[Video Game/Visual Novel Review]: Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius

Sunrider

Developer – Love in Space

Publisher – Love in Space & Sekai Project

Length – 10-30 Hours

Next up on the OELVN review list is the Sunrider series. This first instalment is free to play on Steam or by direct download and there is an additional slice of life spin-off available also. Sunrider tries to balance visual novel storytelling with tactics gameplay and for the most part it does it well.  I really enjoyed some parts of the story and appreciated the depth of the battle system. In the end, however, while Sunrider does provide an enjoyable experience it doesn’t manage to pull ahead of the OELVN pack.

The Sunrider: A spacefaring vessel so advanced its crew required a completely novel course of training. It is the pride of the independent planet Cera, located in the Neutral Rim, and Kayto Shields has been selected as its Captain. During the ship’s first flight test, however, Cera is attacked by the galactic superpower PACT. The People’s Alliance for Common Treatment has been conquering neutral worlds one by one, and before the Sunrider can react Cera’s capital and millions of its citizens have been decimated. With no hope of surviving the PACT onslaught, the Sunrider flees toward the territory of the Solar Alliance. With the fall of his homeworld Shields vows to have vengeance on its conquerors, and with the Sunrider under his command he may yet succeed.

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As you might guess from the above, Sunrider’s story is pretty straightforward. The writing style makes for a pleasant read and I was impressed by the effort that had been put into world-building; despite being relatively short the visual novel manages to get across a clear picture of the setting it focuses on, the history behind it and the politics between the major parties involved in the tale. The game also had some great decisions to be made by the player which regularly made me stop and think about which direction I wanted to head in…I’m not sure how much impact they had on the following events but there was a good amount of depth behind the choices that you don’t often see. Otherwise, I can only say that the story was average but fun. Scenes flit by quite quickly resulting in a relatively shallow main plot, and the characters would benefit from the opportunity to break out of their stereotype shells, which I’m hoping will take place in the sequel.

The gameplay consists of standard tactics battles in which you control a number of units and fight off various enemies. I can see that a lot of thought has gone into the system, with multiple weapon types, vessel sizes and ideal character roles coming together to form a solid foundation. Unfortunately, I took major issue with the balancing of unit/team strength and also with the performance of the application during the battles.

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When gameplay is added to a visual novel it provides the opportunity for greater immersion for the player, which is why it’s important for the gameplay elements to flow correctly and complement the story. Sunrider manages to capture the feeling of participating in epic space battles despite its simple user interface but it is let down by its balancing. Playing on the recommended difficulty (which I assume to be equivalent to “normal” for most games) I found that the battles quickly became ludicrously difficult. Despite the various tactical options available there seemed to be a very narrow range of strategies that were viable, which effectively neutralised any benefit the depth of the combat system had to offer. I’m no major league gamer but I play enough that a “normal” difficulty shouldn’t pose any real threat, so it was odd to find myself laughing out loud when reading some of the objectives the game expected me to achieve. All that said, Sunrider’s saving grace in this situation is that it’s very easy to go back and re-spend your ships’ experience points.

[It has been noted in the comments that the game version may have changed since my playthrough, so some of these issues may have been improved upon. It has also been suggested that with some research into the game mechanics and strategy options those battles can be completed without too much trouble. However, I still question whether that kind of research should be required to pass a normal difficulty. Either way, there’s a discussion in the comments which may influence your opinion.]

The other problem I faced with regard to Sunrider’s gameplay was more of a technical one. The VN’s application lagged completely out of proportion with the tasks it was performing, which made battles somewhat tedious. This was compounded by the fact that enemy turns were incredibly long; the camera zooms in on every vessel attacking, so when your opponent controls 20 ships their turns are outrageously protracted. You can speed things up by holding down control, but that’s never explained in the tutorial. Clicking an attack would often select the option my mouse had been hovering over two seconds ago so I regularly had to re-load to avoid missing out on my units’ turns, and sometimes clicking to speed up the attack sequences would carry over to the main game screen, sending my ships speeding away across the board and using up all of their action points. None of these issues are unforgivable but they did have an impact on my enjoyment of the game.

