Sunrider: Liberation Day Review

Title: Sunrider: Liberation Day
Release date: 2016-03-04 (initial release)
2016-05-24 (Captain's Edition; includes a [Re]turn DLC)
Developer: Love in Space
Publisher: Sekai Project (censored)
Denpasoft (uncensored)

Just a few months ago I finished playing "Sunrider", the original free game from the Western developer "Love in Space" (a very descriptive name). Shortly after that, the sequel titled "Liberation Day" was released commercially on Steam... to overwhelmingly negative reviews. It seems the developers tried so hard to emulate the "Mass Effect" trilogy, that they also copied the main flaws from the series, too.

Let's recount what had the public's knickers in a twist after the release of "Mass Effect 3". The main complaints noted the bland and inconclusive ending and lamented that the choices from the first two parts of the trilogy had little impact on the story. Lou and behold! Those were the exact same complaints leveled against "Sunrider: Liberation Day" immediately after it's release.
Asaga is always ready to help.
Original "Sunrider" had a lot of choices and, considering we can import our save file from that game into LibDay, we assumed those choices would matter and create significantly different situations. No deal! "Liberation Day" is almost completely linear. The only thing we can call a significant plot branch is centered on Cosette, whose life you can spare or not, depending if you still have Wishall in your inventory, but it still doesn't affect the story much. On the other hand, despite many complaints about that, I actually didn't mind that our protagonist Kayto Shields gets railroaded into a romance with his ship's engineer Chigara Ashada, without a chance to opt-out, because it makes sense plot-wise and I never felt that romance is important for "Sunrider". However, the plot of "Liberation Day" feels tragically shallow and underdeveloped.

In its original iteration the game was released in such an unfinished state that it took only maybe 4-5 hours to fully finish it playing on "Ensign " difficulty level. The lowest difficulty level would cut that time in half, and the developers asked a full price of almost 23 euros for that. Now, I fully understand why so many people got pissed at the developers. It's like they suddenly got brain farts and started singing ABBA's "Money money money" while submitting an alpha build to Steam. After a flurry of negative feedback, "Love in Space" released a v2.00 version of the game, which included an extended hour long epilogue to alleviate complaints about an abrupt cliffhanger ending. This epilogue was initially intended as the opening scenes to the sequel and thus doesn't yet have voices attached to it.
It's a staple for Sunrider to face overwhelming odds.
Oh, yes. Voices. Now that's a decision that is gonna haunt "Love in Space". Apparently the company contracted professional Japanese seiyuu to voice their game, which would be awesome and all that jazz, but I have to wonder if that wasn't the reason for the lackluster release. Maybe the company simply ran out of money after paying off the voice actors and Rita, who sang the OP. I always like Rita as a singer and the OP is admittedly catchy, bot not if that comes at the expense of a whole product.

One of my complaints about the original game was the shallowness of the characters and, of course, the problem is exacerbated in the sequel. The characters simply have no place to grow and each of them is characterised by a single trait. Chigara is completely deredere for the captain, Asaga is completely jealous of Chigara, Ava is only interested in paperwork, Claude is as perverted as ever and Kryska and Icari are engaging in strengthening their bromance (or is it "sismance"?). Poor Sola gets completely shafted and is a shadow with no personality whatsoever. Even Kayto is boring and uninteresting and only gets his tiny bit of character building in non-canon [Re]turn DLC, where we finally get a sufficient and, what's most important, believable explanation for his infatuation with Chigara.
Translation: fuck me doggy style, captain.
Probably the feature I loved the most in the original "Sunrider" was the battles and they do not disappoint in the sequel either... or rather they do. First of all, "Love in Space" made "Liberation Day's" fight scenes sufficiently epic. There are lots of ships involved in combat and the action is challenging without using cheap tricks to make it more difficult. The fights take a long time to finish and actually require some strategic thinking to get out of the pinch. So, why did I mention that the battles disappointed me? Because there are so few of them! "Original "Sunrider" was a perfect hybrid of a visual novel and an SRPG, while "Liberation Day" is mostly just a visual novel with some battles thrown in.

There are only, I think, seven fights in the whole game, with three of them not having anything to do with the main plot. The developer completely got rid of the side missions, even though they served only as a minor gimmick in the original, and lowered the total number of battles fought. Then again... I'm blaming the short length of the game for that. I wonder how can you even manage to tell a meaningful story or fight a significant amount of fights in a VN so short.
Arm the photon torpedoes!
The battle mechanics remain virtually unchanged from the previous game. You still have lasers, missiles and kinetic rounds to inflict the hurt on your enemies. Nevertheless, there is one crucial difference - your command points are now capped at 4000 and you gain them for destroying ships in real time, rather than after the battle. This means that any command points you gain over the said amount simply disappear. The new feature forces you to use CPs during every battle, instead of hoarding them for some further faraway conflict and I can get behind and support this change. It also means, that it's basically essential to buy an upgrade, which increases the cap to 5000. Two other upgrades that I can honestly recommend are splash damage additions to your torpedoes and Vanguard Cannon. The later upgrade is very costly, but oh so sweet to use in battle.

