Taking the good with the bad
I’m just going to start off by saying that Muv-Luv is both an amazing visual novel, as well as one of the most absolutely frustrating reading experiences that I have ever endured. Its one of the few games that I have struggled to describe to your average person, as Muv-Luv changes what it wants to be from the beginning. The Muv-Luv series is one of the most beloved visual novels in Japan, and I have been waiting for too long to play the official translation, which was Kickstarted back in 2015. The English release of Muv-Luv comes with the first two games in the series, Extra and Unlimited, which serves as a follow-up to the events that happen in Extra. While missing its projected release of November that year, the group finally managed to bring Muv-Luv to Steam ahead of third game’s standalone release that’s currently slated for this winter.
Let’s start out by talking about the first game. Muv-Luv Extra is almost a parody in the fact that the main portion of the campaign is one of the most excruciatingly hard to read visual novels that I have touched in years. Extra manages to deliver some of the most annoying tropes in anime possible over the course of it’s multiple-hour read. Annoying Protagonist that can’t realize that the harem of girls want his spawn? Check. Girl next door that can’t seem to do anything but is super positive? Check. Extravagantly rich girl that doesn’t know how commoners live? Check. Cat girl who’s the only decent character? Check. Its not as if these tropes are well written, either. I actually ripped out a couple of hairs in frustration at what the characters were doing, as I couldn’t believe that this trash could ever be published. It took entirely too long before I could actually care about any of these lazily-written protagonists, much less the main subplot involving the sport of lacrosse for whatever reason. While the main two girls that you have to choose between are brought to life with better writing than the other characters you’ll find in Extra, it doesn’t change the fact that you have to beat the main game in order to fully understand the second and better part of the Muv-Luv experience.
If you can trudge through the muck that is Extra and can beat the campaign, you can then try your hand at the second part of Muv-Luv’s package, Unlimited. While not trying to spoil the story, the entirety of Unlimited is written so well, that it almost counteracts the hours that I put in playing Extra. While the previous cast of characters returns and mostly maintains the same personality tropes, the story changes to be one of a thrilling adventure, rather than the drab and lifeless story found within Extra. I would almost recommend players just skipping Extra entirely and jumping into Unlimited, as it is already unlocked in this version, save for the fact that you have to complete this middling opening chapter to gain access to thew rest of the experience. The change in tone is also jarring that if you jump right in from the first game, Unlimited almost manages to make up for the lackluster introductory chapter.
The music in the duo Muv-Luv games is incredible when compared to most other visual novels. At moments when the story gets intense, the music ramps up to match the on-screen events, and even manages to capture the grandness you’d expect to find in a final boss battle in an RPG. Additionally, the lighthearted elements in the story are accompanied by similarly lively melodies, with upbeat and chipper tunes playing throughout the two games. In terms of visual trappings, the art of the Muv-Luv games looks as you’d probably expect it to, considering the game originally came out in 2003. The game’s cast of characters look as if they came from a low-budget anime production, though for what it’s worth the art style does fit the game quite well. The backgrounds are vibrant and distinctive from one another, as well. The camera is also extremely dynamic over the course of the two novels, zooming around and changing positions frequently enough to let readers take notice and appreciate that it doesn’t merely stay in the same frame as most visual novels do.
The game offers enough save points to last a lifetime, and the controls for Muv-Luv are some of the best that I have played in a visual novel. You can either scroll or click the screen to change dialogue, which is the standard, but you can control which character’s voices that you want to hear, change if you want the background words to be translated in English or keep the original Japanese look, multiple window sizes, and more. These welcome features allow Muv-Luv to be changed to individual preferences, which is a refreshing look for visual novels in general. The translation team did an amazing job as well, and with how many words the two games contain, I only really noticed one or two spelling errors.
Overall, Muv-Luv is great once you get past the terrible first half, though I can not recommend the visual novel to everyone. If you have the temperament to handle the roughly six hours it takes to get through a single arc of Extra (and the hour or three extra it takes to get around the other endings,) in order to fully love the whole arc that is the Unlimited game, then this is for you. However, if you are new to visual novels, or can’t stand the inane amounts of tropes that Extra contains, then Muv-Luv is a bit harder to recommend. I’ve been waiting for the Muv-Luv games to be fully and legally translated for the English audience, and though I understood the main idea for the series, I didn’t realize just what it took to get to the good bits. Its kind of like having to eat three cans of slimy spinach to get to the moist slice of cake at the end of the table, rewarding, but not fun for the majority of the dinner.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: Steam for Windows (reviewed); Publisher: Degica; Developer: ixll; Players: 1 ; Released: July 14, 2016; MSRP: $34.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Muv-Luv given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher