Indie Wonderland: Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius

Hot on the heels of last week’s adventures into linear storytelling and boobs, I found myself browsing Sekai Project‘s website for games. Sakura Spirit made such an… impression on me, I just had to see what other games this studio has under their wing. Were they all going to be glorified cutscenes with half-naked fox girls?

While thus trawling the possibility space, I ran across a game called Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius. It confused me, because… it seems to have all the trappings of a visual novel game, what with the talking heads and the dialogue flow controls and the many multi-coloured anime ladies. A perfect fit for VNADS. But then it also seems to promise tactical turn-based battle gameplay featuring spaceships and giant robots. Seriously, a significant number of the Steam screenshots for it are taken up by hex grids in space and exploding star cruisers.

Oh, and it’s also entirely free on Steam.

A free visual novel, made by the same guys who made an expensive visual novel I disliked? But which is also a turn-based tactics game? Compute, this does not. Obviously I had to go check it out.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low to medium. Mechanical, medium.)

Opening

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius (‘Sunrider’ from here on out) opens with the most anime intro I’ve seen maybe all year. Accompanied by a woman’s voice singing what I assume to be Japanese lyrics and bombastic musical overtones, I’m bombarded with…

Anime women!

With colourful haircuts!

With named voice actors!

English voice actors, apparently.

Who get naked!

A little.

But also there are giant robots in space!

Because why wouldn’t you? It’s space, gotta get some giant robots up in there.

Therefore, in summary:

Quod erat *demonstrandum*.

Sunrider’s strange dichotomy continues in its Options screens. On the one hand, the ‘Visual Novel’ set of options is literally exactly what I’ve come to expect the last two week: text speed, skipping options, ‘auto forward speed’, whatever the hell that still means. It’s the exact same framework Sakura Spirit and Flower Shop used.

On the other hand, Sunrider has ‘Combat’ options. Mostly related to battle difficulty settings. The fact that Sunrider even has these options is already intriguing enough to me, but a cursory glance at them shows that this game is actually expecting me to take its combat seriously. I was half-expecting the combat to be a time-wasting minigame, a la Flower Shop’s farming, but it’s looking like I may have been wrong in that assumption. There is a ‘visual novel’ level of difficulty that apparently trivializes the combat, but come on. Come on. The Standard level of difficulty is ‘the way Sunrider is meant to be played’. How can I ignore that straight a recommendation?

I also really enjoy that the hardest difficulty level is basically ‘we don’t actually know if it’s possible to win the game this way.’

High text speed, challenging combat, no options whatsoever on the presence or absence of nudity. Let’s roll!

Initial impressions

“This story takes place as we live today, in a universe reminiscent but vastly different from our own.” I, er…

This sentence is so entirely without meaning I can’t find it in my heart to critique it.

Backstory time! Humanity has spread to ‘the four corners of the galaxy’…

…I do some mental spatial geometry to imagine what shape a three-dimensional galaxy should have in order to get to only four corners. I guess this galaxy is a triangle-based pyramid?

Anyway. Humanity has spread across the galaxy, subjugating all life everywhere. Because fuck you, aliens. As always, however, man’s inhumanity to man proves to be our driving conflict factor: ‘PACT, the People’s Alliance, has toppled the once-mighty New Empire’.

PACT wants to unite the galaxy… under a *world* order?

But let’s not bother with that right now. Time to cast our gaze to the neutral world of Cera, and to our protagonist, captain Kayto…

Shields? Kayto Shields, that’s his name? I… wow, I actually don’t know what joke to make about this.

I guess legal name changes aren’t big in the space future.

No. No, your name isn’t Kayto. Your first name is now Marauder, and we already know how your story will end.

Before we get to that fateful downfall, though, let’s cast our eyes present-ward.

Captain Marauder is in space. Captain Marauder is being shuttled to some sort of ship. What kind of ship? The titular Sunrider, that kind of ship.

Finest ship in the fleet, and all that jazz.

Captain Marauder is getting a tour around the Sunrider. Providing the tour is First Officer Ava Crescentia, Marauder’s long-time friend from high school and one of the title splash women. And therefore, prime romance material.

Ava greets Marauder in a professional manner. And proving that Sakura Spirit’s total lack of options apparently isn’t all Sekai Project gets up to, I’m immediately given a choice of how to reply. Professional back at her? Or play up the childhood friendship angle?

I’m already feeling good about this choice.

I’m okay with being professional about this, actually. What’s the deal with my Sunrider, First Officer?

Long story short: the Sunrider is carrier ship for ‘Ryders’, whatever the devil those are, but it’s also packed to the brim with battleship weapons. It requires only a skeleton crew to function, has one of the best warp drives in the galaxy, and always keeps that new spaceship smell even after long use. I mentally rechristen it ‘Sunrider Sue’, before continuing.

