Rating – R18
Developer – Age
Translator – Amaterasu Translations
Length – 10 – 20 Hours (Extra), 10 Hours (Unlimited), 50+ Hours (Alternative)
Reviewing Muv-Luv has left me a little conflicted. I believe that all visual novels should stand up on their own regardless of whatever is planned for their sequels, but looking at Muv-Luv that way doesn’t quite do it justice. All three parts (Extra, Unlimited, Alternative) work together to build up for a grand finale at the expense of the earlier games and I’m just not sure how I feel about that. I’ve decided to review the instalments as separate visual novels, though I ask you to keep in mind that each requires you to read the one before it to reach its full potential.
As I’ve said a few times now, I believe that visual novels should be able to stand up on their own regardless of what their sequels have planned. Muv-Luv Alternative has made it incredibly hard for me to stick with that belief because, to be honest, if every series had a conclusion like this one I would forgive just about anything. As far as I’m concerned, this particular finale is the ultimate visual novel experience due to the sheer quality of its writing and story. Every single one of those forum-goers recommending the Muv-Luv series because of Alternative is right in a way few people will ever be.
It’s happened again. Takeru knows he has done this before. Waking up in a world torn apart by the BETA, finding his home destroyed, his school converted into a military base and his classmates training to put their lives on the line. This time, however, he has an advantage. While he can’t remember how his past experience ended, all of the skills and knowledge he gained remain with him, and having that knowledge this early on might just be what it takes to save humanity. Acting differently results in different outcomes, however, and Takeru soon finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Still, he is willing to make any sacrifice to destroy the BETA and return to his own world.
Muv-Luv Alternative is the result of taking three years to develop a visual novel that already has a full cast of well-developed characters and all of its visual and audial assets completed. That’s a huge amount of time to spend working on a story and all of that time and effort pays off. Alternative’s plot has been finely honed into a near-perfect product; the quality of the storytelling is superb and to top it all off it’s long. I often complain about titles being too short, but in this case I spent a good number of weeks reading 2-3 hours of Muv-Luv per night and never found myself growing bored. Admittedly, some days I didn’t read anything because I felt I didn’t have enough time to do the story justice and waiting till I did have time was well worth it. During the most exciting portions of the game I was absolutely glued to the screen for hours at a time.
All good stories start off with a strong base and Alternative’s is no different. The amount of detail conveyed about the background and politics of the alternate world, the workings of the Tactical Surface Fighters and the BETA themselves is phenomenal without being overbearing. You will share the protagonist’s frustration over international posturing and infighting and the information you’re given goes a long way towards emphasizing just how terrifying humanity’s enemies are, making battle scenes that much more immersive.
It’s no spoiler to say that people die in Muv-Luv Alternative. In many stories the deaths of characters are used to good effect, whether it be shock factor, taking advantage of emotional connections or highlighting the hopelessness of a situation. The way that Alternative handled death, however, astounded me in both the quality of its execution (pun not intended) and depth of the subsequent resolution process. I began by denying that a character had died and then, when it became clear that their death wasn’t any sort of dream or hallucination, I mourned for that fictional person in a way that I haven’t before, despite their relative unimportance. After letting me stew in my own emotions for a while the game then entered an arc that allowed me to recover along with the protagonist. The whole experience was amazing and quite surreal, considering I’ve never had such a strong reaction in the past.
If Extra was about Meiya and Sumika, and Unlimited was focused on everyone except Sumika, then Alternative is most definitely Sumika’s visual novel, which was wonderful news for me. While trying very hard not to spoil anything, I have to mention that her character and place in the alternate world are very well done. The decision to have a single heroine for Muv-Luv’s conclusion may annoy fans of the other girls but I assure you that the story would not have worked otherwise. I said earlier that Alternative is the result of three years focusing solely on the story component of a visual novel, though that’s not quite true. While all of the characters from Extra and Unlimited remain, a new group is introduced part way through this third instalment and integrates into the existing cast almost seamlessly. Though they were only present for the latter half of the last visual novel, Age did a wonderful job of making them relevant and by the time I finished Muv-Luv I cared about most of them as much as the original cast.