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Sunrider features a pleasantly clean art style with decent character and ship designs, so I have no complaints in that department. In fact, some of the visuals used later in the game used special effects that were pretty impressive. Where the VN really shines however, is its musical score. The background music is perfectly suited to the story it accompanies, with great “epic” tracks to augment its battles and a fair amount of variety. The voice acting is average for English vocals, neither contributing to nor taking away from the quality of the overall production, though there were some interesting mistakes in the actors’ scripts (like “The shot’s gone wild!” rather than “The shot’s gone wide!”). Only some lines are voiced, with the majority complementing actions taken during gameplay segments.

Summary: Being completely free, Sunrider is an easy choice to make if you’re looking to kill time. It has some great world building and a lot of thought has gone into its production. If you’re a little tired of OELVNs however, Sunrider doesn’t offer much to set itself apart from its colleagues in terms of quality or novelty. The gameplay aspects need more polish before they can properly complement the visual novel as a whole and the story itself, while showing promise for sequel VNs, isn’t particularly noteworthy. Still, I won’t deny that Sunrider provided a few hours of decent entertainment, so whatever your preference for visual novel country of origin, you won’t go far wrong giving it a chance.

Score: 7/10 – Enjoyable

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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5 Responses to [Video Game/Visual Novel Review]: Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius

  1. Drath says:

    Just curious but did you play Sunrider on v7.2 or an earlier version?
    I can’t really tell as the battle picture featuring the square grid is from v4.2 and the game was only at First Arrival back then, whereas the picture of Asaga and ships in the background is from Liberation Day, not Mask of Arcadius.

    On game difficulty, you can lower the difficulty in battles and it will take effect immediately. Normal or Captain requires some planning and a basic grasp of game mechanics for smoother play. The game’s manual on mechanics (updated fairly frequently) can be found at: http://sunrider.gamepedia.com/Sunrider_Wiki.
    Could you elaborate on “very narrow range of strategies”, which strategy worked out best for you, which didn’t and what you feel the game should do to incorporate other strategies. At default difficulty, game design should allow sufficient leeway for some experimentation.

    Respending credits is possible by clicking on (-) button, but you only receive 80% of the invested amount. There was a Debug button in older versions (essentially a dev tool) which would allow you to get back 100% credits but this is no longer available in v7.2, as was originally intended.

    Apart from holding down Ctrl, you can skip all combat animations by toggling Tab to enter/exit skip mode. I do agree though that a better in-game tutorial would help lessen such gameplay issues.

    • Silvachief says:

      Unfortunately i’m not entirely sure which version I played, though it was on Steam which means it would have auto-updated to whichever version was out a month or two ago. The pictures are not from my playthrough, so they don’t help unfortunately. Thanks for letting me know about the picture; i’ll swap it out.

      Yep, and I ended up doing that for the second half of the game since I didn’t want to let the battles color my experience with the story. For my experience with the difficulty and strategies, i’ll describe a mission that stood out for me (on the recommended difficulty, not sure what the name was). There’s a mission early on where you have to escort a civilian vessel to the opposite side of the map. To begin with I tried to optimize my long-range capabilities while maneuvering around the edge of the map to protect the other ship, at which point I discovered that reinforcements arrive if you take too long. So then I tried going in for the kinetics while having the civilian ship avoid the main battle, but the reinforcements still picked it off before the end. It turned out that the only strategy that actually worked was to rush the enemy with the civilian ship in the vanguard, hoping that the enemy ships would avoid targeting it in favor of taking out the ships that were actually shooting them. If the civilian ship didn’t fly almost straight through the middle of the map every turn, the reinforcements would kill it every time.

