Also available on Linux and OSX
Hooooolllyyyyyy crap. The phrase "you get what you pay for" has no place in the same discussion of this fan-damn-tastic visual novel, that's for sure. Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is a game that's not quite like anything I've played in the past. It's about 60% visual novel and 40% sci-fi mech tactics game. Best of all, it's free. I think it was originally just called "Sunrider" but had the title changed when a second half was added or something. I don't know. The title screen just says "Sunrider," but it's called "Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius" in Steam. You know, for when you go download it. Because it's free. And it kicks ass.
I'll address the two different genres the game hits in their own separate sections, but first let's take a look at the plot. Without giving too much away, you play as a dude named Kayto Shields, and you've been given your first command of a starship in the Cera Space Force - the Sunrider. It's a new, state-of-the-art battleship in the small planetary defense force of Cera, one of the planets in a region of the galaxy known as the Neutral Rim, named so because the planets there remain unaffiliated with either PACT or the Solar Alliance, the two major galactic powers. PACT is a relatively new power, having arisen when it overthrew the New Empire's tyranny and assumed control of its planetary holdings. Unfortunately for the Neutral Rim, PACT didn't stop there, soon beginning a quest for galactic conquest. After approximately five minutes of being in the captain's chair, your ship's sensors detect a PACT fleet warping in. They promptly annihilate the Cera Space Force, nuke the capital, and claim victory. Narrowly escaping the PACT fleet by fleeing to a neighboring neutral planet, you and your find yourselves the last remaining Ceran vessel and without a government. Thus begins the lone wolf quest to build a galactic coalition (hopefully including the galaxy's other superpower) to drive PACT out of the Neutral Rim and reclaim Cera as an independent planet. Oh, and all of the allies you find are perfect waifu candidates. Because of course they are. ^_^
I'll now turn our attention to the tactics part of the game. Whenever the Sunrider finds itself in combat, rather than tell the story of the battle as most visual novels would, it shifts to a format that looks a lot like a small scale battle in Civilization. The area of space you're fighting in is broken into a 2D hexagonal grid in which the battle is fought by taking turns. Each of your ships has a certain amount of energy that can be used for various types of attacks, buffing and debuffing abilities, or movement. Your objective will usually be "kill all the bad guys," but every now and then, you'll have a more specialized objective. "Survive six turns" or "Get the cargo ship safely to the right edge of the map," for example. The difficulty can be adjusted on the fly, so if you decide that your battles are too easy, you can increase the difficulty at any time; conversely, if you find yourself unable to succeed in a battle despite multiple attempts, you can lower the difficulty and either leave it there or raise it back after that battle. The game is designed to be extremely approachable in that regard because as fun as the combat is, the story is the real star of the show here.
The visual novel aspect of Sunrider is at once both its strongest and weakest point. It's written in such a way that you really get sucked in and interested in the characters and their struggles. Unfortunately, the translation is a bit sloppy with various typos and grammatical mistakes strew throughout. It's certainly not a constant thing, but I'd guess that probably 3% of the dialogue has some kind of minor typo. For a 15 hour VN, however, that does add up. The English voice acting - thankfully only used during battle when a character moves or attacks - is also....not great. Some of it is fine, but it's reaaaally hit or miss. One character in particular is a goofy girl and references a few ten year old memes in her lines. It's cute, but it's also a bit lame. Cringe level lame. You get past it, though, and if you don't, there's always the option to mute the voices. The art also looks a bit amateur. In fairness, it's only this studio's second game, and IS free, so there's only so much room to complain, but it is worth noting.
One thing that does need to be addressed is the game's use of H scenes. If you don't know what that is, then you're probably not a big fan of Japanese visual novels, but in short, it's the NSFW scenes. Being sold through Steam, the game is obviously censored with nothing explicit visible. The devs do have a "decensorship patch" available on their site and instructions on how to install it if you so choose. Wanting the experience to be the way the developers and writers intended (and being a perv), I installed the patch. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover, however, is that at no point does this visual novel approach eroge territory. Yeah, there are some nipples in a few scenes, but it's not done in an erotic sense but rather in a true-to-life sense. There's a scene where one of the women is lost in thought about the fate of her homeworld in the shower, so naturally, there's some nipple visible (though the camera stops at her abdomen). The story itself doesn't actually call attention to it; they just don't shy away from it, either. It's just there. It's part of life. Granted, the scenes like that could have been written in different settings, but part of what made those scenes a breath of fresh air is that it's one of the very few examples I've seen use human nudity in a very natural, organic way with the story-telling rather than trying to shoe horn in some sex for the sake of getting horny teenagers interested. It would be like looking at Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" or Michelangelo's "David" in an erotic sense. Yes, you can see Venus's nipple; yes, you can see David's penis. It's done for the sake of depicting the nature of humanity in the art, though, not for the sake of any eroticism.
Sunrider is a visual novel that, despite its amateurish artstyle and less-than-stellar (no pun intended) translation, truly did impress me, and it did this with a regular price tag of $0.00. The story it told, while not completely original or anything, was told well with characters that I found interesting. The surprise of finding a tactical combat aspect to the game made it even more impressive; it made the game downright fun rather than just an interesting and immersive read. Granted, I'm a big fan of visual novels in general, so I'm probably a bit easier to please than most when it comes to the genre, but I really did enjoy this game immensely. The only thing keeping it from being a 10/10 homerun in my book is the aforementioned issues with translation and voice clips. Despite that, though, it was still damn good, and I still HIGHLY recommend it to everyone. I mean, you LITERALLY have nothing to lose; the damn thing's free!
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.