Barack, Mitt, please move aside. While the United States is currently deadlocked in the vices of a presidential election, we are constantly being berated with messages of what these two candidates would ‘do for their country’. Well whatever that is, no matter how well it is received, it won’t hold to a candle to Shoko Ozora‘s efforts for the people of New Japan. You see president Ozora is a hands-on kind of president. She's the kind of president that, to save her people from tyranny, gets in a mech suite and single-handily pushes back the enemy.
She can count on my vote!
Set 100 years in the future Liberation Maiden sees a world overrun by the forces of the Dominion, (quick someone call Ben Sisko!) a nation on the war-path that quickly overpowers the forces of the last free country on Earth: Japan. After the president of Japan and its resistance leader are assassinated, his seventeen year old daughter Shoko is elected as president of New Japan aboard the parliamentary battleship Nagata. It’s from here that she launches into action aboard the state-of-the-art mech Kamui to fight back against the Dominion. Oh, did I mention this game was directed by none other than Suda 51? Now it all makes sense.
Liberation Maiden is a 3D flight combat game that's similar in style to Zone Of The Enders. You control Shoko and Kamui by moving the Circle Pad, holding ‘L’ will strafe a target, the aiming and shooting is all handled by the touch screen which gives you a very quick response time that feels similar to shooting games on the Wii. The touch screen also handles switching between weapons and special moves via a stylus swipe or drawing circles quickly. This control scheme works pretty well for the short play sessions but after a level or two your hand will start cramping up pretty fast (Kid Icarus: Uprising players know what I mean). So if you managed to scoop up one of those special 3DS stands, definitely bust it out for this one.
Your quest to rescue New Japan will take you through five levels, most of which require you to destroy three enemy structures known as ‘Lesser Spikes’ which will result in the lowering of a shield surrounding a ‘Greater Spike’. Along the way your advisor will brief you on your mission status but also provide with you secondary sub-missions - like destroying an enemy base or fleet. The combat itself is a blast thanks to a pretty innovative ammo/armour design. You see, your main weapon is also your main defensive shield, and the more you shoot the less shield you'll have. This means you'll have to wait for it to regenerate before attempting another attack. Also, getting hit, as you might imagine, depletes your shield, which in turn limits your offence, forcing you to think carefully but react quickly in every situation.
Unfotunatley Liberation Maiden's level design really holds it back. Throughout the game you will find youself repeating the same tasks; Destroy three Lesser Spikes then the Greater Spike, over and over and over. The few sub-missions thrown in are fun distractions but in the end your objectives always remain the same. Sure there are different ways of approaching each spike, but in the end each level is basically a re-skin of the last. The Greater Spikes however are the spice to Liberation Maiden’s roast in that they add a dash of variety and flavour to the whole experience. Each one is completely unique and requires a different strategy to overcome. Some even have light puzzle elements thrown in to keep you on your toes.
In recent years, gamers have come to expect nothing but the most outlandish ideas from the mind of Suda 51 (Killer7, No More Heroes, and Lollypop Chainsaw to name a few) and while Liberation Maiden is definitely an odd-ball, it’s probably his most conservative game yet. Maybe it’s because the story (which is ridiculous to say the least, I mean a ‘parliamentary battleship?!) is presented in such a serious and dead pan style that it almost seems, plausible. Also the anime art style really does make it feel like an actual manga series, and a good one at that. I would definitely read a Liberation Maiden manga.
Visually the game looks… ok. The environments are nice, but they are fairly barren and the enemy models, whilst artistically fitting, are lacking in any defining details and end up looking like late era Nintendo 64 polygons. However, one thing I did really admire was the attention detail that went into Kamui’s model. The mech really does come alive when you can see its geometric wings move into different configurations and the tiny yet well defined (and curvy) Shoko strapped to its back. The 3D effect is also very pleasing and even though only the menus and 2D objects really ‘pop’ out at you, the rest of the game does have a very nice ‘depth’ to it. My only gripe here, and it’s a minor one, is that the camera sometimes has a hard time figuring out where it wants to rest, especially during slower moments, but these are few and far between.
The game also features full voice acting which is rather impressive for a Nintendo 3DS e-Shop title. Not only does it feature voice acting, but it's actually very well done, with even the silliest of lines coming off as genuine. I just wish your advisor would, well, stop advising. Hearing him every few minutes during a mission completely interrupts the flow of the game. The soundtrack is a complete oddity, jumping from more tranquil sounds to heavy metal guitar riffs seemingly without warning. While both sound just fine on their own, it would have been great for the game to pick one genre and stick with it instead of trying to mash both together.
Knowing that Liberation Maiden was originally 25% of the Guild 01 compilation I was skeptical regarding the depth of the game. Well you can color me surprised. Liberation Maiden does a decent job at keeping you coming back for more. This is largely down to an achievement system that fills you in on some key details of the game’s backstory and characters. The campaign will only last you (at most) three hours, but there is also a score attack mode to keep you fighting. Unfortunately though, none of the scores are uploaded online which in this day and age is unacceptable. The game has three difficulty options and trust me when I tell you that when they say ‘hard’ they mean it. Thankfully the game features a pretty generous continue system which will help you when playing on the harder modes. All of this for only $7.99 is a pretty good deal, especially when I consider just how fun and unique the gameplay is.
In the end though, I’m at odds with Liberation Maiden. I really enjoy the fast paced gameplay and combat whilst the anime art style is great. Despite this, I find myself wanting more. Yes I am aware this is only a downloadable game and thus it will of course be a smaller title. I just feel like there are so many unexplored ideas here, and that leaves me a little disappointed. That being said, I heartily recommend this game. If you're looking for an affordable, and more importantly unique, gaming experience on the Nintendo 3DS then your search can stop right now.
This review is based on a 3DS copy of Liberation Maiden.