After a relative success of freeware VN/strategy hybrid Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius the game’s developer, Love in Space, made an ambitious move – as one of the very few EOLVN companies before or since, they made an attempt to expand to the home of Visual Novels itself. To achieve this, along with the Japanese version of the first game, they’ve released a sequel, Sunrider: Liberation Day. Armed with Japanese voice-acting, Japanese theme song and extra amounts of fanservice, on March 2016 it boldly launched its conquest of Nippon and became one of the most amusing chimaeras in the history of the OELVN scene.
Setting the slightly-absurd “Japanization” aside, Liberation Day is still a sequel of a well-known and, for the most part, respected game, that did much to promote visual novel formula in the West and to this day remains one of the best VN “space operas”, especially among those officially released outside of Japan. Does it stand the test of time as well as its predecessor?
The very average female cast and unavoidable romance are at the center of the story in Sunrider’s sequel, taking focus away from its strongest part – the galactic war drama
The already mentioned “remodelling” of Sunrider towards the Japanese audience is the first thing you notice after running the game – the pompous theme song, combined with Japanese voices of the heroines and gimmicky opening sequence, with tons of “cinematic” cuts and animations are simply overwhelming. It’s something I honestly haven’t seen in any other OELVN and which makes Liberation Day a quintessence of a “weeb game” – trying to be more Japanese than actual Japanese VNs themselves and ending up laughable in its obvious over-stylisation. Thankfully, after the initial shock passes, it has a lot of campy charm and can be very enjoyable if you don’t take it too seriously.
Besides that though, the game retained the general formula of its prequel, which only minor changes to the dialogue system (talking to the crew between missions, through a ship-map interface) and the turn-based strategy segments. The hex-based combat was slightly streamlined in the graphical department, removing some animations and effects that overly prolonged every move, while adding a few new ships for player’s use (as mercenaries, because the core mecha squadron didn’t receive any expansion) and some new enemies. This, however, shouldn’t bother the people that enjoyed Mask of Ardacius that much, as the tactical depth and challenge they know is still very much intact and should be probably the most important factor of their enjoyment of the game. For those less interested in strategy aspect, the story-oriented difficulty from the first game is still present, this time shamelessly labelled as “waifu mode”.
The game’s strategy elements are as solid as in the first game, but disappoint slightly with lack of innovation
However, the actual problems start with the game’s story, which this time is even more linear and leads the plot in directions that are simply alienating to the player. While the first game mostly offered an illusion of choice (dialogue options didn’t influence the ending and have only a minor impact in the sequel), the moral dilemmas did a lot to enhance immersion and make you empathize with Sunrider’s captain and crew, even if their characterisation was not always the best. Here, you have no control over their actions and can only passively observe their obvious mistakes and protagonist’s forced romance with a character I personally didn’t care about at all. What’s worse, all this leads you into a horrible ending, which simply nullifies everything you worked for the whole duration of the two games and leaves you with little hope or satisfaction, adding a clunky cliffhanger on top of that.
This would be an absolute deal-breaker for me – and probably was for many people playing the game at its release. However, the authors most likely understood their mistake and released a DLC which at least partially mitigated this blunder – an alternate timeline scenario, focused purely on VN-style storytelling and sending the protagonist back in time to fix his failures. This content, now available for free with every purchase of the game, not only opens a way towards a more satisfying conclusion, but also provides the player with an opportunity to pursue romances with the girls other than the one from the main plot (along with h-scenes unlockable with a free patch). While I was sorely disappointed with the main story of Liberation Day, I was positively surprised with the quality of this “bonus” content, especially because it directly answered to my disgust with original conclusion, making averting it both mine and protagonist’s main motivation to go forward. It was even written well enough to make the characters I previously completely didn’t care about somewhat amusing – the cast, of course, remained pretty flat and generic, but I’ve warmed up towards even the most annoying members of it after finishing their respective routes (although the first officer, Ava, is still the only character I really ever cared about in this game). Against all odds, it let me leave this game with purely positive feelings.
The alternate-timeline DLC offers a more classic VN experience and does much to salvage the otherwise underwhelming story
The game’s visuals are at the same solid, but never really impressive level of the first Sunrider, with decent-looking, but simple sprites and CGs (I honestly couldn’t force myself to unlock the h-scenes and assess their quality, but I would expect them to be at similar, average level) and backgrounds. The battles, while less flashy than in the first game to overcome some engine limitations, still have quite a lot of impact to them and are generally nice to look at. The new additions, Japanese voice acting and the theme song, are of very decent quality and can be appreciated after the initial cultural shock passes.
In the end, Sunrider: Liberation Day felt like a step backwards from the original, initially offering much less variety and weaker immersion and only later somewhat making up for its shortcomings. It’s a strange example of a misguided attempt at introducing an OELVN into the Japanese market not by offering something unique, but through clunky mimicry, which in the end only proved counter-productive. It also contained some absolutely awful pieces of contrived, depressing storytelling, leading the main campaign’s plot into that awful place of “baiting for a sequel you never want to see”. But it was also, thanks to its DLC and fun game mechanics, an ultimately positive experience and decent point of closure for the Sunrider franchise. With all its flaws, I still wholeheartedly recommend playing it, especially if you’re into sci-fi or the space-opera formula.
Final score: 3,5/5
+ Still solid and challenging strategy game mechanics
+ Good quality of voice acting and sound design
+ Compelling DLC content with traditional VN storytelling and romance
- Alienating main story with no player agency
- Lack of meaningful innovation in strategy sections
- Horrible ending for the main campaign
- Over-the-top “weeb” feel
Buy Sunrider: Liberation Day on Steam or GOG