Muv-Luv - Review

So typically around Halloween I share something horror related. Last year it was a creepypasta thing I was asked to pass along, a review of The Evil Within, and a few posts about my experience with horror games. So this year I'd like to continue that trend, but by doing something a bit unexpected. I am going to review one of the few games to ever truly scare me, but it's not what you may think... No, this game is one you'd never guess in a million years. (Unless you read the title of this post that is!) Anyway... This is my review of the visual novel Muv-Luv!

Visual novels were once extremely niche outside of Japan. Back in the day most gamers in the west had never even heard of them, and only a handful of people even watched the anime series based on them. Today's world is a different story though. Anime has become quite a bit more "mainstream" than it used to be, and thanks to series like Ace Attorney introducing the genre to the west, visual novels are becoming more common as well. Sure they still aren't as popular as in Japan, but at least western gamers are a lot more accepting of them now, and we've gotten quite a few releases because of that. The only problem is... Which ones are actually worth playing? Well, like with anything, it really depends on what you are interested in. Visual novels are typically fully story based, and if it's not the type of story you're into, then it's not something you should play. However sometimes a visual novel comes along that takes everyone by surprise, and isn't exactly what most think it is at first glance. One such game is Muv-Luv.

At first glance Muv-Luv is nothing special. The box art and promotion art features two girls and a heart on it's cover, and it seems to be your typical anime dating sim. It's not something a lot of people will pay much attention to because of this, and those who might play it based on that alone will only be getting it for the girls. Now there's no denying that this game did in fact start out as an adult only release on PC, but that honestly is only a small part of what it actually is. There were only a few of these scenes in the game, and the PlayStation Vita release slightly modifies them to retain the M rating. But again, this isn't what Muv-Luv is about. It is not your typical "dating sim," nor is it a game that you play for the adult content. All of this is here to trick you, and lead you into a false sense of security. What at first seems to be a high school dating drama series, eventually turns into a full blown sci-fi mecha psychological horror adventure, and it's one you will never forget. This is the not so obvious truth of Muv-Luv.

Muv-Luv Extra:

The original release of Muv-Luv actually consists of two games, with the first one being titled "Extra." This game follows the story of a young man by the name of Takeru Shirogane, and lets players experience his life day by day. While Takeru seems to live a normal high school life, one day he awakes to find that everything is about to be twisted upside down. After spending a day out with his childhood friend Sumika, he opens his eyes the next morning to find a girl sharing the same bed as him. With no knowledge of who she is, instantly Takeru freaks out, and receives a beating from Sumika after she catches them together. It's a typical h-game scenario one might expect from such game, but again, this is only temporary.

After the strange encounter, Takeru helplessly watches as the girl, who he learns is named Meiya, transfers into his class, and moves herself into his home. She claims the two are meant to be together and is fully ready to marry him, but Takeru is against the idea. Although he hopes she will leave so that he can go back to his normal life, things only get worse as time goes on. For the next months of his life, Takeru is faced with crazy situation after crazy situation, and your actions as a player decide how things will play out.

While strange rich girl Meiya and childhood friend Sumika are the two "main" love interests in Muv-Luv, they are not the only girls Takeru can become close to. The main story of the game is actually based around his daily life in general, with Meiya's craziness just sorta being there in the background. Sure a lot of weird things happen because of her (which help drive the plot forward), but other characters contribute to the story as well. You get to see Takeru and his best friend Mikoto go to the arcade to play their favorite game Valgern-On (which is this world's version of SEGA's Virtual-On), you see him getting in trouble with the class president, and you even see his relationship with his teachers at school. Muv-Luv Unlimited lets you see every aspect of Takeru's life, and it allows you to uncover more about the other character's lives as well. Depending on your choices you'll go down different story routes to unlock different pieces of information, but in the end there is only one true path that leads into the sequel. Even so, what you learn about the other characters is important, and by the time the credits roll you will care about each and every one of them. However; all of this is only the intro...

Despite Unlimited being a mostly "generic" dating sim like story, there are some things that really stand out about it. For one it's much more animated than most visual novels on the market. Rather than having static images and backgrounds, the camera will pan to different locations in the area, and characters have multiple animations to get their actions across. All of the characters (besides Takeru) are fully voiced as well! On top of all of this, the story is actually pretty funny, and it does a great job of making you feel like you're living Takeru's life. Although it can be a bit slow at times, the story is actually enjoyable on it's own, and makes it easy to overlook the sometimes generic plot points. This is one reason it's so hard to take what is yet to come.

Muv-Luv Unlimited:

Muv-Luv Unlimited is the "sequel" to Muv-Luv Extra, and the true start of the story. Continuing roughly from where Muv-Luv left off, Takeru wakes up in the morning as usual, but quickly he notices something is different. His childhood friend Sumika isn't screaming in his ear to "wake up," and the door Meiya installed to connect their rooms is gone. At first he's not sure how to process all of this, but considering how weird his life has been lately, he just sorta shrugs it off. Takeru leaves that room without a care in the world, with only his Game Guy (this world's version of the Game Boy) in his hand. That's when he sees it.

Upon opening his front door to leave for school, the first thing he sees is a sight he doesn't recognize. The world outside appears to be a wasteland, and the house next door to his has been crushed by a giant robot. "AWESOME!" Of course none of this upsets Takeru, as he loves giant robots, and now he's having the greatest dream of his life. Sadly the robot is a wreck so he can't pilot it, so he decides to walk to his dream version of school as well. This being a part of his imagination means anything could happen, and he can't wait to see what's next.