Over the three years of production time Muv-Luv’s art style did not change dramatically, though naturally there was some new background music to accompany the additional story. As with the earlier novels, the backgrounds, sprites and CGs are all cleanly drawn and pleasant to look at but do not do anything special in terms of quality. What has changed, however, is that all of the sprites now blink and move their mouths when talking. I’ve found this feature to be off-putting in other visual novels but it’s done well enough in Muv-Luv that it actually adds to the experience. In my previous reviews I’ve mentioned the creative use of sprites in both normal scenes and action sequences, but Alternative brings that technique to a whole new level. With the exception of one or two rarely used effects, the way Age has used the sprites of the TSFs and BETA to depict battles is really quite amazing. Given that you will never actually see one sprite strike another, the fighting is incredibly engaging and exciting. While I’m on the topic of the BETA, I also have to mention that their designs are wonderfully grotesque and fully deserve their new place in my Hall Of Things I Wish Never To Encounter.
Finally, I don’t think I could forgive myself for finishing this review without saying something more about the character sprites themselves. Though this applies to all of the Muv-Luv visual novels, I noticed it most in Alternative. The use of facial expression and sprite posture in this trilogy is incredible. The amount of information you can gather from the games’ visuals that text alone couldn’t convey is really quite impressive and worthy of note. On top of that, I could not tell you how many CGs Muv-Luv has because, due to the sprite positioning techniques mentioned earlier, almost every scene feels like its own CG anyway.
Summary – Often when I finish a really good story I fleetingly wonder whether any future experience could possibly match it. With Muv-Luv Alternative, this has become a legitimate concern. Most aspects of this visual novel are of excellent quality, with the storytelling reaching a caliber greater than any I have seen before. While it’s a shame that it requires the reading of two lesser visual novels before it can be fully enjoyed, Muv-Luv Alternative sets a bar that all future titles should aspire to. While I would love to give Muv-Luv Alternative a ridiculous score like 15/10, that would defeat the purpose of the scale. However, I feel that the title of “Excellent” is not enough to describe this Visual Novel.
Score: 10/10 – Masterful
I must say, all the pictures in this post are awesome. MLA is the best one because it has the Best Girl, of course. (okay, okay, it’s better because every aspect is better, I know.). Although, I think that although Alternative is Sumika’s story, it also does great things with Meiya and exploring Meiya and Meiya opening up Takeru’s world views. Basically, Meiya fans won’t be too too disappoint, except wishing she could go after someone better.
And when it comes to the deaths, barring that one death there wasn’t anything too exceptional. All the rest you can see coming. However, that one death IS masterful and the way it was handled, too. That’s the first time I’ve felt guilt over a character’s death because I kept playing before.
I would also argue that the amount of detail is overbearing. Chapter 8 isn’t too fun as they sit you down and lecture you and by the end I couldn’t even remember which BETA was which anyway. Learning about the robots was cool, though. Them giant robots.
Lip syncing is cool because it actually syncs. A lot of VNs that I saw with lip moving were just randomly flapping lips, this was like the characters were saying the lines! And I admire that Age knew when just using sprites wasn’t enough and animated some parts of important battles, too.
Stand up and dance graciously oh soldier subjected to thy Fate
No matter if you are hurt and run out of strength
Heat up and sprout majestically oh thy soul thou hath given to the Heavens
Become the origins of tomorrow’s peace
Burn bright and fall magnificently oh thy life that turned into a star
Transcend time and let your name be engraved in our hearts just forever!
By the end of this game, Takeru’s name and efforts were engraved into my heart forever, at least!
Every Alternative picture is awesome in its own way =P It wasn’t particularly hard to choice which to include, however. While every aspect may be better, i’m sure we can both agree that Major Walken is the Best Girl that makes it special. You’re quite correct, Meiya gets a huge amount of attention in Alternative…she’s a second heroine in every way except having her own route. I can still see her fans feeling a little ripped off though, albeit not as much as fans of the other 3.
