Starting off as an ambitious Kickstarter project back in Dec 2013 to its release on Steam July of this year, Sunrider: “part space visual novel and part tactical RPG” has come a long way since its conception by the Love in Space development crew. Finishing the game a month ago and October marking the release of a new update, Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius (which I also finished and covered in this review) – I thought now would be good as any to evaluate it. Also, did I mention it is free-to-play?
Genre: Sci-fi, Action, Visual Novel, SRPG
Developer: Love In Space (Published by Sekai Project)
System: PC (Steam Store)
Length: First Arrival (5-10 hrs), Mask of Arcadius (6-8 hrs)
Sunrider puts the player in shoes of Kayto Shields, a young and inexperienced captain of the Cera Space Force. Reunited with his childhood friend and subordinate officer on-board the titular warship, they witness the invasion of their home planet by PACT – an Empire with the goal of interstellar conquest. Outnumbered and outmatched, the two escape – Kayto vowing to assemble a group of allies to liberate their home and defeat PACT once for all. As jejune and shallows as it might sound, the narrative really is interesting yarn as it lightly encompasses morality, vengeance, a few political maneuvers, and the eventually anime tropes that the game seems to woven to its core. The story really does take a turn for the better when the Space Alliance under the leadership of Harlod Grey enters the picture, as Kayto has to basically decide between the lesser of two evils possibly jockeying for position of control of the entire galaxy. Politics, I’m right? Sadly, where you do make a lot of definitive choices in and outside of combat, most of them seem not to matter much by the story ends. The game does conclude that it is followed by a sequel – yet I still haven’t seen or see how the choices make any concrete change – more than do feel like setting the game’s mood. In total, with everything to do – Sunrider factors into 5-8 hr (including optional task) that works in terms of the story pacing and pretty easy to finish off in one setting, if you are motivated.
While you will spend an equal amount of time in the visual novel portion as well as tactical RPG mode, the HUB is the happy medium between the two. In this stage, you pick various areas on the map to interact with it; mainly with two options: 1. Talk with specific characters who are identified by chibi icons on the map or upgrade the Sunrider’s abilities via purchases from the Miner’s union or see the shy, genius Chigara (one of my favorite characters) about upgrading the ship and the ryders, mecha units piloted by the other main characters that will assist you – each unique boasting their own specialties and deficiencies. For example, Chigara is the medic/debuffer of the party, the obligatory tsundere Icari focus on physical attacks, but lacking in defense, and the self-proclaimed hero of justice, Asaga kind does both medium range combat and physical well. With up to 6 riders on the team, the bases covered are invaluable and needed to help assist whatever the Sunrider can’t tackle on its own. Also from the HUB, you can choose you tackle the main story right away or take on several optional missions.
Since the Mask of Arcadius expansion was added, Sunrider has undergone some changes for the better to the battle system. First off, you can place your units on the map instead of starting from a predetermined section before the update. Once your units are placed, your primary objective is usually given to you beforehand that range from the simple “defeat all enemies” to “protect XXX unit”. When it’s your turn, you can move any of units in any order and their movement on the Hex map is only limited by the Enegry (EN for short) you have available. EN is how you will attack perform attacks, so keeping in mind your movement is important. After you get in range, just the target the enemy (making sure your hit chance is high enough) and that is it. However, attacking is the easy part, but deciding what weapons to use is the tougher decision since different weapons have different hit chances associated with them and weapons work in a “rock-paper-scissor” fashion depending on the enemy,. For example:Kinetic deals more damage to armor albeit, lower in hit chance, laser deals more shield damage to ships (yet low in damage output), missiles do great against anything, but can be reduced in effectiveness when and enemy uses flak guns, etc. If you find yourself dire straights, “Orders” can help you turn the tide – special commands that give you tactical advantages from increase defense to even using the Sunriders special ability. They do expend CMD points that can only be obtained after combat, so use them with care. After combat depending on how many units you defeat, you obtain money and command points based on that.
For a game that came from a kickstarter campaign, the production values are impressive. Not only does the game have some great special effects, but also in-battle voice acting for a majority of the main cast. It is a mixed bag in terms of voiceover work for the characters, yet still something that is worth taking note of. Speaking of vocals, the music is also very enchanting – tracks that are very fitting for a Space Opera. By the same admission, the anime-themed artwork and character designs look great – even better for the CG scenes that appear throughout the game.
Mask of Arcadius acts as direct follow-up on the tail of the last game as the crew on the Sunrider continue the battle with PACT and its mysterious leader, Veniczar S. Arcadius, uncovering the secrets of his origin. In addition to more optional missions, the game also introduces new purchases from the Miner Union, include the ability to buy generic mercenaries to fight in your ranks. While the story is shorter than the main game, it still provides a fair challenge and also offers more backstory into Kayto, Ava, and Maray Shields, Kayto’s younger sister. Still rather confused about why the game abruptly ends as it does.
If you have played Sunrider in the past or remotely interested in it, now is a good as time as any to dive in. With the Mask of Arcadius fixing the game on a performance level – as well as giving it a few little extras, it is a short and enjoyable experience. Combat has a myriad of depth and with the various difficulty modes – accommodating to novice, veteran, and the average Joe that just wants to enjoy the story alike. With First Arrival and Mask of Arcadius providing a rather compelling set stage, I’m very much intrigued to see the next leg in the Sunrider and crew journey. Although, don’t waste any more time reading my review, play for yourself. It is free!
Pros: Engaging storyline, deep tactical combat, adjustable difficulty, pleasant artstyle, excellent soundtrack assortment.
Cons: Storyline choices rarely count for much, few minor performance issues for low-level computers.