Muv-Luv – A prelude to something great – Review

Gare – Friday, August 12, 2016 3:42 PM
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Boy, have I thought long and hard about how to introduce the Muv-Luv franchise in this review, because… well, this one needs quite an introduction, it does. But let’s start with the basics: the game we’re dealing with now is more accurately described as a visual novel, which – as the term implies – is a novel-game, with various illustrations, voice acting, background music and all that jazz. As such, the focus remains on the storytelling and the text itself, through which the player – or rather, the reader – experiences the whole adventure. In any case, the Muv-Luv franchise is considered one of the finest visual novel series by fans – and mostly for good reason – although I must also mention that the game I’m going to review in just a moment covers only the first half of the storyline – the sequel and grand finale, titled Muv-Luv Alternative, will be released on Steam sometime this winter. But don’t let this stifle your enthusiasm – this first episode still manages to ends its tale on a fairly satisfying note.

Once upon a time in peaceful Japan

But let’s actually talk about the games, eh? The unsuspecting newbie not yet familiar with the series already has an initial dilemma to wrestle with upon opening up the main menu: namely, the game offers two stories right off the bat, one named Muv-Luv Extra, the other Muv-Luv Unlimited. Without delving deep into spoiler territory, let me just say that you should absolutely start your journey with Extra. This cannot be stressed enough. Besides, it’s also the chronological start of the storyline.

Our protagonist is one Shirogane Takeru, your average high school student whose life takes an abrupt and dramatic change through the uninvited appearance of Mitsurugi Meiya – a mysterious girl who happens to be the heir to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world. The basic premise leans towards the overly cliché for sure, albeit this isn’t the high point of the storyline, anyway. Let’s not beat around the bush, though, and say – type? – it out loud: Muv-Luv Extra is primarily a romantic comedy with plenty of extreme situations, over-the-top humor, and several developments that stray far, far from common sense. But it’s all quite charming in its own way. Those familiar with anime will likely know what I mean when I call Muv-Luv Extra a very heavily “harem” type of story: there’s one male protagonist who happens to be surrounded by half a dozen attractive girls, all of whom secretly have a crush on our overly oblivious hero. Hijinks and romance ensue.

Those who find this sort of a thing a bit difficult to digest might have a tougher time soldiering through Extra, albeit as the story nears its finale, the comedy takes the backseat in favor of serious romance and drama, and even the plot branches out depending on which of the five heroines we wish to focus on. This also means that the game does indeed have several different storylines and endings to pick from – for starters, I would recommend checking out at least the two main heroines (Meiya and Sumika) and then go from there. The choice is yours, either way. All in all, Extra is definitely an enjoyable slice of the story, albeit nothing special at the end of the day – it’s a bit like a greasy hamburger you’ll happily devour but won’t consider the non plus ultra of culinary delights. Your enjoyment of the game’s situations and humor largely depends on how much you’re willing to get into that “anime” kind of mentality, or how tolerant you are to certain tired clichés. Still, for what it is, I had a decent amount of fun with the thing.

Once upon a time in not-so-peaceful Japan

So this is where we are – you’ve finished Extra, the romance is fulfilled, problems are solved and everyone lives happily ever after. And then the big 180 happens: you start Muv-Luv Unlimited.

Spelling out exactly what Unlimited is – or why it’s like that – would require entering spoiler territory, which I won’t do here – needless to say, this second story differs quite a bit from the first one. The light-hearted romantic comedy of Extra vanishes, and instead we get a somewhat sci-fi setting with giant robots, and a military base instead of an average high school. This is where the reader might start to realize that there’s more to Muv-Luv than what meets the eye, as we – right alongside Takeru – watch events unfold in utter confusion, not quite knowing what just happened and why. Nonetheless, despite Unlimited’s more serious tone and premise, it does retain a good deal of Extra’s quirky humor, and serves as a prelude to the so-called „main dish” of the storyline: the aforementioned Muv-Luv Alternative.

It fulfills that role quite admirably, though. In Unlimited, you sort of have to re-learn everything from scratch as you get used to the new setting and its rules, being just as suspicious and skeptical as Takeru himself during his first few hours. This aspect of the title – as well as a certain other burning question – remains at the core of the narrative, and serves as its primary mystery – one that only Alternative will give readers a full answer to. Additionally, Unlimited is somewhat guilty of a slow, sometimes entirely sluggish pacing, but this feels quite intentional: it lets you soak in the atmosphere, learn more about the world, and get to see its main characters from various different angles. This kind of learning experience will not only be necessary to fully appreciate Alternative, but also serves as a sharp contrast to the idyll of Extra, thus making the reader re-evaluate his enire journey this far. Takeru, too, gradually matures from snotty high school brat – for lack of a better expression – to a caring, brave young man and becomes a protagonist worthy of the title by the end of it all. As such, Unlimited’s most memorable bits happen towards its finale: a somewhat surprising, but nonetheless powerful conclusion that seems to wrap things up neatly enough – so much so that one would not expect there to be a sequel. But indeed, there is a sequel. Yet Muv-Luv is the kind of story I dare not spoil for anyone, so it’s probably best if I stop here.

The best is yet to come

Muv-Luv (or should we say, the Extra/Unlimited duology) is far from being a perfect visual novel, and requires a certain kind of mentality for its full enjoyment, particularly in Extra’s case. Calling this the first part of the story and a mere prologue to Muv-Luv Alternative is likely no exaggeration, either – nonetheless, it tells a tale that should be able to stand on its own just fine during the 20-30+ hours it takes to complete it, depending on how many endings you want to unlock. It should also be noted that the Steam version comes with a polished, updated English translation (compared to the version translated by fans several years ago) that gets the job done without any hiccups, and was overall fairly pleasant to read. For those wishing to experience the game as it was originally released, though, a Japanese language option is also available – which is a nice touch, to say the least.

As for my closing remarks, I can recommend this to fans of sci-fi, romance, and humor – the storyline takes an interesting turn with Unlimited, and the characters themselves are easy to grow attached to. For anyone interested in the highly acclaimed Muv-Luv Alternative, this introductory chapter is an essential – though arguably flawed – part of the narrative, one that you definitely shouldn’t miss out on.

Muv-Luv on Steam

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