route, she starts going crazy due to a combination of her jealousy, combat fatigue, and repeated “awakenings” that are fracturing her mind. Her best friend has betrayed her [both in her crazy mind and in the very real sense that she’s a sleeper agent]. Asaga stops being the Genki Girl and becomes a much more complex and conflicted character.
Black Jack stays a workhorse mech, but some upgrades you get make it a bit better against capital ships than it has been in the past. One of the hardest missions is when you have to keep shooting down Black Jack over and over again when Asaga breaks in battle and tries to kill Chigara.
And the winner for best girl is…
A surprising dark-horse contender takes the title! Somehow, Sola manages to transcend being “teh Rei.” She’s kind of in the thick of things, with Asaga turning to her while she’s in her descent into madness. She’s the sympathetic and grounded friend who’s putting those around her above her own issues—and she’s got issues, but loyalty isn’t one of them. Her circumstance are probably as crazy or crazier than everyone else around her, but she manages to keep it together and be the one actual constant and reliable person in the crew.
Of all the pairings, Sola and the captain feels “right”. The main game ends with Sola and the captain spending time hunkered down together while the fallout of the Liberation Day Massacre gets sorted out; there’s a hook-up path in the epilogue for Sola, but the epilogue that loops more or less back to the regular game’s ending but with the Captain and Sola having spent a bit more time together and grown a bit closer and now looking forward to spending a month or so together alone in hiding feels like a “canon” ending… a “best” ending.
Why does it feel “right”? While Icari’s a tsundere for the captain, she’s also a tsundere for Kryska, and probably a tsundere for everybody; the characters never establish a real connection for each other. Ava’s the “old flame”, but she uses being “too professional” to mask being non-committal to where she’d only rekindle things with the captain when knowing the universe is going to collapse and there will be no consequences for reliving that romance one more time. Asaga works, too, because yeah, rescuing the princess, but the ending kind of snatches it away with the looming social/political gap between the characters. With Sola, there’s not that conflict of position but there is a shared commitment to those around them—there’s a sympathetic bond between two people who have both, as they say, “seen some shit”. Of all the pairings, this is the one where the writing actually reinforces the idea of a workable bond between two people who love each other, understand each other, and would do anything for the other. Sola feels like a writer-favorite, even if it’s a stealth favorite—she’s not supposed to be OTP, but ends up that way. It doesn’t hurt that most of her competition is terrible.
Like Sola herself, her mech needs some TLC. If you spend enough on the Seraphim to where it can shoot and move in the same turn, or even shoot twice in one turn, it can be a big damage monster. Generally, I keep it middle center, with a few light/medium ships between her and Kryska’s Paladin.