      Just in general, it proved inefficient to put points into laser over kinetic so the long range strategy was unsustainable and the huge number of reinforcements the enemy receives (while completely justified given the story) represents a time limit that made the experience less fun overall. That all said, the option to change difficulties is there, so I didn’t take major points away so much as I didn’t award points for that aspect (if that makes sense at all). I’d give more specific examples if I could because i’m more than happy to provide feedback but it’s been a while since I played and I wasn’t expecting to talk to anyone involved in development (if you are, that is) XD

      What could be done about it? I’m not sure how much help I can be here because from my point of view it would be looking at adjusting difficulty based on play-tester experiences, considering adjusting the “time limit” reinforcements and trying to make multiple strategies viable…rather than being able to give any specific suggestions, which I apologize for. To someone that plays a lot of tactics games and really gets into the numbers, it may seem like i’m whining about the game being too hard, but for a person that plays a lot of video games and a lot of visual novels Sunrider’s gameplay at the normal difficulty went too far beyond being a challenge to properly complement the visual novel as a whole.

      • Drath says:

        v7.2 was released around June 10th/11th, so if you’ve set Steam to update automatically by default, the version you played a month or two ago is most likely 7.2. While v7.2 isn’t exactly 100% bug free, it does feature corrected enemy AI (bringing back rockets/reducing unnecessary movement/enabling melee), vastly augmented laser/pulse upgrades, additional store upgrades, spawned ryders inactive on first turn and is generally a good, stable version.

        Yes, ‘Escort Agamemnon’ is a frequently mentioned difficulty spike in missions. IMHO its good to have some spikes to spice things up and keep players on their toes (I see Sunrider as a standard challenging turn based game as much as a VN), but its probably a little unfair given that you’re not told of the number of incoming enemy reinforcements and the aggro system (AI target selection system) is not well explained in-game. Rushing the escort ship forward while the other ships engage in battle (without actually shielding or even travelling alongside said ship) is probably not the first strategy that naturally comes to mind on an escort mission and rightfully so. So yes I generally agree that the intention of the devs could probably be conveyed a little better (stating the urgency of the mission right at the start, huge incoming enemy reinforcements and some idea of the aggro system from the wiki (targetting AI)). It’s an old issue though that has already been brought up quite a few times on the official forums.
        It is possible to clear all reinforcements at least on Captain difficulty, so rushing the escort forward is not necessarily the only way to tackle this mission.

        Laser upgrades in v7.2 have received tremendous boosts (10% damage increment/tier instead of 5%, 7.5% energy cost reduction/tier instead of 5%) over kinetic upgrades. Pulse damage especially at default or lower difficulties is huge if applied appropriately. So IMHO, long ranged strategy with laser/pulse weaponry can be sustainable with the right approach.
        The main drawback to laser/pulse is mainly overlapping shields from PACT capital ships (Cruisers, Battleships, etc), which can potentially negate most or all of laser/pulse damage. The idea here is to find solutions around this.

        1)Did you upgrade Liberty’s energy? 120EN enables 2 Shut Offs or 1 Disable.
        2)Did you purchase all 4 Mining Union Frigates? These ships are central to a laser heavy approach as they can reduce enemy shields via Shield Jam.

        An enemy unit stripped of shield cover and reduced in armor is a prime target for Pulse attacks.
        a)You generally get roughly 2 or more Pulse attacks for every 1 Kinetic attack you make (factoring in cost reduction upgrades)
        b)Pulse has significantly cheaper upgrades. Mk9 energy damage upgrades are slightly cheaper than Mk7 kinetic damage upgrades
        c)Even on a 1 for 1 upgrade basis, Pulse widens the gap in terms of damage for every upgrade
        Considering the above it is very likely to see Pulse outstrip Kinetic damage in mid-game (assuming cost comparable upgrades), once Mining Union Frigates are available.

