Muv-Luv review for PS Vita, PC

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PC
Publisher: PQUBE
Developer: ixtl
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1
Online: No

Even though I?ve somehow settled into the visual novel beat here at Gaming Age, it?s not a genre I know a lot about. I know what I kind of enjoy (otome mysteries, if my recent history is any indication), but beyond that, my knowledge is limited to whatever has come out on the Vita in North America.

I say this as prelude to something that?s probably going to mark me as a heretic (or, at least, a clueless non-believer) in the eyes of genre fans: I don?t totally understand the fuss about Muv-Luv finally getting a proper Western release.

Reading up a little further, I get the sense that it?s partly because the game was one of the first well-known visual novels well it originally came out well over a decade ago, and partly because this particular game — which is actually the first two parts of a trilogy packaged together — sets the stage for a truly epic ending in the trilogy?s third game, Muv-Luv Alternative.

If that?s the case, I understand why people regard this game with such affection. I haven?t played Muv-Luv Alternative yet, but from the descriptions alone it sounds pretty impressive. And, likewise, I fully understand how games that were remarkable for their time may not seem quite as impressive if you compare them to games of today without making any allowances for the passage of time.

If, however, people love Muv-Luv because they consider it to be an inherently good game…well that kind of baffles me.

Or, at least, the love for the first of the two games here, Muv-Luv Extra, baffles me. Like far too many visual novels, in Muv-Luv Extra the main character, Takeru comes off as a pretty unlikeable guy, yet this first game is all about him romancing and wooing his various female classmates, all of whom are inexplicably in love with him. In this respect, of course, the game isn?t all that different from loads of games that have come after it, but that doesn?t make it any more understandable why such an unpleasant character could be deemed compelling.

Things improve somewhat in the second game, Muv-Luv Unlimited. Main character Takeru is still kind of a douchebag, but at his personality is less jarring here than it is in the first game — partly because the game?s story dials the romance way down in favour of sci-fi adventure, and partly because his attitude becomes a lot more understandable when he?s suddenly thrust into a fish out of water situation. On top of that, there?s also the interesting twist that virtually all of the characters in Muv-Luv Extra return here, but only Takeru has any memory of how things used to be. While I wouldn?t say that they?re the most compelling characters, it?s still interesting to see the contrast between the two games.

While my feelings towards Muv-Luv are mixed — on account of the fact I really don?t like Muv-Luv Extra — I still have to say that there are bright spots here. It?s fun to see a game that clearly doesn?t care about maintaining a singular visual style throughout. While that can be bad at times (more on that in a moment), it?s also fun to see the game go from your typical anime visual novel look, to hand-drawn cartoons, to video games, to manga, and back again, all within the span of a few minutes. The characters also show a similar range of looks, which is hard not to enjoy — particularly given the way so many games that have come since have tended to rigidly stick to the same visual formula.

It?s not all good news on the graphics, though. Muv-Luv is largely a literal pain to read. The text is coloured much too lightly for such a brightly-coloured game, which makes reading it for any extended period if time almost unthinkable. Given that the full Muv-Luv experience takes at least 30+ hours to get through (if not substantially more), you can understand why that may be a deal-breaker for some.

There?s also a lot to be said for the way Muv-Luv pivots so quickly from a (now-standard) romance game into a grandiose space opera. While Muv-Luv Extra basically has zero stakes, within moments of starting Muv-Luv Unlimited everything has gone way off the rails. It?s probably not as interesting as the trilogy?s third game, Muv-Luv Alternative, apparently is, but it?s enough to redeem this two-part package.

It?s completely understandable if you?re still not interested, though. Classic trilogy or not, the idea that you have to sink 40 or 50 hours into a game before it gets really good is kind of insane. By itself (or, I guess, going by the two games included here), Muv-Luv falls a little short of being a must-buy…though, at the same time, if you want to check out the third game (and I do after playing through Muv-Luv Unlimited), it?s probably unavoidable. So — buyer beware. It may get very good by the end, but if you only plan on going as far as these two games, you won?t get anything close to a satisfactory ending.

PQUBE provided us with a Muv-Luv PS Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: B