Over the past few years, the visual novel scene has been steadily gaining traction and support outside of Japan. No longer limited to titles that have to have more standard types of gameplay to justify their existence, we're now enjoying a time where Kickstarter projects for these once unthinkable localizations can raise hundreds of thousands, and in some cases even millions of dollars worth of support from fans all over.
At the top of that support food chain, as of this writing, is Muv-Luv, which pulled in over $1.25 million dollars with its Kickstarter campaign last year.
Muv-Luv (PC, Vita [TBA], Android[TBA])
Price: $34.99 (Steam)
As Localized By: Degica
Originally Released: July 14, 2016 (US-PC).........February 28, 2003 (JP-PC)
Before we get started, let's talk the game's production for a minute. The game currently sitting on Steam labeled Muv-Luv is actually the first two parts to a trilogy of Muv-Luv titles that were all originally intended to be one complete package with the three storylines all in the same box.
Instead of that happening, we got the first two, Extra and Unlimited, as this release, while the conclusion, Muv-Luv Alternative, ended up being so massive it became worthy of its own release and took a whopping three years to finish after the release of Extra and Unlimited. That's important! Also important, we should be getting our release of Alternative much sooner, so don't worry about that.
So, that said and done, what is Muv-Luv, the finale of which has been consistently highest rated visual novel in the Western community for over half a decade, actually about?
Remember how in a previous blog I talked about how Umineko no Naku Koro ni might surprise folks who just saw visual novels as high school dating simulators, seeing as its setting was an island full of adults and other demonic horrors, its story wholly lacked a dating sim feature of any kind, and it was a mystery first and foremost?
Now let's look at the opening to Muv-Luv Extra!
Muv-Luv Extra stars oblivious high school goofball Takeru Shirogane, who loves to eat and play video games! Join him as he sets out to woo one of many wonderful girls, such as his spunky childhood friend, the oblivious rich girl who is extremely interested in him for seemingly no reason, the by-the-book class president, the aloof delinquent, and the adorable small statured girl who does her hair like cat ears that wears a tail on her uniform! Hey! Why not see if you can sleep with the teacher while you're at it?
Smile as Takeru goes to the arcade and plays video games!
Laugh as Takeru misses obvious signals from his female companions!
Cry as Takeru struggles to deal with problems like how to save the school lacrosse team!
This is an adventure like no other! This is... Muv-Luv Extra!
In all seriousness, that summary should explain why I started off with the game's backstory. At a glance, even people without much history in anime would probably want to pass on Muv-Luv. Even now, it's packed with Unlimited for a reason.
That isn't to say Extra is bad or anything. It isn't unique (it isn't supposed to be) on its own, no, but enjoyable? That may depend on your tastes, but as for me, I actually really enjoyed Extra for what it is. Its cast is colorful and bright, and it's so over the top in both its humor and its drama at times, while still managing to have moments down to earth when it knows it needs to be, that it just makes for a fun ride all around. Sometimes you'll have something ridiculous like the rich girl paying an entire block of people billions to move away or her maids literally kidnapping and locking enemy love interests in the trunk of her limo, and other times you'll have simpler gags and wordplay.
Certainly, if you flat out can't stand high school anime stories, you probably won't like Extra for its own merits a whole lot. On the other hand, if it's modern high school anime stories you can't stand, you might actually like it, given that this one is over ten years old. If you miss the hijinks of the likes of Tenchi Muyo but can't stand how Nisekoi went, well, you might like this. Regardless, at the end of the day the thing that remains is that Muv-Luv really isn't a traditional high school anime story like Extra appears to be.
No matter how enjoyable or self-contained it all is, in the end Extra is nothing more than just the opening act to Unlimited and Alternative.
As the saying goes, what goes up must come down.
Within the first five minutes of Unlimited, a huge portion of the over the top fun of Extra has slowly begun to get sapped away, and what remains are mostly left behind in Takeru's adamant denial of his situation and personality, and the effect it has on those around him.
Muv-Luv from Unlimited onwards pushes the series towards its actual destination, shifting its tone and genre significantly. While it still retains some of its romantic comedy aspects from Extra, Takeru will have a lot more to deal with in Unlimited than worrying about his love life. Unlimited tackles the subject of the military, mortality, nationalism, and more as Takeru finds himself a cadet fighting in a war he never asked to be a part of. Also there are robots and stuff.
Smile as Takeru finally manages to assemble a rifle by himself.
Laugh as Takeru sets off an automatic turrent and nearly gets himself killed.
Cry as Takeru questions whether or not he'll ever be able to live a life like he used to again.
As you continue through Unlimited, you'll probably come to realized Extra was the way it was for, among many others, one particular reason: You never know how good you've got it until you don't got it no more. It isn't full on grimdark or edgy, don't worry. Unlimited actually strives for some semblance of being grounded, a stark contrast to the over the top antics of Extra, and in that grounding, Unlimited is all about teaching that message to Takeru and its readers.
You'd think that because it's over ten years old, its visuals wouldn't compare to the marvels of Nekopara and HuniePot, but you'd be surprised. As a visual novel, Muv-Luv seriously holds up in the production values department. While most folks reading this might expect to go into a visual novel and enjoy static characters and a text box, Muv-Luv treats you to characters with sprites that face in multiple directions and that run around all across the screen. Admittedly, comparing that to a "real" game might make that sound pretty small, even some supposed mainstream JRPG releases don't have that level of interaction, fluidness, and energy in their cutscenes, and this visual novel has had them for over a decade. This level of animation not only lends a lot to all of the comedy, but once the game starts having action sequences in later parts, you're going to really appreciate it.
