Muv-Luv is a saga that I consider to be one of the greatest in history. Its dedication to its dark story reminds us all how good it is to be alive. Many of us regard our lives as rather bland and boring endeavors, so Muv-Luv smacked us across the face and defiantly said, "Enjoy it while you can".
Naturally, this post will have some spoilers for the saga in it, but I'll keep the big ones out.
Muv-Luv, at its core, was a huge gamble. It is probably the biggest gamble I've seen in video games or visual novels. The first part of the saga (Muv-Luv Extra) was intentionally made almost sickeningly happy and it played every single romantic comedy/dating sim trope straight. It played the concept of an H-Game completely straight, to the point where I was miffed about why I was even playing it. The slice-of-life plot was boring and seemingly had nothing to say to us.
When Takeru (the main character) first appears in Muv-Luv Unlimited, the second part, he finds that he's crossed into an alternate reality where humanity is on the brink of total extinction. An extraterrestrial species named the "BETA" have systematically killed off most of the population of Earth. Takeru finds himself thrust into service in the UN military trying to stop the BETA.
Even so, Muv-Luv Unlimited is still almost sickeningly lighthearted, despite its terrifying setting. By this point in the first game, I'd basically given up on it and written it off for being one of the stupidest things I'd ever played. I did gather myself and proceed onward to Alternative, the sequel, though.
Muv-Luv Alternative starts with Takeru getting caught in a time-loop and returning to the moment he started Muv-Luv Unlimited. With full knowledge of how things went wrong in the previous reality, he decides to use his foresight to complete Alternative IV (a way to defeat the BETA) and save humanity from destruction. It also has a stand out soundtrack even amongst video games, not just visual novels. It's pretty incredible overall with songs like Wings, Flame of Life, Storm Vanguard, War Preparation, Muv-Luv, and the main opening theme of course.
The game plays up Takeru's skill he inherited from the previous timeline and he quickly becomes the very epitome of a Gary Stu. His foresight accelerates the Alternative IV plan and quickly results in his squadron rapidly climbing the ranks to become true Eishi.
Granted, it was ego-stroking, but I thought it was awesome. I was going to save the damn world and use my knowledge of Unlimited to make things turn out right this time. Takeru and I were unstoppable. I grew more and more immersed in the intricately conducted universe of Muv-Luv. Every aspect of this story universe is explained and makes sense. I started loving the universe for its tight narrative, worldbuilding, and continuity. I found that I had almost certainly crossed the fourth wall and fell right into Takeru's shoes.
It was then that the other shoe finally dropped and crushed me.
The consequences of my changes to the timeline started stacking up until, eventually, the unthinkable happened. Alternative started systematically destroying me, delivering a series of rapid-fire gut punches that caught me completely unawares. I was at a loss and confused, convinced that my surrogate in the story, Takeru, had lost it.
Even when things started looking up and I thought things might turn out fine, the story cruelly ripped it away from me, causing me to visibly mutter at the screen "No, you can't do this. You can't, please don't."
In addition, alongside all this, the developer decided to deconstruct Muv-Luv in the most vicious way possible. While Muv-Luv had played the H-Game tropes straight, Alternative deconstructed it and proceeded to horrify the players with Fan Disservice that left me speechless and conflicted.
Somewhere along the line, I started pining for Muv-Luv and its lighthearted, simple premise. I just couldn't take it anymore. Alternative broke me and made me admit that, somewhere deep down, I enjoyed Muv-Luv. Alternative made me realize that I should appreciate what I had while I had it. Through painful deconstruction, an immensely dark story, and rapid-fire emotions, I finally understood what Muv-Luv was trying to do. I understood its Aesop and it got through to me far more clearly than any story I've ever experienced before:
You should appreciate what you have while you have it, because the Alternative may be worse.
This was just one of many epiphanies I had while playing the cruelly dark story of Muv-Luv Alternative.
It's no mistake to say that by the time I realized this, at least in part, I was enthralled with the story. I had a resolve to see it through to the end and hope that Takeru would manage to fix reality and go back to his home. When I finally finished, I knew what I had just experienced was a contradiction of epic proportions. I hated âge (developer). I hated Alternative. I hated what they did to me and my mind. Yet, at the same time, it was an unforgettable experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
But it doesn't just stop there. The truth is that this intricate world they've created is ripe with more stories to be told. The cruel, unforgiving reality of the BETA is as compelling as it is terrifying and the raw courage of many characters in this universe are inspirational to everyone.
The developer knows this and has released a seemingly endless series of side-stories in the Muv-Luv universe that. From stories like Muv-Luv Unlimited: The Day After, which tells the story of humanity after Alternative V begins, to Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse, a Top Gun-like story of TSF test pilots, there's no shortage of material and epic stories in the Muv-Luv universe.
Such franchise proliferation is the result of creating such a downright fascinating world that blurs the line between fantasy and reality with intense worldbuilding. Unfortunately, the majority of the franchise is still without translations. A shame for most of us.
All that said, Muv-Luv is not a saga that you read through for fun. You suffer through the pain, the darkness, and the death in the vain hope that there's light at the end of the tunnel. By the time you're done, the saga has reminded you of how precious your life really is and how it can all be gone in an instant, replaced by a reality you barely recognize. That's why the gamble meant so much. If the first game wasn't as happy as was, Alternative would not have had the impact it did.
That's what made it a truly great story for me. It not only had one of the tightest narratives I've ever seen and the best worldbuilding I've heard in years, but it had one of the most powerfully delivered messages I've ever seen in media. It was a story of courage, love, loss, and a reflection on our own reality.
Earn your happy ending, don't just wait for it.
You can find all my articles on Dex's Corner.