Sunrider: Liberation Day Review

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:

Chigara

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.

Cossette

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.

Kryska

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.

Icari

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

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.

Ava

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

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…

Sola

300px-Sola_portraitA 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.

 

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius Review

Recently an online friend who knew I enjoyed wargames and weeb shit recommended Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius to me.

It’s an interesting hybrid of Visual Novel waifu game and turn-based tactical. It’s space opera with mechs, except your mech pilots are basically a growing harem.

Funnily enough, the wargame portion of Sunrider is brutally hard. Mechanically, it’s ultra-lite compared to a game like Power Dolls, though it uses the similar combination of action points that are used to move and perform attacks. Each mech has its strengths and weaknesses and utility which will determine how you should use them in your strategy.

Since all missions are in space, with the exception of a mission where sharing a hex with an asteroid reduces your chance of being hit, there’s no effect of the map on strategies. Variances in the missions are more based on when and where enemy reinforcement come from. Early missions with fewer mechs and enemy “bosses” may be a bit more interesting and flexible than the later large fleet battles. The later fights often tend to be “pick a flank, try to crush it, sweep up or down on the other side, then deal with reinforcements as they come.”

The cutscenes of the attacks get old fast, and it would have been nice to be able to disable them more easily; turning on “skip mode” does it, but it can only be toggled in the battle if a character has a line of story dialogue come up during the fight. Still, it’s fun and scratches an itch for turn-based mech space combat.

The Visual Novel portion of the game is a mixed bag. On the face of it, I actually really like the story, but Sunrider uses post-Eva and 21st century waifu tropes for most its characters; I would definitely prefer the “tough dames” of the older real-robot mech genre or at least the mil-sf aesthetic that Power DOLLS went for. But it’s personal taste…

Unfortunately, Sunrider is an episodic game, and Mask of Arcadius only contains the first two episodes. While Liberation Day updates the actual gameplay of the battles in a pretty satisfactory way, it makes the VN aspect of Mask of Arcadius something of a shaggy dog story. [You fill out a questionnaire of your choices when you start LD; which is nice that you can do that, at least, since my End-of-Game save file wouldn’t import correctly].

I’ve found a doc with the under-the-hood effect that your choices make, but they don’t appear to have much bearing on how things actually play out story-wise in Mask of Arcadius. None of the character paths had been set yet, and one character path ends up being fixed for story purposes in Liberation Day [to the groaning of many fans].

Now, because this is a waifu game, it’s only fair that I rank the characters from dumpster to Best Girl.

Claude280px-Claude_character_LD
Claude is a trash tier waifu, who’s “UwU command me captain” shtick is old from the moment it shows up. She’s the worst the game has to offer in this regard, unless you’re really into that sort of thing.

Her utility mech has a few nice features, such as the gravity gun, which is good if you can use it to draw an enemy mech between Asaga and Icari. The deflector shield projection is useful, of course, and the shotgun is helpful to finish off any enemies your better combat units have left near dead, but it’s not enough to make me not hate Claude.

ChigaraChigaramech
The Shinobu. Chigara’s Asaga’s best friend and one of the first pilots you get. She’s supposed to be a brilliant mechanic, and from a gameplay standpoint, this bears out nicely, as she’s the one actually doing the upgrades to your units that you purchase. Except she’s a loli with crippling self-doubt always hoping for validation from the main character, which makes her pretty obnoxious. But miles ahead of Claude.

She’s a forced romance route for story reasons in Liberation Day, which many fans grumble about.

Her mech is a support mech. One of the first mechs you get, its repair capabilities, disable attack, and deflector shield generation make it invaluable.

300px-Cosette_Cosmos

Cosette

Cosette is a yandere loli space pirate.

Toxic chemicals from the mining colony she’s from stunted her growth and, combined with her horrible and traumatic childhood and adolescence, made her completely crazy.

Not my thing at all, but she makes for an interesting villain.

Giving all of the characters numbered flight suits is pretty spoilerific, so I’m assuming you can get Cosette at some point.

[update: you can get Cosette in Liberation Day, but I opted to just kill her instead.]