Better than that, every single character in the game is voiced, has an on screen appearance, and is animated. This might not sound like much, but a lot of visual novels don't even have generic character sprites, they just drop a name in a text box and let the reader imagine someone is on screen as they enjoy looking at a blank background while these NPCs talk for a while.
Muv-Luv, on the other hand, completely goes above the expectation, giving characters that are only on screen for a minute, even if they only have one line, animations and their own voice actor/actress. One touch I particularly enjoyed for this release was how Extra and Unlimited have their own individual menus depending on which you're playing (Extra's Unlimited's).
Another plus Muv-Luv offers in the visual department are its still images that play during event scenes. I'm sure you know the type, the ones that pop up during sex scenes in the dating sims and all that, right? Muv-Luv doesn't actually include any sex scenes in this Steam release, but it still has tons of event scenes (often with multiple images to show different expressions), just in case the animated sprites running around doesn't cut it for you. Best of all, during some of the more light hearted scenes, you get super deformed chibi versions of the characters acting out their shenanigans for you to enjoy, which really brings it all together. It makes the visual novel a lot more lively than most, for sure.
Since I did just mention them and Muv-Luv was indeed originally a game with some in there, I'll just get that out of the way: Yes, the Steam release of Muv-Luv is the All Ages release, meaning its sex scenes have been "cut." This isn't to say it's been censored for our market, like people complain about happening, but that it's a localization of the PS3/Vita/PC version that released in Japan like this to begin with. If that's an issue, here's what you need to know. If it's not an issue, good on you, skip this section.
1. All Ages Muv-Luv includes new scenes that replace the sex ones. In some cases, you can infer they're just making out or even cuddling. If you're worried something is lost in terms of writing, nah.
2. If you're truly that concerned, I hope you won't mind this spoiler: The only sex scenes are quick bits at the very end of each route. That's it. That's all you're missing. Most fans who have actually played the game through to the end tend to agree they don't really add a lot to the story except for one in Alternative most agree is better off gone rather than included. But if that's still something you can't stand...
3. There's a patch to put it back in for you guys anyway.
While we're talking localization, I'll also go ahead and say the localization is pretty darn good. It's not literal. There was a fan translation and this was, believe it or not, actually built on that and drastically improved. Even if you've played Muv-Luv before, I'd highly suggest going through it again because of the updated translation this offers.
We good? We good.
When it comes to Muv-Luv's sound direction, the music isn't too shabby. I would say in comparison to how well the visuals are handled, the music doesn't always hold up. It's still very solid for the most part, and more than does its job, but some of the tracks are a little cheesier than others, and the "I just hooked up with the girl" track from Extra in particular is... kind of hard to take seriously when it's used in Unlimited for completely different things. What's more, the official release had to forgo a certain song for some strange reason. I can't imagine what it was though.
I can say once Alternative comes 'round, the music situation is, well, an entirely different situation, but as it stands, Muv-Luv's music above average at best.
Music aside, its use of sound effects is another story, especially if you're used to visual novels that don't rely on these. Footsteps that echo in rooms where they should echo, noises that sound like they're coming down the hall, even the *THWACKS!* of Takeru smacking his friends and more will really help to bring scenes to life. It's not quite on the level of When They Cry's stuff, but it's still quite nice.
Okay! Before we close up show, if this has totally left you bored, or if Extra just seems like too much to bother with, I've got an idea.
Go back to Muv-Luv Extra's opening and watch it again, or watch it if you didn't the first time. Wth that fresh in your mind, if you aren't interested at all, watch Alternative's opening.
Now, if you are pretty sure you're going to take the plunge, I actually would not watch this, but that's up to you. Otherwise, go on and give it a whirl!
I'll say up front that, as a complete trilogy, the Muv-Luv visual novel series easily gets a perfect score from me. It's probably one of the easiest perfect scores I would ever give to something, it's one of the things I've experienced that's made me want to pursue the things I'm trying to pursue now, and it's an experience I feel more people should really be able to try out. Despite that? When they're not together, I personally would not give either of them that high of a rating. I actually wouldn't rate Alternative at all, but that's just my bias. The first Muv-Luv, while good and perfectly capable of being taken in on its own, just isn't good enough, and Alternative, while excellent, just can't be fully enjoyed without the first two parts to set the stage.
If you want to wait until Alternative releases to get both, I can't blame you for wanting to hold out, but I do not suggest reading summaries or skipping out of the build up to Alternative in any way.
Extra and Unlimited, while ultimately just the first and second parts of a trilogy, still offer an enjoyable experience that can be enjoyed on their own, and Extra alone will provide you with 10-20+ hours of content as an over the top romantic comedy adventure if you just want to have fun with that and wait for Alternative to be closer to dive into Unlimited.
Long story short? Muv-Luv may not be the complete picture as it is now, but the picture you get here is still one well worth having a look at.
jsyk that means i'm giving it a seven without alternative
SHAMELESS PROMOTION: At the time of this writing, Muv-Luv and other visual novels are on sale on Steam! Hurry now to get Muv-Luv at a whopping 40% off, the lowest it's dropped yet!