I think it’s just how unexpected that death is that makes it hit so hard. You’re not prepared in any way so you can’t help but be affected by it. I thought that entire arc was incredibly well done so i’m glad i’m not the only one.
I suppose I can see the detail being too much for people that just want to get on with the story. It’s a big chunk of text between you and the next chapter so if you’re not interested it would be really very tedious. Thankfully, I found the BETA to be absolutely fascinating…though admittedly I only recognized Fortress, Destroyer and Soldier classes by the end of the visual novel.
Lip-syncing and eye blinking is really very difficult to get right in my opinion, and if you get it wrong it’s distracting for the entire story. I agree though, Alternative is an example of how to do it right…as long as you ignore the isolated incidents where the mouths stop moving altogether. The battle animations, however, weren’t something I particularly enjoyed. The sprites were fine but some of the animations simply didn’t work (I remember one scene in particular with laser class BETA). Nevertheless, I was really impressed by how well choreographed the fights were and how they were brought to life more than in any other VN i’ve read.
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t look those up to make sure they were the lyrics I though they were XD While I don’t think i’ll ever forget Muv-Luv, I wish I could so I could read it again!
Yeah, but these are great as like wallpapers and stuff (Takeru and Sumika, which I found in this post, are my laptop’s wallpaper til I finish Ayakashibito, and the Valkyries were my wallpaper just after I finished MLA – followed by a CG of two robots during the Coup arc.) True, we both had disagreements at first, but I’m glad we can rally behind the True Best Girl in the end. As a Meiya fan I was a little iffy at her treatment, but all in all, she was vital enough that the only shame was her taste in men. (On the other hand I felt really, really, really sorry for Mikoto for several reasons). Here’s where I should say I felt like the Takeru x Sumika relationship was done a lot better in MLA than MLE, because it felt like they had both matured as people and their relationship matured along with it into something pretty cute/good.
That’s actually true. Because everything in Unlimited leaves you really unprepared for that scene. And it’s in such a lull, too. They really used the atmosphere to hit you where it hurts…
There were definitely small pieces of info that peeked my interest in the BETA more and more (they’re intelligent but they’re dumb? and Takeru’s reaction to certain classes of BETA). But all in all it felt like too much. Too much.
Animations there meant when they actually made it like an anime, sorry that wasn’t clear (like the Susano’o firing for the first time). I thought that was cool cause it really communicated what was happening better than text could. When it comes it choreography, I felt like the Coup arc was just confusion cause it was robots vs robots and I couldn’t tell them apart yet, but Age was expecting me to based on how it was written. Some BETA scenes felt similar, as I would be expected to know their classes. However, that scene with Takeru and the FORT class was impressive.
If you pretend that, I’ll pretend I didn’t Google Asu e no Houkou lyrics to see what they were in English instead of looking in my game folder or knowing them off by heart. Win-win. I think I wouldn’t want to erase my memory. Spoiler-avoidance tires me out! Plus, thinking about what Muv Luv was doing is interesting, and what it achieved. I think it’s just as interesting for me to participate in these sorts of discussions as it was to actually read it.
*Shiver* I just remembered that huge-ass part when he goes back to his own world, man that was a long angst-ridden drag of a chapter. I mean sure it’s necessary for the rest of the story but when I first went through it I was screaming, “Aaah, when are you going to end!”
Your point that “I believe that visual novels should be able to stand up on their own regardless of what their sequels have planned.” is one of main reasons why it is still below G-senjou no Maou, Fate Stay/Night, Steins;Gate for me, though it comes directly after taking the place of Sharin no Kuni and Dangan Ronpa (which I just changed on my recommendations list.)
It will interesting to see if Umineko gains a spot in your top ten list when you’re done.
For me that part was more about him getting over that one scene more than anything else. Because I was emotionally involved in that I didn’t find that chapter particularly tiring. If anything, it was the attempted explanation of the “science” that I got tired of.
