A nonstop stream of steady action fit for a portable console.
If any one trait were to define the modern era, it would have to be speed. With YouTube videos and fast Internet journalism (among other things) promising instant gratification on a whim, quickness is often more valued than patience. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, a statement that 3DS shooter Liberation Maiden proves this quite well. The game is only about an hour long across five stages, yet somehow manages to cram every single moment with fast-paced yet thought out action. The end result of this is an incredibly engaging and well produced (if incredibly brief) experience.
Part of the reason behind the game’s success is just how simple it is. Each level tasks you with the same objective: destroy three mini-bosses in order to take on the big boss in the middle of the map. Yet even this is a generous explanation of Liberation Maiden, as the gameplay boils down to relentlessly shooting everything in sight. Things like different weapons and special attacks are not needed (although they are provided); the game is all about shooting enemies nonstop. But rather than being a weak point, this is one of its greatest strengths. First, it ensures that the game is approachable and easy to jump into, both perfect elements for a portable game used to fill short breaks. Second, it creates a situation where every second is filled with action. You are assaulted with stimuli at all times with little to no rest time in the actual levels. Admittedly, such an extreme level of action can be off-putting to some people, but for those willing to give it a try, Liberation Maiden promises frequent instant gratification in very high amounts. This is part of the reason why the game’s length is so forgivable: the developers were quite aware that the game was light on ideas, so rather than bloat the game with ideas to justify an extended length, they instead chose to keep it short and to the point.
Yet this does not mean that Liberation Maiden can only do one thing. For instance, in addition to the main goal, a few levels also contain side-missions that can be completed during regular gameplay. At best, these are fun diversions. After all, there is nothing radically different about these missions from the main ones; you’re still tasked with rapidly shooting down a series of targets (albeit under different circumstances). However, completing these side-missions is absolutely necessary for a perfect score in each level, something to keep in mind when trying to unlock everything in the game’s gallery. The requirements for each unlock vary, from using a weapon a certain number of times to essentially getting a perfect score in the entire story. Given both the high demands of some of the unlocks and the sheer number of them present, fulfilling each one requires a decent understanding of the game’s mechanics, thus extending Liberation Maiden’s running time significantly.
It is also important to note that how the game plays is not its only strength. In addition to playing well, the game looks amazing, too. Despite all the action that can be happening on screen at any given time, Liberation Maiden maintains a smooth 60 FPS throughout. This is on top of how crisp the game looks. Due in part to some sleek textures, the models just seem to contrast very well against their environments, especially in 3D mode. Yet this applies especially well to the two anime cutscenes that act as bookends to the story. Every aspect of them is as close to perfection as possible. The coloring is strikingly clear; the lines are sharp and lend a natural feel to the scenes’ look; and the animation is highly fluid. It is also worth mentioning the music in discussion of the game’s aesthetic, as it possesses an aggressive tone that’s perfect for maintaining the action. Or at least it is when it is audible over the clipping and the other events generating sound throughout the game. But this one minor flaw aside, it is obvious that Grasshopper Studios has just as much effort into how the game looks and sounds as it did into how it plays.
The only major flaws with the game are either easily fixed quite soon or just minor features in the first place. The controls, for example, fall squarely in the former category. Aiming and shooting, for the most part, function perfectly well. Moving, though, is initially a problem. Moving the analog stick along the Y axis moves your robot about, but moving the stick on the X axis turns said robot in that direction. Unsurprisingly, this is a counter-intuitive control scheme and movement feels awkward and flighty. This navigation problem does not last long, however; the L button lets you strafe, fixing the one major control issue Liberation Maiden has.
A problem that is slightly harder to ignore with the game, though, is its story. Despite a simple premise, the narrative is still weighed down with copious issues. A future Japan has been conquered by some military-industrial force (the game itself does not elucidate on what this entity is; that job is left up to unlockable gallery entries), and it is up to their high school girl president to save them. Not through political or legal action. Although this would likely prove a great morale boost if successful, there are numerous flaws with such a strategy, such as her lack of experience (as both her and the player must be taught how to pilot the mech she is riding) and the fact that her mech does not protect her from fire, putting her in a highly vulnerable position. As if none of this was bad enough already, the story blatantly preaches a message about the beauty of nature and how technology ultimately poses a threat to it. While there is nothing wrong with this message, it is hard to take it seriously when the player protects nature through technology just as advanced as what the enemy wields.
This may be justifiable if the game showed some awareness of how ridiculous some of these elements may be, but unfortunately, Liberation Maiden displays little, if any such awareness. In fact, it barely explores the plot outside using it to set up the next mission. This means that rather than ask the player to question elements of the premise, the game asks them to ignore some significant problems within the narrative. However, as the story does not receive that much focus, it is not enough to mar Liberation Maiden’s great accomplishments. Simply put, it knows very well how to deliver action. Although a very short game, it makes the most of each second, making it a must-play for any fans of 3D mech shooters.