31 July, 2014

Review - Engage. Sunrider : First Arrival

Developer Love In Space, has succeeded in bringing together, the much beloved flavour of classic sci-fi, with the garish and over-the-top nature of graphic novels, in the form of a simple, yet challenging strategy game.

Sunrider : First Arrival

In Sunrider : First Arrival, a science fiction akin to Star Trek, meets the sensibilities of anime, in a flurry of feathered hair and mechs (known as, ryders). There are two sides to Sunrider; it is part graphic novel, and part turn-based strategy game.

You are the recently commissioned Captain Kayto Shields, your ship – the Sunrider,  a Ceran Space Force, Carrier-class – is nestled peacefully in drydock, but it won’t remain that way for long. Before you can even issue your first order, you’ll find yourself surrounded by PACT – a seemingly insurmountable force enveloping the Neutral Rim – and your home world under siege, nay devastated by the PACT flagship, Legion.

Now flying without a banner, without a port to call home, you and your First Officer, Commander Ava – she’s cool but she is no Commander Riker - begin to freelance your services, helping  beleaguered backwater planets against pirates (and PACT), led by the psychopathic (and stunted) antagonist Cosette. Along the way you’ll meet a number of ryder pilots you’ll recruit, all of which are female – hey, I said this had the sensibilities of anime didn’t I – and all of which are unique. Asaga, is a happy (at times annoyingly so) and carefree pilot , who helps the weak and hunts pirates, with the aid of Chigara – a shy engineer with aspirations of running a bakery rather than a repair shop. You’ll meet the bloodthirsty bounty hunter Icari, the lovestruck ‘doctor’ Claude, Sola an ancient warrior, and the loyal Alliance soldier Kriska.

Yes that drool, and yes it goes there... You've been warned. 

These characters are equally defined in the strategy portion of the game, each have their own set of abilities, and accompanying strengths and weakness. For example, Chigara the engineer, focus’ around manipulating the battle in less tangible ways than using a missile, she can buff up her allies, or weaken her enemies, she also has the repair ability which can be key to survival. Sola, the enigmatic ancient warrior boasts a powerful kinetic sniper rifle, making her deadly in the early stages of battles, when the opposing factions are often outside of optimal weapon range. Icari is in this sense,  the polar opposite of Sola – they are both cold blooded killers, but Icari favours close quarters combat over sitting back picking off the enemy – Icari moves quickly, obscured by her ryder’s stealth ability, she lands only killing blows with her over-sized katana.

In most combat scenarios cover isn’t really an option, which puts an increased emphasis on weapon ranges and calculating the optimal firing solution. Formation is also important too, you will always be outnumbered, at least initially, so surrounding the enemy isn’t an option, and spreading your forces too thin early on is only going to result in salvos of missiles tearing up your ryders.  Allies and enemies alike have a chance to intercept incoming missiles, so it is worth keeping your forces close together for increased missile defence when approaching an enemy at range. This works both ways of course; unleash a flight of missiles into a dense enemy formation, and expect them to meet a barrage of flak before they get near your intended target.

“…Nukes and Proton Torpedoes are a necessity of modern life...”

The Sunrider and her ryders have more than just phasers at their disposal– the arsenal is vast and destructive and it’s imperative to learn when to best use each weapon. Energy-based weapons, laser and pulse attacks, are often your long range choice, alongside the highly coveted missiles and rockets. Kinectic attacks utilise the Sunrider’s main guns and can be devastating when they hit, but to use them you’ll have to move in close. There’s no point on wasting the main guns on enemy ryders, assault attacks use the ship’s flak cannons, will riddle ryders with ease – but don’t expect them to even dent the hull an actual ship. All of the Sunrider’s weapons and defences can be upgraded by Chigara - in order to prevail against the later missions, its crucial to identify your prevalent strategies and upgrade accordingly.

The screen-saver is pretty harrowing.
Early battles are straightforward, but they soon racket up the difficulty, mix up objectives and alter the dynamic of battle in some interesting ways, all in service of keeping the gameplay fresh. This is perhaps one of the game’s most important, and easily overlooked strengths. An unfortunate hallmark of even some of the best Japanese role playing games; the best parts of the games are often front and back-loaded, specifically the story – resulting in large periods of grinding levels and endless combat in the middle. Alas, Sunrider remains strong throughout, the balance between the graphic novel and strategy aspects is managed expertly. 

In one battle you’ll need to utilise the long-dead hulks of ships for cover, as your forces close on the vastly superior enemy. In another, you’ll be forced to break the enemy’s front line quickly and destroy the carriers that are constantly spewing our enemy reinforcements, before you are overwhelmed. Fortunately, you have your own unfair advantages to call upon. Command points can be spent on Orders in battle; the cheapest provide offensive and defensive buffs to your forces, but be honest, you’ll only want to unleash the Sunrider’s Vanguard Cannon. The Sunrider’s own super-weapon may only be deployed a few times throughout the game – so make it count – the destructive beam will basically annihilate (or at least severely weaken) any enemy forces caught directly in-front of the Sunrider. There are also a few opportunities to spend Command points outside of combat, to make executive orders and impact a battle before it begins.

 “…We’re in the middle of war reminiscing about high school…”

Surprisingly, Sunrider : First Arrival helped quench my seemingly insatiable thirst for Star Trek-style sci-fi - you’ll order the jump to warp with an outstretched hand that would make even Piccard proud, and as a chapter ends, you will lean back in the Captain’s ready room and begin narrating ‘Captain’s log’ reports. Yet let’s not forget the presentation - ships and characters alike, are visually excellent. The strength of the art direction is highlighted particularly well when engaged in battle, where there is very little actual animation. Additionally, the game’s soundtrack is sublime mix of orchestral space opera, and racing electronica that kicks in as battle rages.  

Sunrider : First Arrival is a gem worth inspecting - if of course, you have it in your heart to experience graphic novels and enjoy anime. The turn-based ship (and mech) combat, evolves from fun to epic as the challenge increases – fear not, Novel-mode difficulty exists for those who’d rather not replay lost battles time and time again. However, out-manoeuvring a particularly tricky enemy is a delight and watching their fleet’s burn is a particularly sweet treat of satisfaction. First Arrival is but the first entry in the series, which left me ravenous for the next episode of Sunrider. Oh, did I mention it’s free? 


  1. Nice review!
    Will you do a second and full review once the next and then all chapter come out? Ô.o
    Hum... and one more thing... did you know that "The mask of Arcadius" chapter will be comming out next month? xD

    1. I wasn't aware it was coming out so soon! But yes, I definitely intend to check it out and cover it!

    2. i find it funny how they will be making a adult rated content patch for the steam version since steam si removing all the sexual content.