06 October, 2014

Review - The Facade Slips in Sunrider : Mask of Arcadius

Kayto is caught between feelings of vengeance, loss, and a nagging sense that no matter who wins he, and his home of Cera, will lose. Be prepared to jump to warp at a moment’s notice, as the Sunrider story heads to some exciting places and I try my best to describe them without spoiling anything!

Sunrider : Mask of Arcadius

The chapter opens with a beach scene, the ryder pilots of the Sunrider enjoying some much needed R&R after the battle of Far Point. Innuendo is heavy, increasing further with the arrival of Captain Kayto Shields. The opening scene assumes the role of the beach/holiday episode from any number of anime series and pulls it off pretty well. It also succeeded in keeping me wholly unprepared for the harsh themes that rear their collective heads in Mask of Arcadius. Regardless of its place within the overall arc of the Sunrider story, Mask of Arcadius very much gives the impression of the dark middle chapter, however, that’s not to say the somewhat jovial tone of First Arrival is lost.

The ravaging of Cera, Shield’s home world is final catching up to him and the bold captain soon finds his psyche stretched to its breaking point, as his moral compass is discarded, no price seems too high to pay for victory. The darker tones of this chapter allow some poignant and chilling stories to be told, that caught me very much off guard, which is always welcome.

Dark machinations of Arcadius are taking their toll on the Captain; the cost of the war is brought to the forefront of his thoughts after witnessing up close, the collateral damage that war can cause. The traumatic events that lead to the floodgates of Kayto’s morality being burst open, are illustrated and written with masterful craft. The scene that could be best attributed as the single cause, is written in increasingly darker stages, expressed through dialog that could be very easily glossed over, and as the light of hope threatens to shine through, the situation descends into something much more heinous. Not to bring too much acclaim to a single scene; the Mask of Arcadius’ story is delivered to great effect throughout, and the choices you face feel like they have real weight, even though I’m not sure that they will any long term meaning at all.  The art, dialog and music all amalgamate to impart the senses of madness, desperation and degradation that these scenes demand, which is quite a feat for a narrative delivered through a visual novel, which are by their very nature often quite flat.

Some characters never change...
With the stage set in First Arrival, the is a lot less busywork here, the dialog is quite succinct, conveying emotion but not requiring reams of text to do so. You don’t stop learning about your crew members in Mask of Arcadius, rather their development feels a lot more natural than the meet-and-greet of the first chapter. A considerable amount of screen-time is given to flashbacks to Kayto’s earlier life, his time in high school with Ava and his relationship with his little sister Maray – two relationships that weren’t covered in any real depth previously. The suave Fontana, Arcadius’ trusted lieutenant – who has the most alarmingly blue eyes – takes a more active role, no great surprise given the events that conclude the first chapter, but aside from that the characters  remain largely unchanged in their roles.

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius tells a more singularly focus story than First Arrival, which is also felt in the turn-based battles; rather than a lot of individual scattershot missions, there a larger, multi-battle conflicts. These ultimately lend the battles a much greater sense of impact; though slightly at odds, your ships and ryders will be fully healed between the fights that make up the larger battles. Alas, anyone playing on the Captain (normal) or higher difficultly will live happily with this contrivance, because the gameplay remains at least as challenging and fiendish as the first chapter’s.

As Mask of Arcadius is an update to the Sunrider game, bringing with it a host of changes and additions to the gameplay. You now begin battles by deploying your ships and ryders yourself, and yes, I do indeed mean ships, plural, Trade Union Frigates and Alliance Cruisers can now be hired from the Trade Union representative on your ship. Both the additional ships and deployment options, enhance the sense of leadership and command that Kayto holds. The early missions are more laid back than the later missions of First Arrival, allowing you to get back in the saddle of command. But it took repeated attempts at an escort mission, and the accompanying remarks of despair from Ava, before I really became focused and employable something resembling strategy.

“It’s a trap!” – Admiral Ackbar Commander Ava

New units are added into the mix, most notably. two new types of PACT ryders; the Elite and Support classes, which are quantifiably more competent than the usual cannon fodder. The Elite class is basically a beefed up normal ryder, but the Support uses shields to ward off energy attacks, and usually sit far enough behind the main enemy force that kinetic weapons are useless and missiles would be swatted aside by overlapping fields of flak. Though extremely annoying at times, it forces you to close the gap and change up your tactics, several turns of long range laser combat is no longer a viable option.

The Skirmish mode interface.

Expanding further on the unit deployment options, a Skirmish mode has been added allowing you to create custom battles and try out new tactics against hordes of throwaway PACT ryders or an implacable phalanx of carriers and battleships. You deploy enemy units in the same way you do your own. Unfortunately, the new PACT ryders are not available in the Skirmish mode and I encountered some very much broken enemy AI, but this game does remain in beta, and updates have been flowing regularly.

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius tells a much darker and more personal narrative, and it does so without sacrificing the personality, or the humour of the characters that made First Arrival so memorable, it really is quite an achievement. The hex-based strategy has been developed in some meaningful ways and is just a sadistically challenging as it was in the previous chapter. Mask of Arcadius takes the established world and characters, and runs in a surprising and interesting direction, with all the finesse you’ve come to expect. Culminating with a quite spectacular climax, which was nothing if not effective at driving me feverish for the third chapter.  


  1. Great game, Dying for the "sequel"! *-*

    1. Yeah! Hopefully the third chapter will release as fast as the second did, because I can't wait to see where the story goes.