Some people on the internet were vocal against the removal of short battle animations, portraying hits and destructions of ships. This is one feature I didn't miss. I felt that these animations slowed the original "Sunrider" with the need to click through them, instead of them playing without user's input. Now the fights are much more dynamic and don't have any undue interruptions.
Do clones dream of Dolly the Sheep?
Honestly, no one is gonna claim that the plot of the original game was some grand epic thing worth singing praises about, but it was still a serviceable one. The plot of "Liberation Day" is literally just the crew repairing the Sunrider after the final battle in the previous game and then flying the ship to participate in the battle to liberate Kayto Shields' homeworld Cera. No, seriously, it's: Repair > Flight > Final Battle. There is nothing of interest happening in between for the Sunrider's crew. The most compelling thing about the plot involved the recently revealed enemies, Prototypes, and their internal division. Alice and Alpha, the lead Prototypes, are the only slightly interesting characters in the whole game, with their motivations coming across as pretty well fleshed out and explained to the audience. Hell, you might even come to like the little terrors before the game ends.

Unfortunately, neither Prototype is a particularly menacing enemy, and even Alice with her Nightmare Ascendant didn't inspire a sufficient dread in me. I'm putting my hopes in the Bigger Bad, who appears at the very end, in order to tease the sequel, but don't expect much. "Love in Space" are just not very good at "birthing" strong villains. Moreover, I have to question the marketing decision, which relied on touting that one of the girls is gonna betray you. The result was, once that particular plot point arrived, it surprised exactly no one. "Love in Space" should really have hidden that twist for maximum impact and not shouted about it for the whole world to hear.
Developer's laugh at the game's linearity.
While the plot and the characterisation took a dive for the worse, the game got a significant graphical uplift. While the same artists participated in the project, both the sprites and the backgrounds look much better and are more realistic than in the previous game. The soundtrack is also very fitting for the game and, dare I say, epic. Moreover, the voice actors do a commendable job, with Kryska's voice probably being my favourite one. Her seiyuu has an unusually deep voice, which suits her tomboyish character well.

Of course, even after the version 2.00 the VN was yet too short and the developers had a bright idea to release a free non-canon DLC [Re]turn, which focuses on a "what-if" scenario, where our dear captain Shields travels back in time to before a certain event in the game and tries to change the future, armed with the knowledge of what is gonna come to pass. It's all very cheesy, but works moderately well. This DLC offers some padding to the game that keeps the player's interest, despite not offering much for the main plot. Kayto Shields also receives some sorely needed characterisation that perfectly explains some of his quirks in the main story. Nevertheless, the girls are still as shallow as ever and the developer throws romcom and sex scenes at us, in order to hide the fact that [Re]turn actually has no meaningful plot.
A match made in heaven: an easy girl and a hard man :-)
Seriously, the main game has exactly one H-scene... with five more introduced in the DLC. The scenes are also much more explicit than in the original "Sunrider", fully showing the genitals, which makes it painfully clear that whoever drew the CGs has never seen a penis in their life. Why else would it look like a bright pink strap-on? Yeah, the male genitals are "Softhouse-Seal" terrible. Not to say that I didn't like the adult content, and it's obvious that the creators are fans of "The Uranus Experiment", but it's clear that sexual content was added only as an afterthought.

Still, [Re]turn is a solid addition to the game and its main drawback isn't even related to the DLC itself. Rather it hurts to see that an expansion is probably equal in length, if not longer, than the main game. It only hammers the point home that the developers really put little effort in crafting the plot of "Liberation Day".
Icari, the crazy cat lady.
All in all, "Liberation Day" is not a terrible game and I have to applaud the developer's willingness to fix some of the mistakes after the flurry of negative feedback, but I still feel that the game is not worth the current asking price even after multiple updates. Most of my complaints are born out of disappointment due to its shallow, underdeveloped nature and the fact that a non-canon DLC is arguably longer than the main story we should care about. Even SRPG enthusiasts will get severely disappointed by a small amount of gameplay. You might want to get the game during a sale, like I did. Nevertheless, I'm still interested in knowing what happens next and gonna play the sequel whenever it arrives, but really hope that LIS get their shit together and put some effort into making the next installment.

P.S. Claude OP plz nerf.
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Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official game page
Buy an uncensored version of the game at Denpasoft
Buy a censored version of the game on Steam
Download a de-censorship patch to use on Steam edition
Love in Space Patreon account
[Re]turn DLC walkthrough

Final Verdict: 63%


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