I’m given a tour of the ship. And by ‘given a tour’, I mean ‘handed the map controls and told to walk around the damn ship myself, what am I, your nanny’. The map folds out to a three-level blueprint of the Sunrider’s critical systems, and I can ‘move’ from area to the next if there’s a little circle inside the area denoting that I can do something there. Like, say, a little chibi gruff Ava face.

She gets visibly annoyed when you mouse over her.

The bridge has a star map. My office has a video phone I can use to make calls. The mess hall is where we eat. The engineering and research section, the med bay, and the Ryder hangar are still empty, but those should get filled in a couple of days. Probably way before the evil PACT fleets encircling our planet make their attack.

Alright, let’s take the Sunrider out for a test drive! Nothing fancy, just a trip to the moon and back. I’m sure nothing wi-

Explosions happen.

Explosions happen because PACT war ships have warped in, and they’re currently trying to blow up the Sunrider before she even has a chance to launch!

I didn’t even get to fly her yet!

What a bunch of goddamn jerks. Captain Shields is having none of that, though: we’re taking the Sunrider out into battle. The main cannon is offline, we have no Ryders on-board, and an accurate count of our missile supply results in ‘two of them’. But what’s the alternative? Not try to survive?

Time for battle!

Yes, what that screen says!

I find myself on the battle hex grid. On the right: two PACT ships. On the left: the Sunrider. Also on the left: Ava, explaining how combat works.

She makes it sound simple at the start. Combat is taken in group turns, us against them. All units have an energy supply: energy can be used to move, or to active and fire certain weapons. Easy enough.

Then, it gets more complicated. I click the lil’ Sunrider on the map, and see that it has no less than five weapons options. Lasers, missiles, rockets, assault guns, kinetic guns…

…planes, trains, automobiles…

Crikey, that’s a lot of information. Mousing over the weapons themselves provides even more. Lasers are long-range, but weak, while kinetics are short-range, but strong. Assault guns fire multiple shots, but are extra weak against armor. Missiles and rockets have long range and high power, but they’re a limited resource and they’re vulnerable to enemy flak.

And in the bottom right of the screen, I see more stats still. I assume the red and blue bars are health and energy, respectively. There’s also four two-letter stats, that… maybe FK is flak? SD could be shield, AR is armor, and EV is… I dunno, Effort Values?

This is a lot of rapid learning for a high-stakes combat situation. Can’t I just blast the shit out of these enemy boats?

As it turns out, I can. I select the missile option. Little percentages appear over the enemy ships, telling me my missiles have 90% accuracy in this situation. Good enough! I fire. The screen cuts to an image of the Sunrider, firing the missiles…

With an English-spoken voice command by Ava, oddly enough. I haven’t heard anyone speak so far.

…then to space, showing the missiles in-flight…

Tiny little chibi missiles.

…and finally to the enemy ship, taking the attack head-on.

Hah! ~Suck iiiit!~

8 hits! 321 out of 400 damage! 80 damage mitigated by armor! Numbers! The ship is still standing, but I’ll bet you they’re shaken up right now. Don’t mess with the Sunrider.

In fact, you know what? I’m going to drive that lesson home. I still have 70 energy points left, which is enough for a high-accuracy laser attack. I fire the lasers, which are… weird, and bendy?

Pyooooowww

But the intended result is achieved: the enemy ship explodes in a fireball of failed hopes and dreams.

The remaining PACT ship fires its own missiles at me. Pop-up text tells me that I managed to ‘intercept’ 5 of them, at ‘88% effectiveness’. The missile salvo still hits me, but the damage I take is minimal. My reaction, however, is not.

Victory! The letters V I C T O R Y scroll up the screen, none of them even waiting for its neighbours before floating off again. Then, I receive my rewards: money for blowing up the ships, minus some ‘repair costs’ — blasted missiles — and something called ‘command points’.

Turns out these ships are made of dollar bills.

My victory celebration is cut short when more PACT missile frigates appear. Like, a lot more. And then… something else.

For reference: my ship is about twice the size of one of those smaller ships.

A super-dreadnought? Jesus Christ, I can’t beat that! I can’t even dent that thing! Cera planetary command erupts into chaos and panic, advising retreat and unconditional surrender and…

Wait, what’s it doing?

First, the Legion fires a million lasers, destroying every Cera ship that isn’t me. Then, it fires its giant main cannon… straight at the planet itself.

The planet is not okay with this.

No, it’s not destroyed. This ridiculously massive dreadnought is no Death Star still. But my planet’s entire capital city has just been vaporized in the blink of an eye.

The executive decision is made to bail. It’s tense, but the Sunrider manages to spool up the warp drives just before coming under major fire. We jump to… somewhere, a random spot in space. This wasn’t an ordered retreat, this was a mad dash for safety.

