From the moment Liberation Maiden boots up, a few things become immediately apparent; the young female protagonist with an authoritative tone in her voice, and the sort of over-the-top-ness that has become characteristic for Suda51. There are some aesthetically appealing menu screens, which is the first and quite reliable indicator of the game's high quality presentation; and it is indeed very well presented! As soon as the "Story" option is chosen, players are dropped right into a gorgeously animated cut-scene with some powerful, albeit slightly cheesy, voice acting. This efficiently, and briefly, sets out the world of New Japan, throwing players almost literally headfirst into the action. The protagonist is Shoko Ozora, a young girl who is elected the second President of New Japan and immediately jets out of the election hall in a big mech that she seems pretty adept at piloting. Pretty badass, huh? It only gets more so after tackling the various regions of New Japan, trying to take it back from its mysterious parasitic invaders and 'liberating' the country back to its former glory -- almost single-handedly.
That's the concept in a nutshell, but the gameplay of Liberation Maiden all takes place in Shoko's piloted mech, Kamui, as she takes on one region of New Japan at a time. All that is needed to control the game is the analogue stick, the 3DS touch screen, and occasionally the L and R buttons to strafe around while looking in one direction or at one target. In a similar fashion to Kid Icarus: Uprising, Shoko is moved around and the touch screen is used to aim and fire the assortment of weapons, although unlike Uprising there is full control over Shoko as she flies over the region. Holding the reticule over an enemy locks onto it and when lifting the stylus up, part of Shoko's shield is discharged and fired towards them. Similar to F-Zero games' boost/force-field scenario, Shoko's shield and her weapons are one and the same, and the quicker or more carelessly her weapon is fired, the more exposed and vulnerable the Kamui will become.
After getting the hang of things, timing shots more efficiently or only using a certain amount of shots at once in order to maintain at least some of the shield becomes second nature. Of course, it is also possible to charge to the max and unload all shield energy in one big laser beam. Getting hurt too much should not be a major worry as rebuilding the maximum shield is as simple as picking off groups of missiles or smaller enemies -- and if not good enough at dodging, this is a legitimate, albeit risky, strategy to use against bosses.
Speaking of bosses, each stage has a similar structure; fly freely around within the area's boundaries and take care of four or five missions; that is three core missions, one sub-mission, and a boss. New Japan's enemies have stuck big parasitic Spikes into the earth all around the country and Shoko zips about destroying them all in order to Liberate. Once three Lesser Spikes have been released, players are presented with a Greater Spike, the bosses for which they are automatically in strafe mode, circling around the Spike in order to hit its various weak points.
Of course, it is possible to have a little look around each given stage and pick off the small groups of enemies that aren't based near any of the Spikes. In fact, a little 'exploration' is imperative in order to find each stage's sub-mission, but unfortunately that's the extent of what can really be done in each stage, and the environment is usually too repetitive and simple to give exploration any rewarding feeling. Completists out there will most likely try to Liberate each Stage 100% and what that means is clearing each stage of enemies, pollution, and so on, using Kamui's power to restore nature to the land. This will help boost up the final score and also unlock a few little bonuses from the game's Gallery.
Liberation Maiden tops itself off with a Gallery in which 30 pieces of information, art, or the animated movies from the Story mode can be unlocked. It is treated like something of an Achievement system that adds a bit of replay value to the game. Those fascinated by what little the Story reveals about New Japan will be happy to know that the reward is snippets of the world's history, as well as the technology, enemies and characters. Speaking of history…the Lesser Spikes are not the only threat Shoko has to deal with, and as might be expected, Stage 5, the final stage, is a bit of a different breed to the rest. No spoilers here, but it makes New Japan's crisis all the more interesting. Unfortunately it's also a place where Liberation Maiden falls short -- to put it literally -- as when things finally get more interesting after four stages of repetitive and formulaic gameplay, that's also where the game comes to an unfulfilling and tantalising stop.