For sake of convenience I will be reviewing Mask of Arcadius, Liberation Day and [RE]turn together. The story of Liberation Day immediately follows on from Mask of Arcadius so it makes more sense to review them together.
So for some reason I decided I wanted to play an Original English Language Visual Novel, may have been due to the influence of a certain popular Visual Novel revitalizing my interest in Visual Novels outside of the Japanese market. I decided why not play something completely different to what I normally play so I decided to go with Sunrider. I felt drawn to it by its premise of travelling the expansive sea of stars in search of comrades willing to liberate a home world lost to an overwhelming force and the fact I got it dirt cheap in a humble bundle. So today on the VN Completionist we will ask whether my optimism was well placed or if this game fails to live up to my (relatively low) expectations.
The Sunrider series is a Visual Novel/Turn based strategy series developed by Love in Space. The Synopsis of the series is as follows:
“As Captain Kayto Shields, embark on a galactic voyage of heroism and survival. With his home world destroyed and his nation conquered, the inexperienced Captain Shields, and his newly minted vessel, the Sunrider, are left as the only hope against a galactic evil intent on subjugating all sentient life. Together with his loyal First Officer, he undertakes to find allies across the stars to retake his home planet and restore peace to the galaxy.”
Liberation day is the sequel to Mask of Arcadius and [RE]turn is a non canon story which takes place during the events of Liberation Day.
The story starts off okay in Mask of Arcadius travelling the galaxy gathering allies in order to retake your home planet, it doesn’t have particularity high stakes or powerful message but it’s story is serviceable to accommodate the turn based strategy aspect of the game. The later part of Mask of Arcadius and Liberation Day tries to up its stakes by trying to force shocking revelations and twist to engage the reader but with its predictable red herrings and the game failing to utilize these twists in a meaningful way to engage you with the story and characters so it came across as obnoxious and difficult to take seriously.
They also did something involving Claude’s character completely out of nowhere, who for the entire game was relegated to comic relief, in order to completely fix the glaring plot holes within Liberation Day from all the twists. If I actually was still invested in the story by that point I would have been very annoyed as it almost came completely out of nowhere except for an offhand mention of something similar earlier in the story.
The Story despite the large number of choices is mostly linear. Choices with the most effect on the game only change the nature of some of the battles rather than the progression of the story. Only two choices really have a significant effect on the story are whether you keep the Wishall or sell it and the final choice in Mask of Arcadius, even then It only changes a few parts of the story and battles in Liberation Day but have no effect on the overall story. Choices that are related to the Alliance or PACTs actions throughout the story have very little effect on the story despite the huge moral and political implications of them.
Your choices also have no effect on the romantic relationships of the game despite the abundance of choices with romantic implications mostly involving Ava and Asaga. This becomes clearer why it is the case later in the story but at the time it seems like the game is forcing you to form a relationship with Chigara despite your choices. Unless you chose choices that preference Chigara their relationship seems to develop out of nowhere into a romantic relationship.
When paired with Kayto’s character it becomes obvious why it was the case for the story but the justification in the narrative is poorly presented to the reader due to his lack of presence as a character poorly depicting his struggle with the things he lost throughout his journey.
Your choices in Mask of Arcadius also don’t really matter because despite the ability to import your save to Liberation Day, you can select which choices you want anyway. If you are intending to 100% complete the game you will probably use this feature anyway which mean this point wont really effect you.
The characters are probably the worst aspect of the game’s story, as previously mentioned Kayto’s character is bland and lacks presence as a main character which the story suffered because of it. Most of the female cast conformed to specific tropes and there wasn’t much attempt do differentiate them outside of them as their own characters. This was especially the case for Chigara who was written to be the perfect “waifu” character to make you invested in her and want to protect her, much like Kayto did, when it would have just been more effective to write her as an interesting character worth being invested in which could have been done using the twist at the end of Mask of Arcadius and the following conflict with her Identity and how the crew perceived her.
The only character I though was handled well was Ava as they spend a lot of time developing her character before she joins the military and her relationship with Kayto. Their relationship was also the only thing that was used well within the narrative to justify the events of Liberation Day happening but was not strong enough to make up for the awfully portrayed relationship between Kayto and Chigara.
Claude’s character was one of the oddest written character as for the entire game, she is relegated to comic relief but from a poorly executed twist she became the most important character orchestrating the events of both games. It was mostly done to fix the inconsistencies in the story due to their poor attempts at twists but could have been interesting if handled well. It did make for a fun secret ending in [RE]turn but doesn’t really merit what happens in the other games.
The characters mannerisms and personality are also inconsistent between games, in Liberation day character start using Japanese mannerisms such as “Ara” and “Mou” where they were non-existent in Mask of Arcadius. The reason for this was probably the inclusion of the Japanese voice over, so they probably wanted the game to feel more “Japanese” but it just came across as really obnoxious especially with how frequently they used them.