Asaga
The genki girl. Also, the Mario. Asaga is the first pilot you get along with Chigara. She’s bubbly and funny. She’s a major driver of the story [spoilers: she is actually a runaway space princess]. Like her mech, she could be a lot worse, but she could also be better.

Liberation Day makes her a bit more complex [maybe even somewhat villainous? Dunno, I haven’t finished it.] She literally starts going insane with jealousy over Chigara as the romance-on-rails between Chi and the captain plays out.

Asaga-1

Black Jack is an all-purpose mech. Battleship grade laser cannon, pulse beams, and assault rifle. As more Pact enemies get deflector shields mid-game (or when those damned Pact support mechs show up), Black Jack loses a lot of its punch and gets reduced to drawing fire and trying to pick off nearby targets that have had their armor weakened by stronger units

Sola300px-Sola_portrait
Teh Rei. Not an archetype I generally like, but somehow they make it work here.

She’s found in cryo-stasis in a ghost-fleet and supposedly was a mech pilot for an ancient space empire thousands of years ago.

She’s a royal bastard (literally), whose mother was tragically betrayed and forced into exile by a noble of the imperial court, making her very distantly related to Asaga.

Unfortunately, her mech is kind of boring. The Seraphim’s cannon takes up all [or almost all, if you’ve upgraded it] of the mech’s energy points to use. Still, it’s nice having one reliable big-damage, good accuracy, long range attack per turn.

Icari
IcarimechThe tsundere. Icari’s a mercenary you start out at odds with but who becomes your third pilot. She’s a bit of a ‘by any means necessary’ type, which puts her on your bad side on a fairly difficult early escort mission [by her logic, if a bunch of innocents get killed, it’ll accelerate one faction’s entry into the war and bring about a quicker resolution].

Icari ranks high because I like her design and her mech is actually really fun to use [provided it doesn’t get killed on the first enemy turn]. The Phoenix is a fast close-combat mech with a special ability to avoid attacks of opportunity when moving adjacent to enemy units. Its melee attack can make short work of enemy mechs, and her machine guns are good at finishing off damaged enemies, but the Phoenix has very low armor and is generally poor against ships. Phoenix is good for reducing enemy economy of action on turn one, but has a bad habit of getting shot down. The Phoenix is a big reason why I rank her over Sola.

Ava300px-Ava_portrait
The Sunrider’s first officer and the protagonist’s childhood friend. She’s up there for awhile as Best Girl [at least until Kryska shows up], because she’s one of the few characters who acts like she has some common sense and professionalism.

Her character could easily transplant to a more serious SF story [or maybe it’s just that the bottom ranked characters feel out of place in what actually is a more or less serious SF story].

Kryska barely takes the lead because Ava’s air of professionalism sometimes dips into the mopey as she tries to be the “one sane person” in a crew of obnoxious VN tropes. Spoilers: If I factor in Liberation Day, where she has an eye-patch and Kryska gets turned into a grabass, she may reclaim top-slot.

Kryska
KryskamechI was initially disinclined to like Kryska because it’s made painfully obvious up front that she’s a spy planted by the Alliance to gather data on your ship and your crew. But she has her shit together, is a professional pilot, and her mech shows up really right when you need it. She has kind of a blue-oni/red-oni thing going on with Icari, who gives her crap for being up-tight and unfeminine. Kryska and Ava are in a class of their own, though. [Liberation Day looks like it may play her up as a lesbian stereotype, unfortunately.]

Kryska’s mech is a heavy fire support mech [the Guncannon/Guntank]. At a time where Asaga’s mech is becoming much less effective against everything, it’s nice to have an extra heavy cannon to punch through capital ships’ armor. Downside is that it’s very slow, but that big damage is everything mid-to-late-game.

Overall, Sunrider is pretty niche… I think it really requires the right combination of patient-but-desperate-for-new-content wargamer and weeb to enjoy. Wargamers might find the wargame aspect weak and the VN portion cringey, while VN fans might find the wargame aspect too difficult and frustrating.

More than anything, it made me wish that it was better, either mechanically or aesthetically, but it also made me thankful that someone out there was at least trying. Still, I liked it enough to pick up Liberation Day to see how it all pans out between the Alliance and the PACT.

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is free on Steam and Gog.