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.
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.
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.
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