Muv-Luv started life off as an eroge. Eroge—for those unfamiliar with the term—means erotic game. Released in 2003, the game was a sort of combination slice of life story, packaged with a surprisingly deep science-fiction saga. Western audiences didn’t see the game however, until much later when the publishing company Degica in conjunction with developers Âge ran a successful kickstarter campaign to localize the game in September of 2015.
The world of Muv-Luv is an odd one. Physical abuse between best friends is rampant and it’s the sort of place where a car can barrel full-force into a human being and have them survive unscathed. A seemingly innocent comment about one’s swimming prowess may even spark an altercation involving a deadly weapon. These sorts of things are just everyday occurrences in the prestigious school of Hakuryo. There are no other words to describe the game other than bizarre and surreal. There’s also a suspiciously obvious lack of males in the school facility.
Sadly, the beginning of the game is very blatant harem trash that does very little to keep the reader engaged. It’s a very superficial chapter in the story and unless you like staring at cute anime style Japanese girls who you can’t have sex with (this is the all-ages version), then you’ll find yourself clicking through the tediousness of part one, looking for anything plot relevant and disregarding the fluff. Everyone in the academy of Harukyo basically wants to jump Shirogane Takeru—our protagonist’s—bones. This harem phenomena becomes especially egregious when the special transfer student falls in love with him despite seemingly barely knowing him at all. The quiet standoffish girl (tsundere) just randomly starts taking a liking to him too, with not even the smallest hint of foreshadowing or interest shown before the “food tournament”. Takeru also ends up with practically half the school female faculty living in his house. While all the different routes explain everything, the whole ordeal still ends up feeling like a chore.
It all feels very at odds with itself, bouncing at times, from sheer disbelief to downright absurdity. This would not be a problem if any of it was remotely believable, but the transfer student also has access to unlimited funds virtually, and nothing is kept within the realm of reality. She even goes so far as to buy out several blocks where Takeru’s neighbours live so she can erect a mansion-sized “room” next to his house. Everything is just way over the top and it makes it hard to believe the characters. This strange disconnect is due to the game being split up into two distinct parts—Unlimited and Extra—and Unlimited starts off like every generic slice of life anime you’d expect.
You’re given the choice between several different women, the ones most important to the plot being Sumika and Meiya. While some of the choices make sense from a plot standpoint, some of the options add nothing to the plot, with their characters barely fleshed out at all. Ayanime being the best example of this fact. There’s no hint of her liking Takeru until several hours in the game. Until then, she treats him with a quiet disdain, that borders on hatred at times. You don’t even learn much about her, until you go on a date to the local arcade, making her seem like an uninteresting and irrelevant character, even in the writer’s own eyes.
Ultimately Muv-Luv Extra isn’t particularly interesting. Despite the slice of life wackiness, and how absurd some of the characters act, it is surprisingly mundane. The two highlights are Meiya’s move into the neighborhood and the lacrosse tournament and neither are particularly that interesting. Your choices in-game don’t even matter, beyond the ones involving the several different girls. It also really feels like the game wants you to pick Sumika, as most choices end with upsetting her or trying to placate her instead of your actual choice. There’s also little hints that she’s supposed to be the canon “waifu”.
This is unfortunate, as she is easily the most uninteresting character in the first part of the game. I tried to woo Ayamine and ultimately failed with any of the women. The most interesting option story-wise seems to be pursuing Meiya Mitsurugi, but even that’s nothing to write home about. The whole of Extra in fact feels quite irrelevant, bar maybe the first hour or so. From that point on, none of it really has anything related to the plot later on in Unlimited. The only thing that can be said is it’s there to provide a false sense of security and innocence before being thrust into the world of Unlimited.
In stark contrast to Extra the world of Unlimited, it’s actually quite a dark, desolate place to live. Humans are on the brink of extinction with only about 15% of the Earth’s population left and being trained for war, regardless of age. Children are utilised as military assets within humanity’s war for survival. Sure, there are a lot of familiar faces present here, however it’s certainly no harem this time round. All the squad mates hate Takeru starting off and he has to learn the hard way, all the harsh realities of this brave new world. The academy of Hakuryo is now Yokohama and under strict military rule. The cadets all undergo combat training and no-one will take it easy on Takeru. Stranded, far away from home, he is offered a position at Yokohama as a surface pilot in training under special conditions set by a former teacher of his. The only problem he has. Which world is real? What happened to his childhood friend and the world he loves? Was it merely a figment of imagination? Has this harsh reality always been real or is he dreaming?
Takeru slowly starts to come to terms with himself and his place in this new world. Unable to meet the demands of military life, any hope of continuing to live seems futile as death looms closer. He must mature or wind up being left behind. Luckily he can rely on the members of his squad-mates. Made up of all the girls from Extra, the story of Unlimited is one of comradery. The game does a great job of making you feel part of Sakaki’s squad, and you really feel like you can depend on them to help you out in a bind. The story of Muv-Luv is primarily about their journey and their characterisation definitely makes you care about the characters. Not all of them are entirely likable, but there’s definitely a sense of mutual respect between the members, no matter what happens. You will feel affected by whatever happens to them in hostile situations and you will act as a squad member in their best interests.
Muv-Luv is an unusual game. There is a huge disconnect between Extra and Unlimited and it almost feels like Extra didn’t happen. The game leaves you with a deliberate sense of longing, as it thrusts you from the happy-go-lucky, innocent story of Extra into the harsh reality and loss off innocence that is Unlimited. It makes for a jarring juxtaposition and as meaningless and irrelevant as Extra feels, it seems to exist for this purpose only; to convey the feeling of loss.
That’s not to say Muv-Luv is perfect. There are a few nagging issues, aside from the very rarely incorrect English spelling and grammar. The “Hakuryo” uniforms never get changed to say “Yokohama” and certain graphics are re-used over and over. You rarely get to see your character, Takeru, and most of his lines aren’t voice acted, unlike everybody else who has Japanese voices accompanying the subtitles. Lots of important questions will also be left behind after finishing the game and while some of it is revealed in other routes, there’s still some unanswered questions. I’ve not played Alternative and would hope that it answers some of them, but as it stands, Muv-Luv feels like a game meant to played in all three parts. Lastly, there are definitely remnants of when it was an eroge that feel out-of-place with the R-18 content missing. While, the game holds up well without the adult content, better value for money definitely comes with a purchase not on the Steam client.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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