Thanks to PQube, visual novel fans on the Vita can now enjoy two classic titles in the genre Muv-Luv and Muv Luv Alternative. Together, they form a trilogy of stories to play through sequentially – yes, a trilogy. Read on to find out why that’s not a typo.
As visual novels, both Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative follow a familiar pattern. The games are extremely limited in terms of traditional gameplay, and focus instead of the narrative, mostly delivered in the form of conversations and visualized using text and anime-style stills. At semi-regular intervals, your choices (often in conversation) will steer the path of the story into different directions. Nothing new here, and it’s a genre that’s grown in popularity on the Vita in the past three years or so – ever since publishers like Aksys, NIS and PQube started bringing acclaimed Japanese visual novels to the west in bigger numbers.
Muv-Luv predates many of them, with an initial release back in 2003 – even though it wasn’t translated until 2016. A sequel was released later and that one especially is widely considered one of the best examples you can get in the genre, though I would definitely recommend playing the original Muv-Luv first. Not just because it makes a lot more sense narratively, but also because Muv-Luv itself is well worth playing and consists of no less than two visual novels itself – both setting up Alternative in their own way. It’s a good thing PQube decided to release both titles at once then, not leaving Vita owners waiting.
As mentioned, Muv-Luv actually consists of two visual novels: Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited (hence the trilogy you’re getting when you buy both titles). You’ll start off with Muv-Luv Extra, where you’re introduced to main protagonist Shirogane Takeru. He wakes up in his bed (a common starting point, you’ll learn later) and finds himself next to a young woman – only to be walked in on by a female friend of his moments later. She’s not amused, and it’s not long before the three of them cross paths at school as well.
Muv-Luv Extra has romantic plot lines, but isn’t an Otome title (a specific sub-genre) like some of the visual novels that Aksys is getting ready to release on the Vita this summer. Instead, I felt that Extra served mostly as a light-hearted introduction to the Muv-Luv universe and characters – showing their personalities and friendships as they get ready for the events of the other two novels. There are five possible outcomes in the game as well, each one centering on a different female character. These plot lines also differ in tone and seriousness – more so than the plot differences do in the other Muv-Luv titles. Complete the two Extra plotlines that focus on the two characters you initially meet, and you’ll unlock Muv-Luv Ultimate.
Just as Extra, Muv-Luv Ultimate lets you follow five main routes in the story. They’re less diverse than the ones in Extra, even though the main plot is vastly different this time around. In a plot twist that echoes something like Pacific Rim or Cloverfield, Takeru wakes up to find the earth overrun by alien monsters/robots – and the story sees him join the human resistance against this overwhelming force. As in Pacific Rim, mechs are developed to rise up against the invaders, and Takeru is eager to join if it means he can pilot one of these machines – after all, in his mind, it’s all just a dream that he’s experiencing.
Toning down the romance aspect and using a darker narrative tone, Unlimited’s post-apocalyptic theme (much of the world is in ruins following the alien invasion) is a nice departure from Extra both in terms of the writing (which is more original and interesting) and as a stepping stone towards Muv-Luv Unlimited. Muv-Luv’s third and final part (not counting any of the spin-offs), which is a separate purchase from the first (bundled) two, is undoubtedly the most mature one in terms of tone and writing.
In Muv-Luv Alternative, you basically go back in time to the start of the events in Ultimate – that’s right, waking up in your bed once more. But just like how Ultimate takes place in an alternate universe from Extra (with alternate versions of familiar characters as well), Alternative presents an alternative timeline for the events in Ultimate.
Unlike Extra and Unlimited, Muv-Luv Alternative doesn’t have multiple endings, and is more linear in nature. That might be bad news for those who like to play and replay their visual novels, but as someone who rarely replays games (of any kind) I actually enjoyed the feeling of not missing out on any content. In addition, I found the writing to be tighter and therefore of a higher quality in Alternative – perhaps as a result of this change.
As games there are so narrative-driven, I had to keep this review relatively spoiler-free. Nevertheless, I can definitely say that I really enjoyed the Muv-Luv series – and what struck me was that the quality of the narrative kept improving between novels as well, keeping me hooked for dozens and dozens of hours. Definitely start with the first part though, as it will increase your understanding and appreciation of the latter two. Visual novel fans can be happy – plenty of reading to be done over the summer.