I think that’s probably a fair decision. If I considered the series as a whole, it wouldn’t be at the top of my list (though it would still be there, I suppose). I’m about to head off and take another look at your list, but for my own I can almost guarantee that Umineko will have a place. It’s comfortably ahead of some of the lower places so far, so we’ll just have to see how the second half fares.
Yeah those huge explanations were a pain as well. I guess because I figured he would eventually go back to the Beta world it just felt like a big diversion, recovering from ‘that one scene’ by being screwed up in another way in that world. On the other hand it did add some emotional weight to Sumika’s determination to be with him.
Eh, my list hasn’t changed that much really. I was trying to go through all your top 10, I’ve played up to 5 (which is consistent to mine except for Steins;Gate), but around about number 6 or 7 I figure our tastes in genre and style diverges a bit and then comes back again at the end. Atm, I’m thinking Umineko after Corpse Party, maybe Stryker after that.
Was bored and reading through some past comments…my one here is a real doozy. “Can almost guarantee [Umineko] will have a place [on my recommendations list]. HAH!
After playing Muv-luv for so long, and also with it’s writing and settings, it’s pretty difficult just not to feel immersed into Takeru’s emotions, be it mourning his comrade’s death or to recover from his anxiety. Muv-luv is just such an emotionally-gripping series^^ Even to this day, I still has goosebumps whenever thinking about a certain character’s death.
I wonder if some of our like for Muv-Luv comes from Stockholm Syndrome, given how long it is XD Muv-Luv is definitely the story i’ve been most emotionally invested in ever, so I can understand the feeling of emotions coming back to you when you remember certain scenes 😉
I can’t agree with you more. this is one of the greatest visual novels of all time.
This is a good piece of writing, too.
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed both Muv-Luv and the review =)
I never played any of the Muv Luv games, but one of my writers is a huge fan. It’s funny, he gave nearly identical scores as you did. He gave Part 1 a 6/10, Part 2 a 8/10, and this part a 10/10. Feel free to check out his reviews ^^
Also, I don’t know if you noticed, but you forgot to hyperlink part 1 and 2 in the intro.
Eep, you’re right! I’ve fixed that now, so thanks for pointing it out.
I’ll head over and check those out now. The scores are scarily similar =P
I’m gonna call BS on your comments about the audio. Alternative versus Extra and Unlimited has a very distinct feel compared to the other soundtracks. It transformed from light little tunes that built on romance and comedy to a decent variety of hard sci-fi styled orchestral pieces, one of which even closely resembles a certain piece from the original Starship Troopers film, while still retaining its own identity. I’m no reviewer so I can’t really give too much more info, but I do urge you to try listening a little more closely to the music and re-evaluating your earlier statement.
You’ve got me here. Unless the BGM of a visual novel really undeniably stands out (as in the cases of “band” visual novels like Kira Kira and Deardrops), I don’t really focus on audio. More because I just don’t notice than because it doesn’t matter to me – i’ve never been musically talented. I’m entirely willing to admit that the changes slipped straight past without me knowing, so I’ll make some changes to the review to reflect what you’ve said.
I can’t deny that either. It slipped past my radar too until I had the soundtracks on my phone, so they did kinda pass me by until I was listening to the stuff actively. Sorry if I seemed snippy in the earlier comment, didn’t mean any ill, just wanted to help you make a more accurate review of a game I’m sure we both love equally!
And yes, Kira Kira and Deardrops were fantastically standout in their music. I really oughta finish Kira Kira.
Absolutely no problem! Given your other comments I figured you weren’t being negative or anything, so it was fine =)
Just finished the games, took me 5 days, so thanks to summer I got to read this awesome story. Definitely the highlight of my summer.
As for the powerful stuff MLA shoved on me, I know for the first time what PTSD might be like… As for favorite characters, Meiya was obvious, but Capt. Michiru was unexpectedly enjoyable for me; mostly because of her voice and her speaking actually matched with my reading pace (really unexpected element of enjoyment there). That and information about BETAs made her lectures went by so fast.
