Review: Muv Luv
Platform: Windows, PSVita(Planned, was a Kickstarter stretch goal). Also available in Japanese on the PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 260, PSVita
Price: $34.99 USD
Release Date(Steam): July 14th, 2016
Release Date(Japan): February 28th, 2003
The Muv Luv series is one of the highest ranked VNs in Japan, and the single highest ranked Visual Novel in the West(according to vndb.org). It’s not just a game or a trilogy, but an entire universe that spans multiple Visual Novels, Manga, Anime, Novels and a plethora of other media.
Muv Luv had the single most successful Kickstarter for a Visual Novel, with an initial goal of $250.000 USD. The crowdfunding campaign reached the final Stretch Goal at $900.000 USD and didn’t stop there, reaching the amazing sum of $1,255,444.
This Review is for the first game in the series, titled Muv Luv. It includes the first two parts of the series: Muv Luv Extra and Muv Luv Unlimited, which are meant to be played in order. Combined, both games are several hours long, with multiple routes, but the most notable thing to note is that those two games are merely an introduction to the Muv Luv universe.
The Muv Luv universe is huge and this is where it starts. This is somewhat of an entry barrier for potential new fans. That is because the entirety of the first game, Muv Luv Extra, at first seems to be nothing but a generic highschool romcom. It’s exactly what you’d expect from any other staple visual novel in a highschool setting. Do not let yourself be fooled though, the first game’s purpose is to introduce the main cast of characters, and to get the player emotionally attached to them.
Once you’ve played the routes for all the characters you liked in Muv Luv Extra, you can then move on to Muv Luv Unlimited. It immediately breaks off from the highschool setting to introduce the universe’s true face: A world where humanity is on the brink of extinction due to an alien invasion. The protagonist, Shirogane Takeru, wakes up from his normal Japanese highschool life in Muv Luv Extra, to find that he is now in a completely different world. The people and history of this world are very similar to the ones he knows, except for the fact humanity has been waging an exhaustive war against an enemy life form that’s invading and consuming Earth.
Beyond this point, all the basic elements of the Muv Luv universe are presented. How the world came to be what it is now, who the people he once knew in his universe are in this one, which weapons and tactics are used in order to fight the alien threat(Giant Robots, of course), and most importantly, it begins shedding light upon the biggest mystery in the game: How and why is the protagonist in this world at all?
The English release of Muv Luv is the definitive version of the game. The original version of the game(2003) uses the company’s proprietary rUGP Visual Novel engine, which had several issues with newer operating systems. The Steam version of the game uses assets that were developed after the game’s original release, made for the console versions of Muv Luv, as well as higher resolution assets from the original game. Most importantly, it runs on Age’s newest version of rUGP, which is perhaps the single best Visual Novel engine ever made.
What makes the rUGP so good? During action-heavy sequences with giant robots(called Tactical Surface Fighters in this universe), rather than static images and text, Muv Luv presents combat using complex segmented-body animations. The TSFs and the aliens move, each of their limbs is an individual sprite that moves independently, giving a feeling of motion unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a Visual Novel. During normal conversation sequences though, all characters have mouth movement while speaking, and they all blink independently from one another.
Other than the amazing visuals and multi-segment animations, the game itself plays as a traditional Visual Novel. Choices in Muv Luv lead to the endings for each of the heroines. There are no mini-games or other interactions besides choices.
The game is fully voiced. It’s an emotion-heavy story, full of dialogue. The voicework nails the atmosphere perfectly, yet one of the better aspects of this game is the music. Every single soundtrack from the game is memorable and remarkable, mood ranging from boredom, to anxiety, extreme sadness and melancholy, to blood-pumping awareness and action.
A few of the tracks from the original game were removed from the Steam version, probably for fears of copyright complications, but all the best pieces were left as they were.
Other than being obviously anime-styled, there’s nothing particular about the characterization of the Muv Luv universe, graphically-wise. The character designs are another story. Immediately recognizeable thanks to the extremely pointy hairstyles, it seems offputting for some people at first, but you learn to appreciate it after some time.
Muv Luv has a very powerful message: All the things we take for granted in the modern world are given to us in a silver platter. Peace, protection, food, shelter, freedom. When Takeru is ripped from his world and placed on the slowly dying Earth of Muv Luv Unlimited, he quickly realizes one truth: He does not have the power to protect anything by himself, not even his own life. One by one, he learns to appreciate all the things he took for granted in his own world, and how valuable those things were. The game quite often brings up several serious topics relating to society, the military, ethics, and morality. Despite all this, Muv Luv is unmistakably Anime-y. It has lots of humour, but it’s always presented in a fashion and style that’s common to most forms of japanese anime/manga media. That is to say, extremely over-the-top and cartoonish.
The disparity between the serious tone and the lighthearted humour is one of the charms of the series, though for some viewers it may seem as too large a gap between themes. The story takes itself very seriously, and then suddenly it throws all seriousness out the window every so often. The quick shift between those two might make some players confused.
However, the largest flaw with Muv Luv is the entry barrier. Muv Luv Unlimited and Alternative(the final part, planned to come out soon) are completely different from the premise of the first game(Extra), and although some people will recommend this series to their friends and saying that the first game can be skipped, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Events in Muv Luv Unlimited require the user to have knowledge of the events that took place in Extra. Not to mention much of the story is foreshadowed in the first game as well. Beyond the initial highschool romcom, Unlimited is also slow in itself. Viewers who get bored easily might have some trouble getting through the first two games, but once in the third game, everything pays off. Perhaps because of this, the spin-offs of the series are all pretty much stand-alone, albeit the main events of the universe all take place in the main Trilogy.
It is no exageration to say Muv Luv is one of the best Visual Novels ever made. The world building, the attention to details, the carefully written chronology of events, and the way everything comes together in order to tell a story full of philosophical and emotional hues is something rarely seen. Albeit difficult for a new viewer, the emotional roller coaster is definitely worth the time investment in playing the two first introductory games. Even though I’ve played it 3 times before already, I can’t wait to replay the conclusion once more when it releases on Steam.
– Absurdly huge expanded universe
– World building, character development, story pacing
– Extremely fluid animations, both for common scenes and action sequences
– Serious themes, great story
– Amazing soundtrack
– Gap between humour and seriousness may be off-putting for some
– The first game in the series is mostly character introduction, and the second game is mostly world building, without the protagonist having any impact in the world or characters. The slow buildup is a bit of an entry barrier
The Reviewer has given this game a Final Grade of 9/10.