Platform: 3DS (eShop Download)

Liberation Maiden is a Panzer Dragoon/Zone of the Enders styled 3D shoot em’ up. Gameplay largely consists of the player locking onto targets with the touch screen and blasting them all to hell and back.

Games can sometimes be very weird - no surprise then that Suda 51’s Liberation Maiden has one of the most hilarious and ridiculous stories ever written (ED's. Note: that's quite a bold claim, even for a Suda 51 game). It's told via anime cutscenes and I have to admit I was impressed that a high quality standard of animation was implemented for its story. In this sense I can almost forgive the stupidity of the story as it’s backed up with a gorgeous animation.

PhotobucketBasically, the overall story is this: Japan is awesome. It’s so awesome because it has plentiful plant life and looks fantastic. Suddenly some military guys called the “Dominion” come and take over Japan with their Russian-looking flag (they have reasons… apparently) and turn the whole place into an urban decaying zone of oppression, with way too many battleships/submarines and oddly coloured turrets that fire purple laser beams.

The Japanese prime minister for some reason is too weak to do anything, so Japan appoints a new presidential system and a rebel army is formed under it. Unfortunately, the first president of Japan is assassinated, however his daughter, Shoko (who is probably, in anime terms, roughly 16 years), takes the presidency by jumping into a gigantic mobile flying mech suit equipped with green homing lasers and a giant plasma sword. Let's not forget her skintight spandex suit and the fact the position in which she has to fly the mech is with her behind firmly pointing skyward.

Shoko then takes the fight to the Dominion forces, “purifying” parts of the urban city by transforming them into lush green fields of leafy vegetation by systematically destroying buildings.

Now, I can’t say I agree with Shoko’s domestic policy of destroying buildings which probably have people in them. I felt in many ways, from the title of the game, to the overuse of terms such as “Madam President” and “Liberty”, the game's aim was to completely mock the values of an American presidential system and its ethos.

On many levels the game is just absolutely fantastically dumb. It revels in a serious overtone to mask its stupidness whilst anime J-Rock music blasts out of the 3DS’s ineffective small tinny speakers (as per usual, the Japanese vocal based tracks are the same old tired affair that Japan has produced for the last 20~30+ years with many of them sounding identical in melody and rhythm etc. – more so a problem of the Japanese music industry rather than the developer’s choice of tracks).

Aside from the barmy story, gameplay is fairly simple in the sense you control the mech suit’s direction with the circle pad. Holding the stick forward long enough will cause you to boost at greater speeds across the map. The left shoulder button is used to strafe - this is good when you’re near a target zone with lots of enemies and want to hover around them whilst targeting them.

PhotobucketThe main control you should be concerned with is the touch screen reticule. Using the stylus pen causes you to aim with a reticule over enemy targets. Your main weapon is a homing laser gun, so when you aim over an enemy, the reticule confirms its target and when you release the stylus pen away from the touch screen, the weapon fires.

The interesting part of combat comes into play when you realize that weapon energy and shield energy are intertwined. In the bottom right of the screen is displayed a small round circular emblem which shows layers of green energy covering a red heart gauge. Basically firing weapons depletes your energy depending on how long you keep locked-on to an enemy. The longer you're locked-on, the more damage you will do - however it depletes more energy thus leaving your completely vulnerable to enemy attack.

Destruction of enemies becomes an incentive as they drop green energy pellets that refill your energy gauge, so even if enemies do chip away at your shield/weapon energy, you can regain it by simply destroying enough of them.

I really liked this system as it brought some tension to gameplay and added an element of strategy. I'll admit, however, that it really takes playing this game on the hardest difficult setting before you feel the challenge of weapon/shield energy management. In saying that I can appreciate the developers intentions for installing an interesting form of gameplay to the game.

You get one other weapon during gameplay that is a long laser beam. Firing this weapon upon an enemy is very satisfying; it gives you a real sense of Shoko’s power. Lastly, when you accumulate enough kills during a mission, you can use an energy plasma sword attack that acts as an area-of-effect type special attack that will obliterate all enemies within your general radius and range.

One of the unfortunate things about this game is there are only 5 chapters, with the 5th chapter being incredibly short. Generally the game’s flow doesn’t help the length of the game either as all chapters are identical in the sense of your objectives. You have to destroy “lesser spikes” which are large towers that will unlock a main boss “spike” which you travel to and destroy – It really is that simple. Maybe in-between you will be offered the odd sub-mission like blow-up 5 battleships, but these sub-missions are only there to rack up points.

PhotobucketGraphically the game is very pretty, however there really isn’t much variation overall. It's largely small islands surrounded by large amounts of sea. However there is a snow level and the attempt to include a night-time/dusk level, but they're largely pretty drab looking. 3D-wise, it’s a nice implementation, however nothing that jumps out of you.

The game comes in 3 difficulty settings ranging from an Easy, Normal and Hard mode. Completing various challenges on certain difficulty settings unlocks more of the “Gallery” feature in the game that contains more story archives that flesh out the game’s universe more and other little secret stuff such as files and videos etc. I will say I didn’t appreciate a game that skimped on its story to let you “unlock it later” via the completion of challenges (No matter how ridiculous the story is, I did genuinely want to know more from the start). However I think generally the developers were aiming for a true portable arcade like experience in the sense that the story is explained really fast and then gameplay just starts – in this sense it's entirely successful.

Another niggling gripe is that this game suffers an archaic Japanese styled habit of constant dialogue popping up interrupting gameplay every few minutes or so. Your sub-commander “Kira” will constantly inform you of what you have to do, the general conversation in most cases never has to happen as the mission briefs are extremely simple. Nevertheless, poor old Kira is probably just "lonely".

PhotobucketFor £7.99, it works it's fun and it's worth the money. I do feel dissatisfied with the length of the game, but I shouldn't really complain when I’ve paid less than a tenner for it. Then again you can download a 40+ hour game like Final Fantasy VII from the Playstation Network for a similar price, but that's an entirely different gaming experience (ED's. Note: And the graphics have aged terribly.)

Regardless whether you like this game or not, the main question will always be this: will you be voting Shoko / Kira 2016? Vote now if you want your house to be blown up and converted into a botanical garden!

Also, did I mention the mech you control is called “Kamui”, as in, “Gakuto Kamui”, the Japanese J-Rock/Visual Kei singer? It really is a strange game.