It's been a while since I've played a game that has broken expectations as much as Muv-Luv Alternative has. It's been a while since I felt the need to do an entire post on just my random thoughts on a game, It's just that amazing. This is my thoughts and experiences on Muv-Luv so expect spoilers. It's not exactly concise and might be a bit tangential, but that's what a ramble is. If you want a spoiler free and more concise opinion or want to know what i'm talking about, check out my review, or Dex's reviews.
As I was writing my I/O review, Dexomega (a fellow TAYer) was making all of his Muv-Luv posts here on TAY. I read the articles and because I've been such a VN fan, I was deathly curious about this series. On TAY and Skype, Dex was telling me about how great it was, and that just rose my anticipation for wrapping up my I/O review. I could only nod my head and say that's cool, and say I would get to it right after this game. I was afraid of Hype Backlash. I really was. Muv-Luv alternative decimated all expectations I had.
I can praise it all I want, but if you don't know what it is, that praise is useless. Muv-Luv is a series of VN's with 3 arcs - Extra, Unlimited, and Alternative. Extra is a boring slice of life dating sim, and Unlimited rips the Main character Takeru out of his familiar life, and throws him into a universe of despair - an alternate world where aliens known as BETA invade the world, and have killed billions of people, thus pushing humanity to the brink of extinction unless they do something about them. Unfortunately, even with such a great plot, Unlimited is too light hearted, and has pacing issues. Why am I even mentioning Muv-Luv then? The last game, Muv-Luv Alternative, takes Unlimited's plot, blows me out of the water and impressed me in a way only games like Steins;Gate and Ever 17 have.
What makes Muv-Luv so great is how it manipulates you as a player. Once Unlimited starts, you and the main character Takeru are thrown into an unknown world that you could not imagine: Aliens called BETA invading Earth and massacring everyone. I didn't notice, but I make a connection with Takeru - as an outsider along with Takeru, there was an invisible bond & I felt what Takeru felt. I grew with Takeru, and whenever he would cry or break down, I would too. Whenever something happened, I would react in a very similar fashion. I felt like a complete outsider (being american increases this feeling even more), like I didn't belong; exactly like what Takeru was dealing with in the game. As Takeru goes on through his adventure into darker themes, alternate universes, and connecting with the characters, I felt like I was a part of this world, and my thoughts were being represented by Takeru… more so than any other game I've ever had the chance to experience.. Of course, I'm not Takeru, and still facepalmed at times, but I've never played a game that I've gotten so absorbed into the plot without noticing it. It shows Takeru's psyche at the best of times and at the worst of times, and it doesn't mind messing with Takeru's psyche or, messing with you. I really don't want to spoil this, so I'll try to describe the one example this perfectly fits with extremely vague terms. The scene in the middle of alternative, after that attack… once you hear that depressing music, then it suddenly stops… then *CHOMP*.... INSTANT PTSD. YOU CAN FEEL THE FEELZ…. If you weren't balling up at that point in the game, you either were ignoring the whole game, or you have no soul.
I felt that Muv-Luv Alternative was an amazing experience. I loved everything about it: from the excellent written characters, to the fantastic world they built, and the amazing feelz trip I went through. I loved it to bits, especially after the 12/5 incident, where it really picks up. It's kinda cliche to say this, but it really does get better the further you go along, and it only picks up halfway. Once you can make it through, your body better be ready. I spent 2 all nighters and a good majority of my break playing this, and I did not regret a single bit. This game will make you think: its stumped me in many ways. It's stumped me in how I would write the review, it's stumped me on concepts like nationalism, morality, humanity, Multiple worlds, etc. I love how the game kept on asking questions and made me think. That's something that Muv-Luv does extremely well, way better than anything like it.
The Pacing of Muv-Luv is something to be admired; It's never a roller coaster of pace, it always keeps a detailed and collected pace. The game is cold and calculated, and spends its time developing the characters to the perfect degree, to develop to the perfect point, just to hit you hard, either via feelings or astonishment. It teaches you everything you would ever want to know about the world in detail, even things you might not want to know. I've always been one to prefer a roller coaster thrill ride of a game, but Muv-Luv is the exception: this game does slow pacing right. When pacing is the most important element of writing to me, saying this shocks me. I loved how the game made me on the edge of my seat for 40% of the game. Only in Steins;Gate have I felt the feeling of climax and tension for a long period of time... And this is longer than that.
It's not all fine and dandy though, as there is one thing that personally made me mad. That would be the ending; I believe the ending would have been better if Takeru remembered the whole situation.. the ending is essentially Extra 2.0 and it feels like everything that happened.... was just pointless. Even with the ending being pretty sub-par, I haven't felt the void this strong since I watched Clannad (but that was kinda filled up by Kanon… Muv-Luv has no such replacement.)
With All the praise I'm giving to Alternative, you might feel like skipping Extra would be a good idea. It's not. All parts of Muv-Luv is important in the Saga, as Alternative does something I've rarely seen in any medium ever - it wraps up everything, it never leaves any red hearings and it makes everything important. The game deliberately sabotages itself. In my opinion, Extra is the first of the players challenge, and the challenge continues on. Being so boring and generic will deter people. The fact that its an eroge will deter people. But if you are open minded enough, and you can persevere like Takeru does later in the game, you get to experience the game for all its worth. Getting through the shock of the new world, learning all the military, science and politics that comes with an alternate world is another steep challenge that players will have to face, and last but not least, the hentai. This is actually one time where I'm not going to complain about it, as it's used very meaningfully and helps develop the characters whether they know it or not…. but the fact is, hentai games are looked down upon and they limit the audience, and it doesn't help that none of the all ages versions are translated, or ever get translated. I feel like Age is essentially saying this: your challenge is just as important as Takeru's, and as a reward for going through this challenge, you are getting one of the best experiences you will ever see. It's limiting the audience, but by doing this, its essentially making everyone who plays this through, love it. I do not know why Age would do this, but they do.
The most important discussion that involves Muv-Luv is not about Muv-Luv itself, but its about a certain show that's found a massive, rabid fanbase..... Shingeki no Kyoujin, aka Attack on Titan. If you have experienced both, it's impossible to think about one without the other. Just look at that plot description and tell me you cannot think about Titan. Unstoppable enemies in massive numbers killing many people? Check. Disturbing Visuals of people dying? Check. A great world with tons of potential? Check. Human Factions that go screwing humanity instead of helping the cause? Check. I can go on and on, but the point is, Attack on Titan was inspired by Muv-Luv, and Muv-Luv did it better than AoT a whole 6 years before Titan even started. If you felt hopeless watching titan, you will feel another level of hopeless while playing through Muv-Luv. Muv-Luv does the story, pacing, characters and information stream way better than Attack on Titan. I believe that if Muv-Luv had the same Animation, Sound and ease of use that Titan did, it would be very popular. But that's not the case. Titan is popular because it doesn't limit the audience, and it's a beautiful show.... but if you liked titan, go play Muv-Luv. You will love it.
Muv-Luv is not a game, its not a VN, it's an experience. Looking at it objectively, this series overall cannot compare with so many things I love. But it does. It might alienate a good majority of people, but the people who have the willpower to try it and overcome it's roadblocks will really love it. Everyone reading these words should really give it a shot. It's a fantastic experience, and it's one you will never forget.