        In the final analysis, the Sunrider is just one ship in the fleet. It is your main ship undoubtedly, but there are other units that can dish out kinetic damage (Paladin, Seraphim, the 2 Alliance Cruisers and even Bianca). Once weakened, isolated, and stripped of shields via kinetic/missile attacks/shield jam, follow up pulse attacks from Sunrider/Blackjack can contribute very significantly and even best kinetics in terms of total damage done; albeit requiring a little more battle planning as compared to brute force kinetics.

        I’m no dev but was involved in beta testing from v6.0b onwards till the current version.

        • Silvachief says:

          It’s awesome to see that the franchise has such a dedicated tester on board =)

          Hm, given that you mention enabling melee it may have been an earlier version since I don’t remember be melee attacked…ever. There were rockets though (so many rockets), so maybe I just never gave the AI the chance.

          As far as my strategies go, I can’t quite remember but I believe I had focused on upping laser damage at that point (I remember feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of upgrade options available compared to the relatively small number of points I had to spend). I do know that I hadn’t purchased the mining frigates as I was focused on upgrading my main units and wasn’t sure whether those ships would return to me if destroyed.

          I’m a little relieved to hear that i’m not the only one to have brought up that mission as an example. My point of view sees Sunrider as predominantly a visual novel with gameplay elements, so our thoughts on what quality means may differ here. Still, i’ll alter the review to mention that tweaks may have been made since my experience since it’s not particularly fair to base the review on an older version. I’ll also mention that during my playthrough I did not invest as much time in studying the finer details of battle mechanics and planning as I could have, though it still stands that in (for instance) a regular tactics video game, I wouldn’t expect to have to do so in order to comfortably pass the regular difficulty.

          • Drath says:

            Rockets from Bomber ryders and Battleships amongst other units were not used in v7.1 due to an AI bug, so I’m pretty sure you did actually play on 7.2, the latest version. As for melee, only a few enemy units actually employ them, Havoc in the 2nd mission, Phoenix if you played the escort mission and Nightmares (assuming you did the Far Port side mission). Even in these cases, the AI might not melee if it isn’t the optimal choice.

            Laser/Pulse damage output is strongly dependent on taking out enemy shields as mentioned above. Apart from that, energy cost reduction and reactor energy upgrades are also vital to improve shot output per turn. In the late game, it is quite possible to reach 6 Pulses or more per turn on Sunrider, which can result in roughly 3000 damage on default difficulty. That is much more than sufficient to shred capital ships like Assault Carriers. Upping raw laser damage is just one part of having effective output.

            Yea there are a good number of upgrade options and not all of them are equal in effectiveness (again depending on your overall strategy and approach). But therein lies the complexity and depth of the game and I think the devs should be commended for coming up with interesting upgrades and battle scenarios.

            Mining Union Frigates can be bought again (for the same cost) if destroyed in battle. Generally with good play that shouldn’t happen much, if at all. The extra ships in MoA (Alliance Cruisers and Mining Union Frigates) add both offensive capabilities (in having additional kinetic/missiles/lasers), defensive capabilities (improved flak net), support abilities (ShieldJam) and are generally excellent purchases in terms of bang for the buck, relative to regular upgrades.

            Studying the wiki or doing research is not absolutely necessary on Captain difficulty, though of course it does help. A good number of players get by just fine by just observing what attacks work and what doesn’t and trying to get a feel for it in-game or puzzle it out for themselves. For some players, that is part of the appeal of the game too, as in taking the game as a challenge and trying their best to form a workable upgrade path and battle strategy to beat it. That is also what I mean when I say I treat Sunrider as a turn based tactics game in VN format; because unlike other VNs, the battles and gameplay are not throwaway filler and can certainly offer good challenge on higher difficulties (Hard/Space Whale).

            Its good to hear views from the general VN crowd and to have discussion on gameplay. I will convey your opinions to the devs and see what we can do for the next update, which hopefully will include a tutorial that Vaendryl has been working on for a while.

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