Up to the point where Capt. Michiru’s death flag was visible, (thanks god, age freaking knew how to put death flags in the story) I was able to determine MLA was a real good story. Before that, the “PTSD” arc made me doubt the story, since if the gore was solely for shocking value then it proved that the writing was not up to par with the praises MLA got.
As for the FAN-DISSERVICE, it might not be as rage-inducing for me as it was for other people, (IMO that was what the FAN-DISSERVICE was meant to be, rage-inducing upon reading, but enhanced the story afterwards). I didn’t read Extra, so I didn’t know and like Sumika that well (but well, childhood friends pairing is pretty high in my list). And well, I guess I was exposed to quite a few rage-inducing plots in other mainstream and h manga, so its power was wasted on me. This is where I really wish for an English release of the all-age version on PS3…
Bottom line. MLA had one of the best writings and pacing (and attention to detail) in all the stories I’ve come across so far. Meiya and Capt. Michiru were especially charming and, eh, handsome and cool. Another thing that has set MLA apart from other stories is that MLA is all about the main character, Takeru; not about the girls, or the pairings, but the main character. Not many writers have the guts to do that since uncute and unGAR main character gets boring really fast.
Must have been a hell of a marathon to play it in 5 days =P
That’s probably true for most people who have read MLA XD Meiya and Michiru were both up there on my list of characters – I haven’t experienced your reason for liking Michiru, though it certainly sounds interesting! I’m glad to hear you liked the info on the BETA; I did as well but a decent number of people find it to be a bit tedious.
There weren’t always death flags though…you know what I mean, right? I think MLA used its shock factor well in two particular scenes and you can tell that it worked because they come up in every single conversation people have about Muv Luv. The -are- some series that overuse their shock factor (Saya no Uta) but I don’t think MLA is one of them. If the PTSD arc is the one you meant, I actually quite liked it because I was working through how I felt about things at the same time as Takeru.
I like that term =P There are two things you could mean by it. If it’s about just how unnecessary the clingy uniforms were then I can say i’m not a huge fan of them – they don’t add anything to the story and may in fact turn people off of it. If it’s -that- scene then I think it worked pretty well because it made the whole situation that much more detestable and added to the emotion MLA had already built. Having said that, I can easily see why some people would hate it. It’s a shame you weren’t attached to Sumika but good that you were still able to enjoy the story despite that. I wonder how they would get that same impact on an all-ages version, because I assume they’d have to chuck out the first shock scene too.
I agree with the top half of that last paragraph but not the second. Takeru isn’t one of the main reasons I liked MLA (and in fact is the source of one of the few complaints I have). For me it was the story itself, the pacing/attention to detail that you mentioned and the character relationships that made Muv Luv Alternative amazing.
About death flags, age knew how to put death flags appropriately in MLA beginning with Capt. Michiru. Before that, age intentionally did not put a single death flag before HER death to remind the players that, the world Takeru was in was THAT messed up. So that shocking scene (and the PTSD arc afterwards) payed off pretty well, as it yielded a ton of despair into the unprepared minds of Takeru and players.
I had no problems with the suits though, and the suits in the game wasn’t as apparent as those in the manga version. And there wasn’t any weird camera angles whose sole purpose was to shove the suits in my face. So I am totally ok with the suits, like them even. 🙂
Oh, and by fan disservice, I meant -that- creepy scene. I took the term from another website. You brought up a good point there, if they took out those 2 scenes in the all-age version, the impact would not be that much compared to the original version.
And I should clarify my statement above: “Another thing that has set MLA apart from other stories is that (the story of) MLA is all about the main character, Takeru”. I think that makes more sense. I agreed with you too. The character relationships were very well done. From Takeru’s perspective, we could never see how Yuuko-sensei reacted when her plan produced THAT “side-effect”. At the end of the movie before the last mission, the scene of Yuuko-sensei was heart-wrenching…
BTW I just started playing Extra, I think Sumika’s care-free personality fitted well in the peaceful setting, while Meiya’s seriousness was perfect for the messed up world. Just once again proved that the writing of Muv-Luv was superb.
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So, how was the ending for you, Chief?