One of the most acclaimed visual novels of all time, Muv-Luv, has finally made its way to Steam. Developed by âge, the Steam release contains the first two arcs in the series, Extra and Unlimited. This series, first released in 2003, has gone on to sell millions of copies and inspired multiple spin-offs, and set a new standard for visual novels. Or so I’m told, at least. My visual novel experience is not particularly expansive. I have dabbled in the genre, and thoroughly enjoyed titles like Steins;Gate (my all-time favorite anime) and Katawa Shoujo, as well as a few I’ve procured during Steam sales. Thankfully, the opportunity arose for me to give this VN heavy-hitter a shot. I went into Muv-Luv expecting a fairly typical visual novel, yet came away with something entirely unexpected, unique, and frankly incredible.
The initial story of Muv-Luv is familiar enough to anyone with experience in slice-of-life visual novels or anime. The main character, Takeru Shirogane, is living out a fairly ordinary high school life alongside his childhood friend Sumika Kagami. Sumika is painfully obviously head-over-heels for Takeru. However, in his cliche oblivious nature, Takeru sees her as only a close friend. Takeru’s classmates, including the cookie-cutter class rep Chizuru, cat-like Miki, and enigmatic Kei, are also romantically interested in Takeru. In his free time, he spends his money at the arcade with his best friend Mikoto, playing mecha fight sims. However, this standard Japanese high school story is turned on its head by the arrival of Meiya Mitsurugi. The heir to the Mitsuruigi Financial empire, Meiya claims to be bound by the “chains of destiny” to Takeru. This arrival kickstarts a feud to earn Takeru’s love.
“Nearly every main girl can be pursued (even one of Takeru’s teachers)”
The player is given some levels of choice throughout the game, as both Meiya and Sumika both openly vie for Takeru’s attention. Often, the two prepare lunches for Takeru, and you are forced to choose between the two’s carefully made dishes. These simple meal choices actually play an important part in the progression of the story. Each lunch break is essentially building your relationship with one of them, culminating in an ending based on who you choose to end up with. However, the player is not limited to only Meiya and Sumika. Nearly every main girl can be pursued (even one of Takeru’s teachers). Other choices such as who to stay after school with or walk home with influence the ending of your playthrough.
The story becomes more hilariously absurd as time progresses, with Meiya using her near-unlimited finances to slowly rebuild Takeru and his friends’ entire way of life. As this visual novel was released in the early 2000’s, there are a multitude of references to 90’s anime. One of my personal favorites was Meiya’s driver, Takahashi. The rest of Meiya’s staff are phenomenal; the “Three Idiots” – maids that relentlessly harass Takeru – in particular were highlights of nearly every day in the story. The dialogue and observations by Takeru never fall short, and I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions. It’s silly at times, and yet manages to find the perfect spots for more emotional scenes.
Character development is top-notch, as the player sees memories of Takeru’s childhood with Sumika in his dreams, and spends time with his classmates around campus or in town. Like I often do with “harem”-esque anime and visual novels, I developed quite the attachment to all of the characters. Having to narrow down between them all to decide which avenue to travel was difficult, as all of the characters were lovable in their own ways. Takeru’s friends were all fairly archetypal in their presentation, but I couldn’t help enjoying every minute of their conversations.
By the time I finished the Extra arc, I was thoroughly satisfied with the choices I had made along the way. Nonetheless, the game offers quite a lot of replayability in each arc, with a handful of different endings to achieve in each one. Muv-Luv is one of those games that left me with a sense of longing after finishing the first arc, so naturally I plunged right into Unlimited. What awaited me in the second arc was downright shocking.
I’ll be clear now that I think it would be a bit unfair to the reader to explain exactly what I mean by this. Hopefully you are one of those players like myself who will enter Muv-Luv with no idea what awaits you. If you can, avoid reading the Steam page, avoid looking up the game online, and do not ask your friends about it, just jump right in.
“do not be deceived by the outward appearance of Muv-Luv.”
Unlimited flips the entire series on its head, changing the entire theme of the story. It’s darker, stranger, yet enthralling. The characterization is perhaps even stronger in the second arc, and carries much more weight than Extra. All I will say further is that if normally, romantic-comedy visual novels are not your thing, do not be deceived by the outward appearance of Muv-Luv.
Extra is essentially a setup for Unlimited, each on its own end of the spectrum, yet I feel it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. The final arc, Alternative, releases this fall for Steam, and I have to admit I will probably have replayed the first two arcs to get every possible ending by the time it releases. I cannot stress the sheer enjoyment I got out of Muv-Luv, and I highly recommend checking it out before Alternative drops. Any fan of visual novels that has not yet experienced this gem needs to remedy that, stat.