Before talking about Liberation Maiden, it’s important to know where it came from. Originally, it was released in Japan as one of the titles that made up the Guild01 compilation. It was a physical cartridge that you could buy and enjoy four relatively small games, each from a well-known Japanese game designer, or in the case of Weapon Shop de Omasse, a Japanese comedian. The actual compilation itself didn’t perform great, selling a lousy 20,000 copies in its first month but I get the feeling that it was meant to be more of a project for the fans rather than a money maker. Thanks to digital distribution, the collection did slowly make its way to the west although, rather than being bundled up, they were only made available as individual purchases.
What you’ll be told right off the bat is this: Shoko Ozora, full time anime high school girl, has just been unanimously elected as Second President of New Japan following the assassination of her father. With no time to spare, she hops in the Liberator mech Kamui and sets off from the Parliamentary Battleship Nagata. It’s her job to liberate Japan in her Liberator mech (get it?) from the Dominion, a Nazi Germany stand-in led by “the Chairman”. Not that any of that is even remotely important since the Chairman is never mentioned in game and you don’t even really get introduced to the Dominion. Stage 1 basically starts you off right in the heart of battle asking you to obliterate “all of those things over there”. I wouldn’t expect any less from the designer Suda51 who you might know from No More Heroes, Killer Is Dead or Lollipop Chainsaw.
If you prefer to get invested in the universe of a game, it’s not all bad news though. The Gallery feature, as the title suggests, lets you view concept art but it also serves to tell the back story as you progress through the game. Simply completing each stage unlocks background information on how the Dominion conquered most of the world, the story behind each stage and various other elements. The requirements can range from just playing the game all the way up to “Play Hard Mode 10 times”. There are 30 unlockable segments in total, a bit like achievements except you won’t get laughed at by your friends as they actually give you something in return.
A large mech like Kamui is no fun if you don’t get to pilot it and mech action is what Liberation Maiden is all about. You fly around the map with the left analog stick, optionally holding L to strafe and use the stylus on the bottom screen to target ground-based enemies. For left handed players like myself, the entire thing can feel wonky holding the stylus in your non-writing hand. There isn’t much skill required as far as weapons go since you only get to pick between a missile barrage and a powerful laser. Interestingly, your ammo and shield use a shared pool of energy. You’ve got a small amount of health protected by a large number of shield bars but each time you fire a projectile, it uses up one shield bar temporarily. Should you completely lose your shields to damage, you can only regain shield bars by defeating other enemies and you’ll want to do it fast before your small amount of health is eaten away. In more tense situations, you’ll be forced to pick between attacking which uses up your defenses or waiting and dodging incoming fire.
There are five stages in total which all take place in various areas of Old Japan. Each objective generally consists of defeating three Lesser Spikes plotted around the map, literally just glowing spikes in the ground, in order to weaken the defenses of a much larger Greater Spike. It sounds easy but the catch is surviving each encounter in one piece. It’s a little bit like a bullet hell shooter for people who don’t play bullet hells. Everything is trying to kill you but nothing on the scale of say, Touhou or DoDonPachi. Once you gain access to the Greater Spike, you’re locked into a side scrolling encounter dodging the various attacks of the Greater Spike. They aren’t too hard as far as strategies go but as you wipe out each weak spot, another will appear introducing a new boss mechanic making the fight tougher as you progress. Once you hit the final spot, it’s time to send Kamui’s Sacrifice Drive spinning right into its core in order to wipe that thing out for good.
You could finish the game in one sitting if you wanted but as an arcade style title, there’s nothing stopping you from revisiting in the future to unlock a few extras or simply trying to beat your previous high score. While it is designed to be a rather small title, Liberation Maiden feels surprisingly polished. It features some very nice art both in game and in gallery and two great animations from Studio BONES which serve as the intro and outro sequences. Oh and from start to finish, the entire game is fully voice acted too. Of all of the Guild titles so far, I believe Liberation Maiden is the only one so far to receive a sequel, Liberation Maiden SIN, although only in Japan. Since gameplay is fairly universal, it wouldn’t be much of a barrier except it was released as VN so that pretty much kills any chances I had of being able to play the follow-up. At least if you keep your save data, you can unlock some extras in the follow up Guild02 compilation.
Developer: Level-5 / Grasshopper Manufacture
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS and iOS
Released in 2012