100 years into the future, Japan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, rife with natural resources, great weather, and peace. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last very long, as the world comes under siege by a power-hungry nation referred to as “the Dominion,” who are intent upon taking over the planet one nation at a time, and are slowly doing just that. Japan is their most recent target.
Constantly being at war comes at a high price, though, and soon, the Japanese notice a chink in the Dominion’s armour. Seeing a chance to liberate themselves and the rest of the world from the Dominion’s iron grip, they dissolve the Japanese parliamentary system and replace the idea of a Prime Minister (who only has emergency powers) with that of a president (who commands the armed forces).
Unfortunately, president Yokuichiro Ozora soon finds himself the target of an assassin during a rousing speech. Following his death, his daughter, Shoko Ozora, is elected to take his place, and takes up her father’s mission to liberate the world, starting with Japan. Armed with Kamui, her heavyweight mech (called a “Liberator”), Shoko sets out to fight the Dominion’s forces along with the Battleship Nagata and her First Secretary/guardian, Kira. This is Liberation Maiden’s story in a nutshell.
…however, you aren’t really given any of this detailed backstory when you begin the game. Liberation Maiden gives you quick cutscene and filler text to get you started, and tosses you right into its first stage, where you find yourself already piloting Kamui, ready to take on the Dominion’s army. In order to learn more about the game’s world and story, you need to complete missions and other goals in the game that let you unlock bits and piece of story and art in the Gallery. This works out great, since you don’t need all that much story in an arcadey shooter, and having a grid of unlockables gives you incentive to keep playing.
Liberation Maiden controls a little differently from how you might expect. Kamui is a heavily-armoured mech and controls like a bit of a tank.
You use the 3DS’ Circle Pad to move forward and back, and moving it sideways causes Kamui to turn in the appropriate direction. Movement takes a little getting used to, since Kamui turns rather slowly, and the camera takes a moment to re-centre behind you as well. You might think that this was simply a design oversight—this is a Suda51 game—but it isn’t. During movement, the sound effects that you hear make it perfectly clear that Kamui is meant to be this big, hulking, arsenal of badassery. He’s just a little stubborn.
Strafing is necessary in a game like this, though, and luckily, Kamui can do that. Holding down the L button and moving the Circle Pad allows you to strafe, which is useful for dodging enemy fire. In order to aim your own weapon, you drag the stylus over the 3DS touch screen, which moves an aiming reticule on the upper screen. When the reticule hovers over an object or enemy that can be fired upon, it locks on, and begins charging up a shot. In order to fire, you have to lift the stylus off the touch screen, at which point, Kamui lets loose with a barrage of missiles. The catch is that firing your weaponry drains Kamui of his armour. After every shot, however, Kamui quickly regenerates armour if you remain still for a second, and lets you fire again.
This adds a little bit of strategy to how you approach shootouts in Liberation Maiden. Do you fire fully-charged shots that drain Kamui of all his armour, or do play it safe and fire weaker shots that won’t leave you vulnerable? Keep in mind that enemy gunfire can drain your armour, too. Very often, you’ll find that a situation you thought was under control quickly escalated into you using up your armour and having to beat a hasty retreat to give Kamui time to regenerate armour.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Kamui’s missiles can lock on to multiple targets at a time if you hover your reticule over all of them. (Look at the green lock-on reticules in the screen above.) This adds another layer of strategy. Do you spread your fire over multiple targets, or focus on one? Enemies come in many forms—turrets, submarines, flying drones. There’s a lot to shoot at, and a lot shooting at you, so you’ll have to react quickly.
Different situations call for different approaches, and this actually extends to Kamui’s second weapon, which you gain access to in Stage 2. This is a continuous laser beam that you can drag across the screen with the stylus, and it damages (or destroys) anything that it touches. The laser beam was actually my weapon of choice because of how flexible it is. You can use it like a sniper weapon to take out specific targets or you can drag it around the screen and use it defensively to take out any enemy missiles that are headed your way. Again, though, depending on the situation, you’ll soon learn to discern whether missiles or the laser is the more effective weapon. They’re both fun to play around with.
And really, that’s what Liberation Maiden is good at—letting you play around and see what works for you. It’s a little more flexible than it initially lets on. There’s no “right” way of doing things, but you wouldn’t think that when you begin playing the game. In fact, at first, things are downright confusing. Flying Kamui feels like riding a horse that doesn’t like you. The screen is a hodge-podge of enemy gunfire and explosions. You can’t tell which buildings are there to take up space and which ones are enemy structures. And why does this Kira fellow keep talking?! GRRRR.
Soon enough, though, you learn to figure it out, and see that there’s a logic to everything. Enemy buildings are subtly colour-coded (although some are deliberately trickier to spot), and you’ll quickly learn how to identify them. Touch screen aiming is extremely quick and lets you not only take out enemies, but also incoming missiles to protect yourself from harm. Nothing feels cooler than shooting down an incoming group of missiles with your own, while evading turret gunfire and simultaneously destroying multiple enemy targets. The weapon/armour system, too, will grow on you, and you’ll learn to appreciate the challenge it brings. And as for Kira… well, you’ll learn to ignore him.
Liberation Maiden has five stages, and each one can take up to 25 minutes to complete. In fact, the stages are timed, but 25 minutes is plenty of time in most cases. I didn’t even notice the ticker counting down at first, and it only came to my attention when I spent a little too much time flying around in circles in Stage 2, and managed to run low on time. Each stage also has sub-missions that you can complete to unlock bonuses in the gallery and to increase your score. There are three difficulty levels—easy, normal and hard—so you can replay the game in hard mode once you’ve gotten used to it. It isn’t a long game, but it’s great fun while it lasts.
What makes Liberation Maiden ultimately work, though, is that it’s something different. The Nintendo eShop has some fantastic platformers and puzzle games to buy, but it’s currently lacking in other genres, which gives Liberation Maiden a place of its own and made me appreciate it all the more.
Food for thought:
1. As Shoko flies around destroying enemies, you’ll see news reports with encouraging messages from New Japan’s citizens. Things like:
“Please take Japan back!” – Kyoko, housewife, 34
“You finally made it to Osaka! Give it to ‘em!” – Akito, manga writer, 47
2. At first, Liberation Maiden’s stages seem like they’re very linear, but as you replay them, you’ll start to see that you can explore the map a bit and clear areas out in a different order. Missions and sub-missions are always provided in a set order, but having the freedom to fly about freely makes stages more fun.
3. This is a very anime-esque game. That isn’t very surprising, considering that it’s designed by Suda51, but it did put a bit of a smile on my face when I heard Japanese vocals start to play during a certain boss fight. Sigh. They don’t make anime like they used to anymore. Grumblemumble.
4. Masahiro Sakurai once said that, eventually, we would understand why Kid Icarus: Uprising’s controls are the way they are, and how they’re designed specifically to give the player very quick turning and camera controls. Kamui’s tank-like controls put into perspective what Sakurai was going for in his game.
5. I hope we get a sequel to Liberation Maiden at some point. Oddly enough, the unlockable world history details in the gallery made me want to see more of the game’s universe and Shoko’s exploits in her ongoing liberation campaign.