And just like that, everything we’ve known and relied upon all our lives has been blasted away. PACT has nuked and conquered Cera. We… we’re probably the last free Cerans left. Just one little ship, against… that thing. That thing, and that giant supporting fleet.

Ava is defeated, hiding her sadness behind her mask of professionalism. Captain Shields is grim, determined. Plotting how to get back at PACT for this. What will we need? Money, supplies, allies, plans…

And me? Holy shit, I am way on board. One ship’s amazing quest for vengeance and justice against the evil conquering empire that devastated their home world? Space tactics, space combat, space romance, space space? I’d ask where I can sign up, but it turns out I already have.

Be back later! I have space battles to fight.

Onto page 2. >>

17 comments

  1. “Accompanied by a woman’s voice singing what I assume to be Japanese lyrics and bombastic musical overtones…”

    Instant response from my brain: “Snaaaaake Eaaaateeeer!”

    I posted a comment a couple of weeks ago about being satisfied already with the amount of VNs I owned. As of now, I want to play this, but I have acquired a couple of others since then, so I actually have a VN backlog now. To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, “Games? Bloody hell.”

  2. I’m definitely checking this one out.

    Also to spoil the joke, isn’t ‘auto forward speed’ the speed at which the text cycles when you set it to auto-play? (Which is different to skip. Sometimes)

  3. I’d like to pose the correction of sorts that Sekai Project is the publisher of both Sakura Spirit and Sunrider, but they are both developed by completely different people.
    Sunrider is created by Love in Space
    Sakura Spirit is created by Winged Cloud
    the people from Sekai Project had nothing directly to do with the design or creation of either game – they basically just get it on steam.

  4. A few comments on the review:

    EV stands for Evasion and represents the agility of the vessel. Large vessels tend to have lower values (this may even be negative), to represent them as easy to hit targets, whereas smaller/speedy/highly maneuverable units like certain Ryders (Phoenix, PACT supports) have high values, to represent them as hard to hit targets. Chance to hit = base accuracy + 50 – (accuracy degradation * distance) – Enemy Evasion + (buff or debuff).
    Details on this at gamepedia, which is the game’s manual in a sense. (http://sunrider.gamepedia.com).

    You have interpreted a good number of things correctly: armor degrades over time (its value is doubled for assault/kinetic shots), which is why damage numbers can sometimes vary; attacks with multiple shots (Assault/Pulse/Missiles) have hit/miss calculated separately for each shot. As for flak and missiles, the red squares when you mouseover an enemy unit indicates flak coverage, the strength of which is denoted by FK value which is essentially the % probability of intercepting an enemy missile. Details once again provided in the Direct Combat page in gamepedia.

    The developer for Sakura Spirit is Winged Cloud (http://winged-cloud.com/) whereas the developer for Sunrider is Love in Space (http://sunrider-vn.com/). Sekai Project is more of a distributor/promoter for both games and as far as I know, is not directly involved in actual game content.

    As for Phoenix and Blackjack being frequently targetted, this is indeed true and it is partially because they are outside flak cover and the AI interprets this as a “vulnerable” unit. Retreating inside flak cover after melee strikes will help improve survivability for these ryders. Having the tougher units (Sunrider, Paladin) generate more aggro by increasing damage output can also help shift aggro from Phoenix. Blackjack can fall back on lasers/pulse, if melee options are iffy. Also this may be changed a little (the targetting part of the AI) in the final release of the game. The game up to this point is only about 2/3rds done, with the final 1/3rd due next year, in either late Q1 or early Q2 2015.

    Do join us at the official forums. (http://innomenpro.com/forums/)
    I’ve enjoyed and appreciate the review. :)

    1. Hey Drath. Thanks for the comment!

      I figured out EV a little while after writing, actually. It wasn’t as obtuse as I first thought, in hindsight: the negative values for capital ships make it somewhat obvious. But anything in service of a dumb joke, that’s the Indie Wonderland credo.

      I hadn’t figured out the rest of what you said, but looking back, I can totally see how these systems would work. I think some clarification on how flak, flak coverage and aggro work wouldn’t be amiss in the earlier levels: as it stands, my main interaction with flak was ‘whenever I want to fire a quantum torpedo, make sure to un-flak everything that has it with Liberty’. I never felt like my flak had any significant impact on battle outcomes, particularly because there are so many more enemy missiles than there are mine. But maybe I should’ve just upgraded the Sunrider’s flak?

      To you and Vaendryl both: yeah, I see how the developer/distributor thing works, now. I was going on Steam’s official listing when I wrote these things, but those aren’t always correct.

      Thanks again! Curious to see what you’ll craft next.

