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1st January 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Set in a futuristic form of Japan, Liberation Maiden follows the actions of a heroine by the name of Shoko who also serves as the country's President, following in the footsteps of her deceased father. Fighting for her people to preserve the state of her nation, she has aligned herself with the efforts of the military and, stemming from such a move, possesses a robotic fighter that enables flight and long-range combat abilities. Quickly strapping herself in upon detecting the rise of an impending threat, players will control Shoko as she glides across the stratosphere using this very mechanical device, remaining on the look-out for signs of corrupting nests and other battalions that could not only silence her, but also secure dominancy over Japan as a whole.
Allowing players a level of freedom comparable to that which Shoko experiences in her role, gameplay is not confined to an on-rails setup but instead outlines its atmosphere through an open field, with a fine measure of pockets that offer temporary relief without overpowering or creating a major offset to the dynamic. Harnessing hyperactivity amidst a sometimes-heavy fury of enemy fire, Liberation Maiden's design is such that it triggers constant movement, dividing your focus by means of a required management of the different types of bullet storms that are unleashed in a set region. Manipulation of your aircraft -- the Liberator, as it's called -- is done through use of the Circle Pad, and rather than having the target reticule controlled through the same means or a bogged-down setup, a hold-and-release lock-on mechanism is employed with the help of the Touch Screen for countering with your own weaponry. Given the nature of the gameplay found therein, this was certainly the course of wisdom. And while limiting your artillery to only two attacks and no defensive measures may seem like a plight of disadvantaged odds, this too ends up being a wise decision, as the direction thus remains on maneuverability rather than on shuffling through an ability wheel.
Theoretically, this should henceforth erase any possible barriers stemming from a control setup, but it is unfortunate this still ends up being a rather twitchy flaw to the package. Put simply, the controls lack grace. This is seen, in the foremost sense, as you attempt to make 180-degree turns so as to move in the opposite direction. To encircle fixed enemies, you can strafe with the L Button held down, and if you're wondering how this is all accomplished, it is because the environment plane is arranged in a somewhat spherical or planet-like manner. But of course there will be times when you must abandon this position and move backwards or forwards to approach from a better angle, or for the sake of evasion. And it's moments like these that reflect the overall scheme does not have the finesse first impressions might have you think.
In one level, players are given a stealth-based directive that involves infiltrating a compound by avoiding detection devices, and later avoiding a horde of lasers while trying to take out a series of ground-based threats. It is under these situations where the control issues become increasingly evident, and while they're not to a level of badness, it's still more than a little unnerving.
On a general level, each level is split up into segments where new missions are introduced right after one is complete, ultimately leading to a final confrontation. These end-of-level boss encounters see creatures being powered by multiple energy sources that must be destroyed before you can initiate the assault of the Sacrifice Drive, a special attack that has you dragging the stylus on the screen in a circular motion to pierce through the core power source. Commencing on a note of guidance, Liberation Maiden is the sort of game that likes to hold your hand and keep you on the straight-and-narrow with regularity. In addition to the Touch Screen functioning as a map, there's also an arrow directly in front of Shoko telling you where to go next. Plus, the communications intercom is constantly being consulted automatically, interrupting gameplay in the process. So as a result of these design choices, you'll never find yourself feeling disoriented -- at least, not by these methods. No, this will instead be prompted by the chaotic spaces players are shoved into.
For a game like this, having such a high level of semi-unabridged tension would be to the game's strength, but the way this all plays out in practice demonstrates, at times, a lack of balance. While there isn't a sharp difficulty curve or anything along those lines, the conditions of quite a number of the spots where you must adopt an offensive, do-or-die stance make the player feel as though they're being victimized. In connection with this, the way the health system is designed -- that being that it's connected to the releasing of energized attacks -- serves as another link of disruption that connects to these displays of uncontrolled hostility.
The broad enemy clusters you see before you are quite brazen in how much involvement they ultimately demand, but if you were to look closely at these manifestations, particularly in the case of at least one boss encounter, there's a hint of messy design at work. As it happens, the game, upon further study, appears to base its principles on the idea that confidence can be built up through a drastic complication of flair. With what effect? Well, it may not leave thrill-seekers feeling scatter-brained, but if retreating wasn't such an obvious answer all the time, then perhaps I wouldn't be so inclined to think there's something off or strenuous in how this all emerges.
Liberation Maiden certainly is deserving of praise for its production values, though. Cutscenes are of a sparkling, animated nature, while gameplay visuals are quite stunning for what they are and aim for. The soundtrack for the game is rather masterful and brings with it a strong feel that, while can be hard to sense over the whirlwind of noises, should be singled-out for its forceful quality. One complaint I do have is in regards to the use of 3D, as while there are moments that solidify a sense of immersion, the effect is on the strong side and can hurt your eyes after a while. The game's Story Mode consists of five stages that cumulatively last around an hour in length. Stage Attack allows you to replay what you've already completed for the purpose of setting new records, and there is also an area designated for bonus material and Honors to recognize conditional accomplishments. So overall, there is reason to replay the game repeatedly, even though it doesn't have an ease that other pick-up-and-play games acquire.
On its merits, both visually and in terms of its desire to upend, Liberation Maiden is an epic downloadable title with strong drive for excellence and performs quite unlike anything that's been released on the eShop to date. But it's unfortunate the controls and some aspects to the game's design butcher what bore potential to be an ecstatic, action-based shooter. For all the game is and the ambition it brings to the table, I do believe some will be willing to overlook the aforementioned concerns. But I also think it's unreasonable to think, in this state of near-distress, it would be possible to detach these entirely from your memory of what is a flawed experience.
22/30 - Good
Gameplay 6/10 - Intuitive functionality but system still hampered by its control feedback, design is flawed and presents assorted issues in places
Presentation 9/10 - Wonderful production quality, excellent visuals accompanied by a powerful soundtrack, 3D use can be draining
Enjoyment 4/5 - Detectable ambition at the base of it, boss battles are especially thrilling, unnerving at times due to disruptions caused by the design
Extra Content 3/5 - Standard completion will take around an hour, high-scores and other minor incentives offer valid reason to return
Equivalent to a score of 73% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System