[RE]turn was a non-canon story expansion that comes with Liberation Day that was released in Captains edition which adds a new story where you are sent back in time in order to stop the events of Liberation Day. It was pretty interesting in its premise but wasn’t very well executed.
Most of the routes follow very similar paths regardless of which girl you pick as your accomplice. There are three or four paths that result in similar ending but the only difference is the girl that you picked. After the first three playthroughs you get pretty bored of it because you basically already know what will happen and how the story will progress. The only ending I enjoyed was Claude’s secret ending just because of how absurdly silly it was.
Although the main focus of the game is its story sections, a significant portion of the game is a turn-based strategy involving the Sunrider and Ryder’s in missions related to the story. Surprisingly this is the best part of both games and it was a shame they neglected to improve upon it in Liberation Day.
The missions take place on Hex-based grids and the missions involve you either eliminating all the enemies, escort a ship or some other objective related to the story. The mechanics are relatively simple but are pretty fun regardless, the Sunrider and the various Ryder’s have a limited number of energy and can perform actions such as movement, attacks and abilities.
The weapons are broken down into four types. Lasers which are the most accurate but are mitigated by shields, Kinetics which are less accurate but unaffected by shields, missiles which do lots of damage but mitigated by flak and finally Melee attacks. The Liberty has a healing ability to sustain your team mates and the ability to remove shields and flak from enemies to improve the effectiveness of other weapons. Some of the other Ryder’s have other abilities such as the Phoenix’s Stealth, Bianca’s magnet and the Paladin’s draw fire ability also give the Ryder’s a unique play style which lets you pull of some fun strategies to kill multiple units in one turn.
The finally mechanic is the Orders which allow you to activate powerful abilities such as Stat Boosts, Warp and the Vanguard Cannon. They require the use of command points which are acquired upon completing missions (in Liberation Day they were obtained immediately upon killing a unit) but even on the harder difficulties you obtain so many of them so you can use these abilities often. It is also pretty effective to have either stat boost up during a fight as they last for multiple turns and you can easily make the command points back.
The game is actually surprisingly challenging even on the lower difficulties despite being mostly a story based game so understanding the play styles of each unit and the mechanics of the game is actually important to beat the game. Luckily if you suck at strategy games you can turn down the combat difficulty to Visual Novel mode (or Waifu mode in Liberation Day) and you will breeze though the combat.
My only problem with this aspect of the game was the upgrades were not particularly interesting as they mere mostly linear stat boosts rather than giving the Sunrider or the Ryder’s new abilities which would have been more interesting. I felt like I also spent a majority of my upgrades on the Sunrider and nothing else as you automatically lose if it dies so it seemed the most cost-effective. The other upgrades mostly went into energy to allow all the units to use more than one action per turn.
I also had some issues with Renpy crashing during battles sometimes which was a frustrating problem but it was relatively quick to reload the battles when it happened and this may have just been a problem with my pc but you should keep this in mind.
One thing about this game series is there are some inconsistencies with the way its voice acting is implemented. Mask of Arcadius has no voice acting except English voice-over in the battles and Liberation Day has full Japanese voice-over plus English voice-over in battles only (if you choose it) and [RE]turn doesn’t have any voice acting at all.
The Japanese voice acting was good but was rather jarring to hear in an original English language Visual Novel. The English voice acting on the other hand wasn’t as good but wasn’t so annoying that I wanted to turn it off, except for some of Asaga’s lined such as “Imma Firin’ Mah Lazer!” and Icari with her cliché Tsundere lines. The Music used in battles was well done but the music used in other areas of the game was dull and forgettable.
The art was good but nothing in particular stood out to me except for the Ryder designs which looked interesting. I also felt like the UI in combat could have been designed better to make it more visually appealing and more functional as it was difficult to navigate abilities and it doesn’t display things like the boundary you can place units inside before combat.
Overall I felt that Sunrider was a competent strategy game but failed as a Visual Novel to tell a compelling story due to its overambitious story falling short due to the heavy reliance on plot twists and it’s bland cast of characters. I personally wouldn’t purchase it if you are looking for a good sci-fi Visual Novel but if you want a decent and surprisingly difficult strategy game you can pick this Visual Novel up on a steam sale really cheap. Mask of Arcadius is also free-to-play so you can try that first and then decide if it is worth purchasing afterwards.
There are plenty of Visual Novels I can recommend with similar themes to Sunrider. If you want to read a science fiction Visual Novel with Mecha then I highly recommend that you check out either the Muv-Luv series or Baldr Series. On the other hand, If you are looking for Visual Novel with a turn-based strategy element to it you can check out Visual Novels such as Eiyuu*Senki, Shikkoku no Sharnoth or the Rance series.
This concludes my review of Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius and Liberation Day. If you haven’t done so already follow me on social media and make sure to check out the other posts on the site. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review and I will see you all on the next VN Completionist.