Back in October of last year, Japanese studio Level-5 got a group of developers together to create a collection of games for the 3DS titled Guild-01. The games included a tabletop RPG card game by Professor Layton creator Yasumi Matuno, and a fun-looking baggage handling sim set in an airport by Seaman creator Yoot Saito. The always deeper-than-you-think Suda 51 of Grasshopper Manufacture fame was also brought on board – his contribution being Liberation Maiden, a shooter that has you piloting a mech as the Second President of Japan. A fourth game created by one half of the comedy team American Zarigani was also produced.
The wares created by Suda, Matsuno, and Saito are seeing releases here in the states through the Nintendo eShop, with Suda’s Liberation Maiden being the first go. It may not have his trademark insanity, but Maiden is an insanely fun title – provided you can deal with how short it is.
The Story – 100 years in the future, New Japan has elected High School student Shoko Ozora as it’s second President after the death of her father. Soon after she’s inducted, she tosses herself into the firing lines with a powerful mech against an unknown enemy attacking the country.
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Title: Liberation Maiden
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture/Level-5
Platforms: 3DS (eShop)
Release Date: October 25, 2012[/toggle_box]
- Bones for the Ages - The gorgeous art and in-game cutscenes were produced by Bones, handlers of the Eureka seveN series. Their penchant for great robot designs are also on display with the various enemies and bosses – even Shoko’s mech Kamui evokes a very strong Nirvash-esque design, complete with Bones’ trademark green energy flares. Additionally, the game is backed by a pair of amazing voice actors, who perform Shoko and her commander Kira.
- Bossy Variations - While you may find yourself fighting similar enemies through the game’s 5-mission campaign, the bosses are the true stars. Each end level boss (read: Greater Conduit Spike) forces your attention and tests your evasion prowess. Where one Conduit will rain copious balls of magma while pillars of fire block your flight path, another will guard it’s weak core with a missile-happy puppet mech that can trap Kamui in a spider’s web of energy. The differences and inventiveness of each one show a lot of care for giving the player a decent challenge, and performing the anime-esque finishing move is always satisfying.
- Reminiscent of the Kid – You aim and lock on to targets with the stylus (release to fire), control Kamui with the circle pad (up and down = forward and back, left and right to turn), and strafe with the L button. Sound familiar? Indeed, many folks that pick this up will feel a similar cramp in their hands while feeling out the controls, not unlike Kid Icarus: Uprising. As mentioned in that review though, you’ll get used to the motions as you play, and picking off enemies starts to become a breeze. If you’ve got big man-paws like yours truly however, you’ll probably still feel an occasional cramp on the OG 3DS. (I can’t speak for those of smaller palms, of course).
- Purifying Achievements - There’s a surprising thirty challenges to run through as you play the game, and while they bank on the simple side, each one uncovers more of the game’s backstory and some minor artwork. The info ranges from enemies to the beginnings of New Japan, and is quite deep. It’s a good way to encourage folks to keep playing, and doesn’t give off the distant, “…yay…” feeling you get with achievements or trophies.
- A Decent Track Record - Maiden pushes the anime feel of the game with a J-Pop/Rock infused tracklist, most rampant during the boss fights. When vocals start blaring to match the flying missiles and lasers, it’s an all too familiar feeling to those awesomely cheesy set pieces in Shonen shows today. Besides these, more lo-fi tracks match the mood of the five levels, but are easily forgettable.
- Heard You the First Time: Despite my praises of the voice acting, the in-game script is pretty…limited. You’ll hear Shoko’s cries of, “Evasive maneuvers; dodge; die (etc.)” during battle more than enough times to make a drinking game out of them. Kira’s dialogue isn’t as bad, but hearing him say Shoko is a, “Credit to our nation,” more than few times is a little groan inducing.
- My Kingdom for a Dodge: There’s something I don’t get – you pilot Kamui, a state-of-the-art mech billed as New Japan’s last hope for liberation (as per the namesake), outfitted with weaponry strong enough to level gigantic enemy bases, yet nimble enough to reach high speeds…and it can’t dodge? Chased down by high-powered lasers, cluster missiles, and magma balls, a dodge mechanic would’ve definitely helped in some of the bigger fights the game has to offer.
- Clean Up the World? - Buildings in each level with a purple hue are infecting the land. Destroying them racks up Purification for each level, the objective being to gain 100%. It’s another way to extend the game, yet besides helping to unlock a couple challenges (and increase your score), there’s not much incentive to go after them. That, and it’s easy to forget that they’re even a thing save for an indicator that pops up to tell you how pure the world is.
- Painfully Short - Normal mode for me clocked in at a little more than an hour while ignoring the purification and running through the optional sub-missions. Hard mode didn’t feel much different, save for the final boss battle. I really want to lean on the notion that this is meant to be a budget title, but a game that feels AAA and is this fun would’ve benefited from at least one more level.
- No D - The graphics give me a bad nostalgic Playstation One vibe, which is off-putting considering the care taken with the videos and even the gorgeous menus. Stranger still, those items take full advantage of the system’s 3D capabilities, whereas in game there’s not much of a difference when you slide it off.
Liberation Maiden feels like a prologue to something greater: an interactive extended trailer for an upcoming anime series, or even a full-fledged game to be released later. As I said before, there is so much fun to be had here, and quality of the game is some of the best available on the eShop. However, despite decent attempts at longevity, it’s best consumed in smaller bites rather than marathon sessions. You’ll stay glued to your 3DS until the credits roll and the challenges are cleared, but there’s not much more after that. I still recommend the game to those that are either looking for something new in the eShop, or wish to support Suda 51 and Grasshopper. It’s just a hard sell to make.
[box_light]We believe that the score is the least important part of a review. It’s tough trying to assign a numerical value to an experience. Furthermore, is there really a difference between a 7.5 and an 8? Gamers place too much importance on arbitrary numbers. This is why our scores are hidden by default. Only look at them if you absolutely need a number between 1-10 to see if a game is worth your time. You can read our review guidelines here. A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.[/box_light]
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Replay Value: 7.0
“Very Good” – This game flirts with greatness, but ultimately falls short. Still it’s highly entertaining and worth a look.[/toggle_box]