The last game I played in 2016 was Muv-Luv, a visual novel recently made available in English for the first (official) time.
Muv-Luv is split into two parts: Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited.
Some people consider them separate games, but since they’re sold as a single game (and in the original Japanese version, you had to play Extra to unlock Unlimited), I decided to review them together.
Still, since they’re essentially two parallel games in one, let’s look at them one at a time.
Muv-Luv Extra is a romantic comedy about a high school senior named Takeru who wakes up one morning to find a mysterious young woman in bed with him.
She’s a rich heiress who claims their destinies are bound together, and ridiculous antics ensue.
You know how shows like I Dream of Jeannie have the protagonist’s life change in insane, impossible ways they can’t possibly explain? Replace “magic” with “money” and you’ve got the vibe of Muv-Luv. For example, Meiya convinces Takeru’s entire neighborhood to move away and brings a legion of chefs to school to cook for him.
Meanwhile, Takeru’s childhood friend Sumika is none too pleased about Meiya’s attempts to win Takeru, which leads to a rivalry between them.
Routes with the other main female characters are available and take the story in quite different directions, but the core plot is about Takeru, Meiya, and Sumika.
Oh, and there’s a physics teacher named Yuuko, who is basically a mad scientist.
Several of the situations in Muv-Luv Extra are a bit contrived… but they’re often contrived by Yuuko, who loves manipulating people almost as much as she loves science.
Now, when I began the game, my first thought was that Takeru was a jerk. But I can deal with a jerk protagonist who gets better, and Takeru did grow on me (if nothing else, through sympathy as Meiya and her cohorts turn his life upside down).
I also had to smile every time Takeru referenced a video game, all of which are nods to real-world video games, such as his favorite stealth series, Rebel Gear Squalid (starring Squalid Drake).
Many people who played Extra shudder and sob over the lacrosse section, but while learning about lacrosse wasn’t the most fun ever, it still had enough silliness to entertain me.
Overall, Muv-Luv Extra was lighthearted romantic comedy fun. Some people recommend skipping it and going straight to Unlimited… but I disagree. It’s worth playing Extra at least once through Meiya or Sumika’s route before you move on. My understanding of the characters and the story in Extra made Unlimited mean much more to me.
Be warned: if you don’t know about the genre difference between Extra and Unlimited, and you don’t want to know it, stop reading now and just be content to know that I found Unlimited to be the more interesting of the two.
For everyone else, let’s continue on.
Takeru wakes up to find an empty neighborhood, a downed mech, and a military base in place of his school, where he’s promptly arrested for being suspicious.
He soon meets Yuuko… not the Yuuko he knows, but a scientist with great authority at Yokohama Base. Not only does she believe his story, but she also helps him adjust to the new world he’s found himself in.
This is a world where humanity is on the brink of annihilation at the hands of an alien race called the BETA.
Takeru joins the ranks of the cadets at Yokohama Base. They happen to be all of his old classmates, except for Sumika, who seemingly doesn’t exist in this world. Although he still hopes to return home, he slowly gets to know his fellow trainees and adjust to his new life.
In many ways, Muv-Luv Unlimited parallels Muv-Luv Extra.
Instead of high school classes, they take classes to learn how to fight, survive, and eventually pilot giant mecha called TSFs.
Instead of Meiya being a rich heiress trying to adjust to the lives of ordinary people, Takeru is the fish-out-of-water, a high school kid from our world trying to find his place in a grim universe where any teenager his age is expected to be ready to fight the BETA.
Instead of an important lacrosse tournament, the class is preparing for an exam that will qualify them to become TSF pilots.
But it definitely has a grimmer tone. Yuuko, for example, is a more serious character… devoted to research, but not manipulative like her Extra self.
Takeru slowly comes to understand that the people around him are prepared and willing to give their lives to protect others. He undergoes true character development here in a way he couldn’t in Muv-Luv Extra.
While Extra was a fun story, Unlimited was an exciting one. I wanted to know more about the BETA, and I became invested in this mission to fight for humanity.
It ended in such a way that I felt satisfied, but also impatient to learn more. As a result, the sequel, Muv-Luv Alternative, is one of my most-anticipated games of the year.
People talk about Muv-Luv Alternative as though it’s the true reason to play the Muv-Luv series, and the first game is just a necessary step to get there. I disagree and say Muv-Luv is pretty interesting in its own right.
Both halves have their own appeal, and together they create a whole I’m happy I played. Or, well, read. It’s a visual novel, after all.
Are you interested in Muv-Luv?
If you want posts like this delivered straight to your inbox, enter your email in the box below to subscribe!