After arriving at his school, Takeru find something even stranger in it's place. Sure his school is technically "there," but now there are two armed guards at the gate, and the school itself has been turned into a military base. At first the guards ask him why he left the base, but when they see his uniform is missing any kind of identification, they are quick to apprehend him. This is when Takeru first starts to realize something. That this dream isn't actually a dream. What he's opened his eyes to is none other than the real world.

Having a hard time believing this fact, Takeru spends some time in jail, but is eventually freed by his teacher Yuuko; however, she has no idea who he is. Apparently she's one of the heads at this military base, and she has come to question Takeru. The fact that he doesn't know what is going on, and has memories of another world intrigues her, so she decides to take him back to her office for further questioning. Of course she's not completely sure if she can believe him yet, but the same can be said for Takeru as well. Neither one can accept the other's memories as truth, but Yuuko believes Takeru will understand if he enrolls at the military academy. So by using the guise of "you can pilot a giant robot if you join us" to convince him, Yuuko does manage to get Takeru to join them, and soon he does learn to accept reality.

Going back to Takeru's life, Unlimited once again does follow his story day by day. Upon enrolling in the military academy he eventually finds himself reuniting with his old friends, but just like Yuuko they have no memories of him. To keep from causing issues, and because Yuuko told him to, Takeru avoids talking about his original world with anyone else besides Yuuko herself, and instead has to treat all the others as if he is meeting them for the first time. Of course this world's versions of these people are slightly different from the ones he used to know, but Takeru has a hard time accepting that. To him they are the very same friends he's known all this time, and eventually he even starts using the same old nicknames he had for them all. But then reality starts to set in once again.

It turns out this world is at war with something called the "BETA." Vile creatures from space that have all but completely wiped out humanity. They appear in different parts of the world, and in no time at all they slaughter everything in their path. The humans of earth are fighting a losing battle, and it's only a matter of time before everyone is dead. Surface Pilots are the only ones who stand a chance at fighting back, but to reach that level students much pass their basic training. Of course all of this information doesn't really stick with Takeru (nor will it to the players), and it's all something that can easily be blown off. Yeah, it's aliens, and robots have to fight them. It's not the most original thing in the world, and Takeru doesn't see the big deal. Most of Earth is dead? Okay, it's easy to just say that but the whole thing is just so impersonal. How bad it truly is doesn't sink in, and is nothing more than background information. So Takeru takes it all with a grain of salt, and goes back to his training. Where he fails horribly.

The main story of Unlimited is focused on Takeru trying to survive in this new world. While all his old friends are military ready, he doesn't even know how to do the simplest of things. Tell him to take apart a gun, clean it, and reassemble it? Yeah, he has no idea. Ask him to run a few miles in full gear? He's dying after the first few steps. Takeru just isn't cut out for this life, and he has a hard time following the world's history. What is common knowledge to everyone else is far beyond him, and the whole alien thing continues to be nothing more than a dream to him. He's unable to understand just how serious his situation is, and nearly everything he does only holds the others back. Eventually though, he does have his eye's opened.

While it may not seem like it at first, Muv-Luv Unlimited is one of the few games that will really play with your emotions. At first you will feel completely safe with this game and it's characters. Extra was nothing but comedy and stupid situations, and the start of Unlimited seems to continue that trend in it's own way. It's a generic sci-fi aliens attacking story, and you'll feel like you already know everything that's going to happen. It'll be as if nothing bad will actually happen to these characters, and you'll expect it's plot to take familiar turns. However, that's where Muv-Luv truly is at it's best. What happens isn't going to be what you expect, and it doesn't take long for the overwhelming sense of dread to drown out all of your other feelings about the game. Eventually you and Takeru will both understand the truth.

The Good and the Bad:

So Muv-Luv isn't a story that's so black and white, and that can make it hard for some people to get into at first. When Extra first starts up it really does seem like a generic anime dating sim. Bright and colorful characters, most of the cast is female, and Takeru gets into a lot of stupid situations. It doesn't seem like anything special, and it's pretty easy for someone to be turned off by it. Despite all of this however, the game does a great job of introducing these characters, and it does a really good job of making you feel like you're Takeru. You easily become invested in this guy's life, and you can't help but want to see what happens next to him and his friends. Yeah it can drag on at times, but it's pretty enjoyable as well. The Japanese voice acting is pretty high quality, and the more animated scenes help liven up the story. It's these extra miles that help keep you drawn in, and make it easier to continue pushing forward with it's story. But even so, it's not actually until Unlimited starts up that the main plot presents itself, and it's possible many will drop the game before reaching this point. For those who do stick it out though, they are greeted with the start of one of the craziest sci-fi stories to have ever been written.

By the time Unlimited rolls around, players have already taken an interest in Takeru's life. They care about this character, and that's important for what type of story Muv-Luv evolves into. We get to see him march up to those front gates like an idiot, and we then get to see this new world beat him down again and again until he's molded into who he needs to become. At first the whole alien thing seems like a stupid generic plot point, but the way Muv-Luv expands upon that idea is unlike most series out there. Everything up until that moment leads you into a false sense of security, and it's not until you see it for yourself that you realize how serious this is. Muv-Luv is one of those few games that can really play with your emotions, and it eventually evolves into full on psychological horror. The very same feelings Takeru has while going through this endeavor will get passed on to you the player, and at some point you may even find yourself unsure if you want to go on. Although, this is mainly something seen in Alternative... The thing about Extra and Unlimited is, although Extra may be the intro to the full package, both of the games are only the beginning. And that makes Muv-Luv one of the greatest setups of all time.

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