Review: Muv Luv Alternative

by

Developer: ixtl
Publisher: Degica
Platform: PC(Steam), Playstation Vita(To be announced)
Price: $34,99 USD
Release Date: September 18th, 2017

Did you read our review of the first Muv Luv game? Well then, go here and check it out.

Over an year after Muv Luv came out on Steam, the series’ finale is finally available on Steam. Although the game’s release date was pushed back several times, it was well worth it. Tomorrow’s release is the game’s definitive version with new assets, higher resolution versions of the original art, and a complete re translation of the existing fan-translation of the game.

The first game, titled Muv Luv, actually contains two games: Muv Luv Extra and Muv Luv Unlimited. Both games are absolutely necessary in order to enjoy and understand the events in Muv Luv Alternative. The first game is a romcom that, despite appearing generic at first, contains story elements and foreshadowing that the player will only understand after completing the entire series. Unlimited, the second installment, introduces the military and action elements of the story, and performs most of the world building required to fully enjoy the series’ climax in Alternative.

Story

Everything in Muv Luv is rooted in science, particularly on certain interpretations of quantum physics. Each of the serie’s three games has a particular purpose in the narrative’s structure. The first game takes place in a relaxed and comedic environment and has a completely harmless story, with the purpose of making the player attached to the cast. The second game places the protagonist in a parallel universe at the brink of destruction, and allows the player to slowly understand the setting and concepts involved, without actually presenting any real conflict at this point.

Alternative begins with our protagonist, Shirogane Takeru, waking up in the same parallel world ravaged by the alien menace BETA, on the exact same day as the start of Unlimited. Takeru recollects the events from the previous games, including humanity’s loss and subsequent annihilation. This time, he is determined to use his knowledge of the future in order to ascertain victory, and free himself from his never-ending time loop.

His knowledge of the future is reliable to a certain point but, due to his interference with this timeline, the future changes and steers the world into a maelstrom of conflict. Every time something appears to go the right way, reality slaps him in the face and sends him on a downward spiral of despair, pain and anguish. The shock and emotional trauma inflicted on the main character is a huge part of the story, with a particular series of events about halfway into the game being nicknamed the “PTSD arc” by fans. The sheer brutality of the story is strong enough traumatize even the players, myself included.

Gameplay

Muv Luv Alternative has choices along the game, but they do not affect the outcome or the events at all. For the most part, you will be prompted to choose which character in the cast to interact with, but it has no bearing on story at large. At best, you will read more scenes with your character of choice.

In-game options are par for the course for a visual novel. Screen size, skip options, save options, auto read and language options, and the usual sound and volume settings are the only available configurations. Upon completing the game, Chapter Select and an Art Gallery become available. I was slightly disappointed at the lack of a Music Selection mode, but it’s not like the other versions had it either.

I had a bit of a problem with the game at first because Full Screen mode does not work properly. From what I could gather from the support forum, it seems that a particular Windows 10 update disrupted this setting and has yet to be fixed. Instead I played the game on maximized window mode and it had no problems.

Sound

Everyone other than the protagonist is fully voiced, while his lines are only dubbed during flashback scenes. The sound effects are stellar, above anything you’ve ever encountered previously in a visual novel. Background chatter in the command center, multiple people speaking during panic, air conditioner sounds inside the cockpit, machine humming, broken machinery sounds, sword slashes, different sounds for different guns being fired, and just about everything else. The art assets and kinetic movement are what really sets Muv Luv from every other visual novel, but the sounds certainly play a major role in the background as well.

The musical score is also impeccable. While some songs stand out from the rest, particularly action and briefing themes, none of the tracks fall behind. There’s more than enough variety to keep the game going despite the colossal length of the story, without being repetitive or boring. The genius behind Muv Luv is precisely how the game controls events, conducting the protagonist’s(and the player’s) psyche, dictating their emotions. The BGM plays a major role in this, raising and lowering the player’s spirit and setting the perfect mood for the ongoing scene.

Graphics

The art of the game is not particularly stylized, although the character designs are very singular. Almost every character features pointy hairstyles, and their bodies are often very angular as well, largely due to the design of the uniforms and armor.

Muv Luv also revolutionizes the way information is presented on-screen. Briefings are very detailed, with lots of graphics explaining each and every step of an operation. Even during combat, the screen is always full of information. It takes games immersion to a new level.

The most distinguishable aspect of Muv Luv, the one that event critics of the series will sing praises about, is the kinetic movement of elements on-screen. It can be seen during indoor scenes when characters move inside a room. For example, while speaking to Yuuko-sensei, she will sometimes start from behind her desk, then move in front of it, then move near the couch in the opposite side of the room, and return to her desk during the same conversation, all the while changing expressions and dynamically moving through the room. All character sprites blink independently and accurately move lips while speaking.

Yet the best is reserved for action scenes. It would have been impressive enough how the universe goes in-depth about all the different models and roles of each TSF, their development story, their role, design philosophy, and even technical specs, but that’s just the beginning. The mechs and the enemies have jointed models, and they move on-screen with speed and agility, deftly employing rotation and scaling tricks to give the illusion that you are watching a fully animated movie. Muzzle flashes, bullet holes and even gashes are layered on top of sprites, to further improve the experience.

Downsides

The narrative in Muv Luv requires an absurd amount of set up. As much as everything is well worth it in the end, a considerable portion of players lose interest before reaching that point. The entire trilogy has about 119.000 lines of text, with the first two games having about 64.000 lines combined. There is almost no action up until about 40% into Muv Luv Alternative and, before that point, the player does not know what the BETA aliens even look like. This presents a considerable entry barrier for new players to enter the series.

Overall

It is no exaggeration to say that Muv Luv is on a tier all of its own in the Visual Novel genre. The sheer amount of assets, effects, and detail really illustrate its production values. And it’s not just the trilogy, either. The series has two spin-offs, Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken, taking place in different places and points in time in the same universe, both of which have received anime adaptations. There is also the Muv Luv Chronicles series, featuring several small stories in the same universe, including the final days in the timeline which humanity loses. There is an official manga that, albeit still untranslated, shows the events from after Muv Luv Alternative’s events take place. And finally, there are also several side stories from the peaceful universe where Shirogane Takeru originates from, and several text-only novels that further enrich the Muv Luv expanded universe, named TSFiA.

Muv Luv’s kickstarter gathered over $1.2 million, which was 30% over the highest level stretch goal. A Playstation Vita port of the games and a Windows port of the Playstation 3’s side stories spin-off was funded alongside the main trilogy. It’s only a matter of time before more games from this series’ universe are translated and officially localized. This game world is huge and bound to get bigger.

At its core, Muv Luv is a story of character development. Over his many loops in time, Takeru meets and becomes influenced by many people, all of which he comes to respect and admire. Watching the protagonist grow as reality constantly punishes him, all the while he is forced to take note of the differences between this world at the brink of annihilation and his original peaceful world, are the central theme of the series. It’s a great thing that one of the greatest Visual Novels of all time is now officially available for the western market.

Muv Luv Alternative

Muv Luv Alternative

9.6

Final Grade

10/10

    Pros

    • Lots of world setting
    • Great Music
    • High prodution value and attention to detail
    • Amazing setting

    Cons

    • The game is very long and takes a long time for action to take place