Review: Liberation Maiden

Platform: 3DS eShop
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Level-5
Released: Out now in Japan and Europe, later this year in US

If only we had a president that would jump in a mech suit and relentlessly kick ass with missiles and lasers – then maybe I’d start taking more of an interest in politicians. Liberation Maiden had my attention as soon as I heard Suda51, creator of No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw, was involved in the development. Sadly, despite the promise of huge robots and Suda as lead designer, Liberation Maiden isn’t all that exciting – but still considerably more interesting than real-life politics.

Set 100 years in the future of New Japan, the young Shoko Ozora is now the new president after the assassination of her father, the former president. A foreign country is draining New Japan’s energy source with giant drilling machines and unleashing invasion with enemy robots, but President Shoko is prepared to fight back with the aid of her giant mech suit, the Liberator.

That’s about as much of the plot you should care about, and while this is could usually be forgiven being a smaller-scale eShop title or for any game that instead delivers on the gameplay alone, its a little disappointing to see a lack of Suda’s signature flair this time around. I’m all for giant robots and destruction, but presidential ass-kicking has been done before in the hilarious Metal Wolf Chaos. The anime-style cutscenes also seem no different than the likes of Code Geass and Gundam.

Speaking of these cutscenes though, they are impressively animated and a joy to watch on the 3DS screen. While the plot is sub-par, the game wastes no time in throwing you in the action and there’s some nice combat scenes on display. There are really only two characters in the game; Shoko and her combat advisor Kira. They are decidedly bland and don’t develop much from stereotypes we’ve  seen before in games and animes – Shoko is courageous and never gives up on her missions, while Kira is supportive and informative all the way. They serve their purpose, but show little weakness or emotion. However, the voice acting is surprisingly superb – for a simple downloadable title you would expect average voice talent, but both characters come across as very sincere at the very least. Its always nice to a female lead too, a refreshing change from the typical teenage male hero.

As you may have guessed at this point, the game’s strongest aspect is its gameplay. You can shoot missiles Rez-style by using the touch-screen to aim the cursor over multiple enemies to create automatic lock-ons. When you release the stylus, missiles will fire. While this may sound easy, the game utilises a risk-reward system where you are more vulnerable to damage while aiming – the more enemies you choose to take out in one swoop, the longer you leave yourself open to attack. Homing missiles that trail you can also be tricky to target as they fly unpredictably around you at high speed.

The game air-to-ground combat controls play similarly to Kid Icarus: Uprising. Holding the L trigger will make Shoko strafe, so you can easily dodge incoming lasers and keep your sights on an enemy. You also acquire a powerful laser attack a little while into the game, which is more powerful than your missiles but needs recharging after use. Both attacks are useful and if feels good to constantly switch between them for different situations. Missiles work great when there’s hundreds of enemies on the screen (or multiple weak points), while lasers feel satisfying to use on a boss’ weak spot or wiping out deadly plasma bubbles that fill the screen.

The bosses themselves are pretty forgettable except for the final one, and again don’t seem like they were born from Suda’s usual imaginative creations. They’re essentially big drilling machines with slight variations every time and accompanied by normal enemies, which are just pretty standard robots that you’ve all seen before. The combat is still fun but the boss fights become dull, especially when some drag out longer than they should. This really seems odd considering Suda’s insane boss designs in No More Heroes and the recent Sine Mora – the primary appeal of both games being the stylistic boss designs and the way you fight them. The “sacrifice drive” finishing move is cool though, where Shoko flies into the core and prompts you to spin circles on the touch screen rapidly, causing her to drill herself through it.

The screenshots do little justice for the game, as the graphics and 3D effects look great in motion. While its all visually impressive, the big map environments sometimes look a little bland. Each level has a different setting to keep things interesting though from neo-cities to snowy areas, and occasionally mixes up the gameplay with sub-missions. One mission is more stealth-orientated, wherein you must avoid all security lasers while navigating through a facility. The soundtrack has a nice rocking vibe while you’re causing destruction, and there are some decent songs sung in Japanese, which will please pure anime fans.

There is a gallery that unlocks more images as you meet given goals in the same vein as achievements and acts as a nice addition, but aside from that there are no rewards and unlockables to work towards. Its a short campaign at 1-2 hours long, and while the game is fun enough to play through a couple of times, there’s little to endorse replay value. I was hoping for another weapon to unlock or even different mech costumes, and there are unfortunately no online leaderboards despite the emphasis on arcade scores.

Liberation Maiden is an inoffensive little game that, while a fun distraction, has an asking price that’s a tad too high for the overall package and could have been so much more considering the Grasshopper Manufacture team working behind it. Anyone craving a solid action eShop title for their 3DS could do a lot worse, but won’t be entertained for too long and fans of Suda’s surreal and unique style will be disappointed. Lovers of anime will enjoy the art style and cutscenes, but won’t experience anything astonishingly different from the norm.



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