It is the stuff of dreams: what if publishers provided game designers with a chance to make the title that is stirring in their hearts? What stories would these industry veterans tell, what new worlds would be laid out for players to explore? It seems these sorts of games are precisely what publisher Level-5 hoped to release in their Guild-01 series.
Originally released in Japan during May of 2012, Guild-01 is a compilation of four very different games, each of which was designed by a different person. Upon this 3DS cartridge lies an airport management simulator, a tabletop-inspired role-playing game, an item creation rhythm title, and a giant mech shooter.
The first of these games, Aero Porter, was created by Yoot Saito of Seaman fame, and tasks the player with managing luggage and ensuring planes leave on time. The next game, Crimson Shroud, is a turn based RPG that harkens back to the days when dice decided every move a player would make in an imaginary world. Designed by Yasumi Matsuno, director of Final Fantasy Tactics, this game utilized the 3DS touch screen; providing plastic pieces of many sides for players to cast in every battle. The third entry to Guild-01 is Omasse’s Rental Weapon Shop, which was written by Japanese comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai. In this odd title, players take on the role of a J-RPG blacksmith and his son, who craft weapons and armor for wandering heroes through rhythm gameplay. The final member of this motley crew is a creation from the director of Killer-7 and Shadows of the Damned, Goichi Suda (Suda51, if you’re nasty). And despite his track record of grindhouse style art and over-the-top violence, Suda51 strays off his own well-worn path for this contribution.
Set in the rather distant future, Liberation Maiden tells the story of New Japan’s second president, Shoko Ozora, and her quest to free the island nation from invaders who would pollute her homeland and steal its energy sources. At the start of the game, Miss Ozora is inaugurated after the assassination of her father, the first president, and takes to the skies in her giant mecha, Liberator Kamui. The player is immediately dazzled with a well-animated cut scene, filled with flying battleships and gargantuan robots. All of this spectacle seems out-of-place for a random 3DS game, until you take a look at the sheer amount of talent behind Liberation Maiden. The mech and battleship design were each handled by anime industry veterans Mahiro Maeda (Blue Submarine No. 6) and Shigeto Koyama (Heroman), the sound design was overseen by Akira Yamoka (Silent Hill), and all of the cutscenes were handled by Studio Bones (Soul Eater and Ouran High School Host Club).
After this impressive opening, the player is given control of Shoko’s Liberator and tasked with eliminating all of the threats that have anchored to the islands of New Japan. Much of the gameplay revolves around guiding your mech about an open space and using the stylus to lock-on to enemy ships and structures in order to unload salvos of missiles into their faces. Each stage is based around a region of Japan, and features several mission objectives, some of which are hidden until the player happens upon the appropriate task or area of interest. The entire story mode is set up similar to a classic arcade game, where the goal is to set a high score based on hostile elimination and stage finish time. As the player clears each area, the stage is unlocked to be played once more in a score attack mode on a higher (or lower) difficulty. A rather straight-forward game with excellent graphics and fun gameplay, but Liberation Maiden seems to hide an underlying message.
As I zipped around New Japan, decimating the invaders’ structures and energy siphons, each island flourished with life and vegetation upon being liberated. From her rather technologically enhanced viewpoint, Shoko Ozora watched her homeland change from subjugated wasteland to emancipated paradise in the blink of an eye (and the burst of a cluster missile). At first, I assumed this was meant to be a sort of ecological subtext that certain technology can help mankind, but we must not become too greedy or dependent upon artificial energy sources in our lives. But a quote from Level-5’s website paints a different message for Liberation Maiden: “What New Japan needs now is a president with an intense desire for justice to be served with the ability to rally the younger generation. In other words, a pure maiden. Shoko was created as a symbol to ‘fix’ rotten politics.” Then again, I could be looking for meaning in a video game that is merely a throwback to the giant mech anime of the late 1990s. One never knows.
Whatever the message or intention behind Liberation Maiden, Suda51 and his team have created a gorgeous shooter with fun arcade-style gameplay. Now that this title has made its way onto the iPhone App Store, be sure to check it out. If you are fortunate enough to own a 3DS, be sure to pick up all of the Guild-01 titles as well, as they are all fantastic.