When I first heard of the collaboration between Level 5 and Suda 51, I had to see it with my own eyes. I’ve enjoyed most everything I’ve played from Level 5 thus far (save for White Knight Chronicles, which is more mediocre than it is bad) and Suda 51’s games are just… well, they’re just weird. So while very little that releases on the Nintendo eShop interests me, Liberation Maiden most certainly caught my attention.
It originally released as part of a compilation known as Guild01, which was released at retail for the 3DS in Japan and contained four vastly different games made by different developers. It’s anybody’s guess as to why they were split up and are to be offered digitally in the West, though perhaps they were found to be just too niche to release any other way. At any rate, it’s fortunate that we got these at all, so let’s find out if the first of them is worth the trouble, shall we?
Liberation Maiden is set sometime in the future, where most of the other nations have fallen under one rule and Japan is the next in line for the Dominion’s conquest for global domination. Japan, try as they might, attempted to rise up and fight back, but not only had their president assassinated, but are now having their natural resources sapped by large machines burrowed underneath the ground. Enter Shoko, the daughter of the late president and high school student, as she takes his place as ruler of Japan and climbs inside a giant robot. The game opens as you begin your one woman assault on the forces of the Dominion.
While much the backstory isn’t learned until after you’ve played a good chunk of the game, it’s treated as secondary to the gameplay. While this means that you won’t have to stop constantly to view a barrage of cutscenes between each level, it also means that your quest doesn’t lend itself purpose likely until after you’ve already completed the game. That said, the story reminds me very much of the anime Code Geass, but without all the backstabbing and mind control that goes on. It’s also relatively tame compared to Suda 51’s other games, so those looking for an onslaught of sexual innuendos like in Shadows of the Damned, you won’t find them here.
The game’s opening and closing sequences are anime cutscenes done by Bones, who had also done the ones featured in Code of Princess. Even more fascinating is that they can be viewed with the 3D effect on. This is rather impressive for an eShop title, even though the 3D enhancement used during the actual game leaves much to be desired. Still, if you generally leave the effect on while you play 3DS games, you’re in for a treat.
The rest of the visuals, while not particularly groundbreaking, do employ some neat graphical tricks. Whenever you blow up a structure, not only will it disappear, but in its place will bloom trees and other forms of nature. Destroying things such as bridges will even leave tiny islands behind that pop up in their place, which is kind of cool. It’s almost as if the game is trying to say that the Dominion isn’t just an enemy of Japan, but an enemy of nature.
The soundtrack is equally fitting for such an anime inspired title, though if you don’t enjoy Japanese music, you might not like it as much. Some of the songs have vocals in them, but are generally appropriate to the action and not at all distracting. Much of it will likely be drowned out by the explosions and other sounds of destruction as you lay waste to the Dominion forces. While the entirety of the script is voice acted, there are only a few characters that you’ll hear much of during the game. A narrator introduces each stage before you begin and Shoko and Kira (who gives you your orders) will exchange dialogue during your missions. They all offer solid performances and are generally pleasant to listen to.
While the control scheme was very reminiscent of Kid Icarus: Uprising on the Nintendo 3DS (though with significantly less hand cramping), the actual gameplay is more of an offshoot of Zone of the Enders. Rather than the camera being constantly fixed behind your mech, you’re generally looking down at the ground, since none of your enemies can fly (though they do shoot missiles that can chase you through the air). Moving the thumbstick about controls the movement of your mech, and doing so while holding the L button will cause you to strafe. Pretty much everything else is done on the touchscreen. All of the action happens on the top screen, but moving the stylus around the bottom screen will move a cursor around showing where you’re aiming. Holding the cursor on an enemy will fire at them, and the extent of your attack depends on which fire mode you are using. Tapping the upper right corner will swap between missiles that can lock on multiple times, depending on how long you have it held on an enemy, and a straight beam that will continue to fire for as long as you have it held.
Your mech’s health meter will have a number of lines around it showing how much you can fire at enemies as well as your active defense. You see, the same objects that get shot at foes are also what protect you from damage. So if you fire as many missiles as you can in one volley, any hits you take at that point will reduce your health bar. Should you leave a few behind, any damage taken will simply decrease the amount that you can fire, though destroying enemies in quick succession will regenerate this for you.
There’s also a sword icon that charges up during stages that will unleash a devastating attack against all enemies that are onscreen at a given time. To activate it, you just have to draw a line across the screen like the sword icon indicates, and you’ll be invulnerable during the period it takes to launch the attack. During boss battles, you will be prompted to initiate a mode that sends your mech spinning into their core by continuously drawing a circle on the touchscreen. I’m usually not a fan of touchscreen controls, as I’d rather use a right analog stick for aiming if possible, but the developers made it work incredibly well.
There are only five stages in the game, though each one contains multiple missions. You may be tasked with destroying trains, destroying an enemy base, or tracking down and eliminating small spikes in the ground. Almost every single one ends in a battle with a large spike that serves as that stage’s boss, and the view quickly switches to behind your mech while you strafe around it. At the end, your points are tallied based on how quickly you got through it and how many enemies you destroyed. Each stage takes approximately 15 minutes, which means you can clear a playthrough in just over an hour. This may seem a bit short for an $8 price tag, though a game of this genre is generally made to be replayed. Beating a mission in a particular difficulty setting unlocks a Stage Attack mode that will let you shoot for a high score on that mission. There are also story segments and character biographies that are unlocked by performing certain tasks within the game itself, much like achievements or trophies. In short, there’s plenty to keep you busy if you let it.
Liberation Maiden has three difficulty settings, and each seems to function as advertised. Easy allowed me to get through each stage without death, while normal put a little more fight into the enemies. I didn’t get too far into the hard mode, but it certainly gives you a run for your money. Best of all, death never feels like you’ve been cheated, as much of it relies on how you prioritize your mech’s offensive and defensive capabilities and how quickly you can get rid of the slew of missiles that will inevitably chase you around.
The mech combat found in Liberation Maiden has been done many times before, but the way it controls, as well as the fact that your offensive abilities also serve as the same items that will save you from death, felt wholly unique. There aren’t a lot of eShop games that I can say were really enjoyable, and this one had me glued from start to finish. It certainly would’ve been nice to have Guild01 released on a cartridge in the West rather than have to download each of the games separately, not to mention take up precious memory card space, but the trade off is that the games can be downloaded for much cheaper. Guild01, at retail, would’ve likely cost about $40, and assuming the same pricing structure stays consistent with all of the games when they arrive on eShop, the grand total for four games at $8 a pop would be $32. That’s assuming you buy all of them (or if all them release here for that matter). You can pick and choose the ones you want rather than buy the whole collection and get stuck with one or two you might not like as much. As far as Liberation Maiden by itself goes, if I can justify spending $12 on Sin & Punishment on the Wii Virtual Console and not have buyer’s remorse, then I can most definitely recommend this title for its $8 price tag.
Replayability: Above Average
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Liberation Maiden is a collaboration between Level-5 and Suda 51, and the end product winds up being a huge departure in theme for both of them. Much like the Zone of the Enders games, it’s a very anime influenced mech combat game about a female high schooler president of Japan as she defends her country from the forces of the Dominion. The game is equipped with anime cutscenes from the studio Bones, with a soundtrack completely befitting a title like this. The title is short, though incredibly well polished for an eShop title, but offers unlockables and alternate difficulty levels for repeat playthroughs. Length aside, Liberation Maiden is one of the best games I’ve played on the eShop service. Here’s hoping that the rest of the Guild01 games are just as solid.