      P.S.
      Black Jack is usually okay, but Phoenix is a major glass cannon. All of her options are short range and anti-Ryder, with her Assault guns doing nothing more than plinking hits against capital ships. It feels a little off to me that she wouldn’t practically be able to do what she seems made to do — zip through enemy lines and take out high-value targets — particularly since her opening battles paint her as a pretty powerful target overall. Have you seen this sentiment more often, or am I just bad at using her correctly?

      1. Rockets have intrinsic 10 flak resistance so deflaking enemy units with 10 flak or lower is not needed. As for your own flak values, these tend to be less effective than on paper because of flak degradation (each enemy missile whether hit/miss reduces effective flak value by a small amount for the particular turn when flak tries to shoot down missiles). Therefore upon a prolonged missile barrage from enemy ships, the later missiles will have a better chance of connecting with the target.

        I agree that some in game explanation for these game aspects would be nice, such as a scripted tutorial or in game help/library. Some of this is already in planning and may make the final release. As stated above, the game is a work in progress and making an early tutorial may mean changing quite a bit of it later on.

        The Phoenix IS indeed a glass cannon, especially with the AI targetting changes for this release. Perhaps the next beta will see some changes and she won’t receive so much aggro. Until then, some Hull upgrades are vital to improve survivability. Upping her armor to 4-5 will let you brush off most assault counterattacks, obviating the need to stealth. Increasing reactor energy and decreasing melee cost requirements allow more melee strikes per turn while still being able to retreat back to safety of flak cover.

        Despite all this she may still die. Thats why you have a Resurrect order available ;)
        And yes it is a common complaint that she isnt effective against capital ships. This design decision is fully intended to be so by the devs, they have defended it many times and is something very unlikely to change

        1. I actually just made it to the fight where you get the Resurrect order. Maybe that would’ve changed the dynamics. But given that the order costs Command Points, and I need Command Points to fire the Vanguard Cannon… :)

          1. Basically what I’m saying is that I like Icari a lot, she’s refreshingly straightforward and I respect her no-nonsense approach to life, but if it comes down to keeping her in a fight or firing a giant turbolaser she’s gonna have to learn to appreciate the sick bay.

          2. Indeed. CP is a precious resource in the game, doubly so on higher difficulties when CP gain is reduced. You are also not meant to fire the “giant turbolaser” every turn unless you’re playing on VN or Casual. Of course you are also not meant to be Resurrecting Phoenix every battle but there will be some battles where it may be difficult to avoid this.
            The vast majority of battles can actually be done without use of Vanguard Cannon and on higher difficulties it is not cost effective in terms of CP to use it. Currently, the best order in terms of “bang for the buck (or CP)” for damage is generally accepted as Full Forward (this may change in future game releases as further tweaks are brought to bear).

          3. But firing giant lasers is fun. You see my dilemma. Plus, it’s one of the few times you get to see Captain Shields himself. From everything else related to battle, you could actually be forgiven for thinking Ava’s the one flying the Sunrider.

            Maybe Ava is actually flying the Sunrider? And she’s just keeping Kayto around as a figurehead? Man, that’d be a plot twist I could get behind.

          4. Lol can’t really argue against the fun part. I’ll admit it has its charm :)
            You seem to have quite a few things in mind and perhaps some additional issues to voice out so I would like to again invite you to join the official forums. (http://innomenpro.com/forums/)

            Maybe even say hi to the devs (Samu-kun and Vaendryl). ;)
            As they frequent the forums every day it is more likely that your suggestions/ideas will be heard that way, for the next release. :)

        2. I found her pretty effective against cap ships, but you need to know when to use her. Her machine guns ram a lot of damage and are hellishly accurate against ships, but they get stopped by armour, so what I often do is to hit the target with lasers and kinetics and use her as a finisher once the armour is sand-scoured off. Once you knock down the armour to 1-3, you can easily get 50-200 points of damage on a cruiser.

          1. This is entirely possible. Once again, I refer you to the paragraphs where I admit that I’m very probably super bad at this game.

  5. Oh wow this game _is_ involved. I wasn’t expecting to spend so much time on each mission, and I’ve died in one of the first encounters because I assumed I’d be able to kill everything instead of completing the objective

    1. Did you get to the Agamemnon escort mission yet? I ended up just rushing that ship to the exit. And even then, the final enemy wave damn near blew the ship up.

      1. Rushing Agamemnon to the exit edge is indeed the intended strategy for that particular battle. However with the use of CP/orders, its not uncommon to see players clearing all reinforcements on lower difficulty settings, including Captain, in order to “farm” for more credits.

      2. Yeah that’s the one I died on. I beat the first two waves easily and I figured I’d farm myself some credits instead of trying to get the target towards the end of the map. Then the next wave was 6+cruisers and a ton of flak, which absolutely annihilated me =D

        I’m going to try again using my command points more this time to see if I can do it, but maybe I’ll get one away from the edge of the map first

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