Muv-Luv Alternative Review

Love is what brought us together, and this love shall tear us apart.  A love that we’ve shared since our births, and transcends alternative Earths.

Muv-Luv Extra was a positively exceptional visual novel that boasted some of the most impressive presentational techniques I have ever seen within the genre, and combined them with one of the most genuinely funny and embracive storylines I have ever had to experience.  Muv-Luv Unlimited meanwhile sought to shift the happy-go-lucky direction of the first entry into something more somber and dire, but instead sandwiched the two together, amounting to a very entertaining yet tonally dissonant affair, and came across as an awkward middle chapter as a result.  All of which leads into Muv-Luv Alternative, one of the most beloved and acclaimed visual novels of all time, and having gone through it myself, I can certainly see why it earned such a reputation.  …Because it deserves it.

Muv-Luv Alternative Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and PS Vita
Developer: âge and ixtl
Publisher: Sekai Project

Muv-Luv Alternative beings in a very familiar fashion, with series protagonist Shirogane Takeru once again finding himself waking up in a world far from the carefree life he once knew.  But instead of being sent into an all-new hellscape, he finds himself back in time to the beginning of Unlimited, and retains both his knowledge of events along with the hardened body of a soldier, effectively allowing him to New Game Plus his way to a better future.  Yet as the events of Unlimited play out swimmingly well and progress is made on measures to better ensure the future survival of humanity, things quickly veer off into unseen territory and Takeru’s advantages stop allowing him to coast throughout life, and force him to face the true harsh nature of this reality.  For as proficient as Takeru is when it come sto piloting giant robots, everything falls apart when, after being only represented via vague silhouettes in Unlimited, the BETA are finally introduced.

A truly bombastic and devastating introduction that has Takeru evolve well beyond his superficial trappings of a traditional visual novel protagonist, acknowledge his numerous shortcomings, and find the resolve and mindset needed to succeed in this harsh unforgiving world rife with despair, heartbreak, and loss.  It is certainly a dark turn, but one that is heavily supported by immaculate world building that delves into the nitty gritty about the geopolitical situation of this Earth, the mechanics behind the BETA as a threat, and the pseudo-science used throughout the story to more effectively echo back to Extra in a manner that achieves positively brilliant results.  All of which is punctuated by the returning cast from prior games, along with new characters who are given enough detail and affection to make them all feel like welcome additions to a positively immaculate ensemble.  

From Kasumi and her development from something of a gag character into a fully fledged person and overcomes the sense of trauma and failure that her past was comprised of.  To Yuuko who, despite being presented as something of an omnidisciplinary and unbelievably capable scientist, serves her roles as a mentor figure to Shirogane immensely well, standing as a resolute and determined constant in this harsh uncertain setting, all while still being an entertaining character in her own right.  To the main love interest of Alternative, whose characterization and arc would be both impactful and intriguing on their own, but when contrasted against who this character was in Extra, the end result is both gorgeously tragic and illustrates the strengths associated with multi-installment storytelling.

Though for as much as I love the main cast, I feel that specifical attention should be afforded to the BETA themselves who, by the end of this game, serve as a shining example of how to create a truly resentful antagonist in fiction.  The BETA are an automated mass-produced super weapon designed to destroy any opposition, boasting absurd numbers, a baffling level of strength and power, and a simple-mindedness that only goes to make the destruction that follows in their wake all the more infuriating.  The BETA are dumb, repulsive heaps of silicon that have no true sense of self-preservation, no culture, a stupidly exploitable organizational structure, and a very limited understanding of strategy or general welfare practices, and they still managed to kill over 4 billion humans in less than 30 years.  They boast such a ridiculous sense of power while having absolutely no redeeming qualities, an invading force of nature that only bring with them despair and failure, to the extent that even when encounters with the BETA end successfully, there is no true sense of victory or achievement to be found.

As its own self-contained work, the elements seen within Alternative culminate into a carefully constructed and well devised storyline that I could easily praise relentlessly if I were willing to divulge into spoiler-rich minutiae, but I find the true competency of this work to be how it builds off of what was established before it, and meshed into a singular entity.  It all amounts to a glorious saga of joy, heartbreak, sorrow, introspection, bewilderment, and ultimately love. Love between the characters, and an unabashed passionate love from the creators themselves, who sought to forge and create a genre defying epic, and I cannot look at the final product as anything other than a momentous success.

Though if I had to highlight a few gripes about Alternative specifically, the pacing has a bad habit of yo-yoing between climatic moments and narrative setpieces where things are constantly happening and stretches where I was restlessly awaiting the next plot point to appear.  The story itself routinely pushes this soldier’s philosophy of sorts that reads a bit like a guide for how one can attain true maturity and mental fortitude, heavily based on Japanese cultural values, and it comes off as more than a little… strange from the perspective of a westerner.  And, for as much detail and care are seen throughout the world building of Alternative, it lacks any sort of easily accessible codex to access this information.  It is a very petty detail, but one that I find does a lot to making the world feel more developed and comprehensible to the player.

Beyond the story though, this is Muv-Luv I’m talking about, so you can expect an exceptional presentation that stretches the established conventions of what a visual novel can do.  The bountiful number of poses and expressions, the dynamic camera, the foreshortening effect applied to the sprites to make the environments feel like they have some depth to them, a plethora of CGs, and a clear desire from its developers to make the best goldarn looking visual novel they possibly can.  They combine everything they developed and learned from Extra and Unlimited, resulting in some bemusingly adorable comedic scenes, gracefully presented somber moments, and the glorious displays of unabashed spectacle that are the battle scenes.

The only criticisms I could utter would be technical limitations such as the low resolution that itself was lowered to needlessly accommodate a 16:9 aspect ratio, a few scenes where the camera zooms in to close, turning sprites and background into pixelated meshes, and various other instances where in trying to make the most dynamic looking visual set piece with their available assets, things wind up looking awkward when taken out of context.  But the sheer level of tenacity and determination put into this game cannot be understated, and I was still routinely impressed by what the developers would do next all the way up to the very end of the game. Seriously, they pull out new tricks 50 hours in. It’s crazy. Also, the soundtrack is still as impressive as ever, but its impact is a bit undermined by the recycling of many familiar tracks from earlier games and a number of scenes where they let single tracks loop for a bit too long.

Muv-Luv Alternative is a heartfelt military sci-fi romance epic that manages to beautifully execute upon everything it sets out to do.  While the final product is certainly not devoid of faults, it is a triumph of its genre that I find to be very much deserving of the acclaim it has accumulated over the years.  The entire trilogy is an emotional odyssey that stems from the highest highs and the lowest lows, with Alternative tying everything up in a stellar package.  It is poignant, interesting, looks utterly amazing all things considered, and overall I don’t think that I could have asked for anything more.

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