One of the most well-renowned visual novel franchises in Japan, the series was localized for the English-speaking audience through one of the most successful visual novel crowdfunds to date. Muv-Luv is a game worthy of its hype as it transitions from a high school romance series to a deeply impacting science fiction masterpiece. The franchise has brought great influence, and the first two installments have finally arrived on Steam.
Steam describes the game: The Muv-Luv series is an epic saga told in three parts: Muv-Luv Extra, Muv-Luv Unlimited, and Muv-Luv Alternative. What begins as a tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy ultimately transforms into an action-packed thrill ride in a war-torn alternate reality, and it’s this drastic-yet-methodical genre twist that makes the final chapter the most highly-revered visual novel of all time. This is a story that will plant seeds in your brain early in the first act that you won’t even notice until they sprout in the third for maximum narrative payoff and crushing emotional impact. Don’t fall for Extra’s cutesy exterior. This series ventures into some of the darkest thematic territory you’ll ever see, and when the final curtain closes, you’ll likely need a forklift to pick your jaw up off the floor. Make no mistake: this is a story that will challenge you in ways few works of fiction dare attempt, and an emotional tour de force unlike any other.
Muv-Luv Extra is the first installment of the trilogy and is mainly a slice-of-life high school romance series. Extra more or less sets up a foundation for the sequels by establishing the characteristics of every heroine and side characters. Although I consider it the weakest series, by no means is it bad. In fact, it is fun to experience the light-hearted comedy and pure adolescent romance Extra provides. Excluding Meiya and Sumika’s, every heroines’ routes were unique as protagonist Takeru alleviates any issues each heroine’s face. As for Meiya and Sumika though, it was disappointing that their endings took pretty much the same path until the very end where it splits to their respective scenes, despite them being the two main heroines. Nonetheless, it is understandable since Extra focuses on their rivalry, so many of their scenes coincide with one another.
The sequel Muv-Luv Unlimited takes a completely drastic reversal by pitting regular schoolboy Takeru into an apocalyptic world where humanity is on the brink of extinction due to predatory extraterrestrial lifeforms. Gone is the peaceful world Takeru resided in as he is now a cadet training to combat these aliens. Unlimited does a wonderful job in portraying Takeru’s transition from a regular schoolboy ignorant of the gravity of his new situation to that of a hardened soldier willing to sacrifice his life for that that he holds dear. Ironically enough, his obsession with 3D mech game Valgern-On helped in his training in piloting TSFs, something that Extra foreshadowed.
Unlimited’s development is much more exciting than Extra’s along with giving more impactful endings. It is unfortunate, however, that the endings of Unlimited lack variety and are almost the same for every heroine. But, it is not the number of unique endings that should define Unlimited, but rather the process of getting to those endings along with how poignant those endings are. And those points are what makes Unlimited shine.
In terms of sound, the background music is nothing spectacular, but it is fitting. The characters are well-voiced, and I especially loved hearing Meiya speak as her voice is calming to hear, not to mention possessing a tone and accent of that of the noble lady that she is. Takeru is usually unvoiced, but every so often, he does utter audible words, and it is fun to hear him during those rare occurrences.
The game’s UI is worthy of praise, though it would be more convenient if users are able to comment on save slots as well as deleting them. Anti-aliasing would also make the game more aesthetically pleasing as the game’s original dimensions are 1024p x 600p, and making the window size any larger would noticeably distort the edges of the sprites. Nonetheless, Muv-Luv possesses all the necessary and helpful functions such as auto-read, auto-skip, text speed, audio adjustment, etc. Extras such as an ending clear list and CG gallery are also accessible.
Though I did have a number of cosmetic complaints, the first two installments of Muv-Luv overall were very enjoyable and I will definitely come back to replay the series to relive that enjoyment. It is ironic, however, that even though the two series are very good, they are just a set-up for the final part of the trilogy. I look forward to the day when Muv-Luv Alternative gets released.