Well…This one was an adventure.

As someone that doesn’t typically go through visual novels, I can’t say I had any sort of grand expectation other than the typical thought of “Oh, I’ll be making a guy try to wow this girl he’s been crushing on”. Now that I’ve finally written this review, I can safely say I was almost painfully wrong. Muv-Luv is a visual novel in probably the most literal sense of the word. You’ll be reading through text for hours more than you’ll be able to pick a dialogue option. Upon actually knowing what goes on in this visual novel though, you may figure out what I mean by “almost painfully wrong” (unless you are from Japan, where this has apparently spawned a whole franchise over the last decade).

Graphics

Now, you wouldn’t want to spend seventeen hours just staring at a blank screen filled with text. That’s why visual novels are, well, visual. Muv-Luv is Japanese to the core, as can be hinted by the anime-esque art style and its strange urge to have some of its female characters in suggestive situations and sometimes revealing outfits. Yep, this is an adult-orientated visual novel. That means you’ll be seeing a lot of shots like these.

Boobies aside, the art style is clean and pleasing to the eye. The scenery, while often static, is remarkably detailed and has a lot going on to it. There are times where the backgrounds would even have rain or snow effects added; those weather additions look seamless in their own right. All of the characters are also very well designed and each show a good range of emotions (even if their hairstyles can be pretty over-the-top). I also like the more comedic panels that pop up every now and then to spotlight a silly moment.

Audio

Just as the “game” looks like anime, it sounds like one as well. All of the characters are actually fully voiced except for the protagonist, for some reason. He doesn’t often show his face throughout the duration of Muv-Luv, as he’s supposed to be “your” character should you see this as a video game. I personally think it still feels somewhat distracting when compared to everybody else.

The music is varied enough to the point where each location appears to have its own background track. Yet, I feel like there is still a repetition to the use of these songs. It would likely be better if the key locations featured multiple tracks depending on what is going on in the story. Still, for what there is, both the voice acting and musical scores are nicely executed.

Story

Muv-Luv is divided into two halves: There’s Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited. Both of these visual novels have just about the same cast of characters, but as you read on, you’ll understand that they don’t quite go about the same path.

Anyway, this series stars a guy named Takeru. He’s the protagonist of both halves, and he can range from being the normally portrayed fellow to being obnoxious towards a character. By that I mean you will see that happen a lot with his childhood friend, Sumika. They stick together for years on end, but rest assured he has a habit of hitting her one too many times.

In this chapter of their highschool life, Sumika and Takeru live right next to each other. Every night they would converse through open windows before going to bed. Despite Takeru’s mannerisms of treating her like an idiot at some points, it’s not until a new girl shows up in Takeru’s house to really get the plot going.

Enter Meiya, who makes her debut by sleeping with Takeru in his bed.

From the get-go, this girl is suspicious. She transfers to class a couple weeks into the semester, and is later revealed to be a mental foreigner with boatloads of money. Naturally, Sumika and Meiya don’t quite get along as well as they do with other students; however, as the story progresses, it seems like the rivalry gets downplayed in favor of the other subplots that occur as days go by.

What I do like is that Meiya’s presence is an overarching mystery. Why did she come here? How did she enter into Takeru’s house the way she did? Why would she go as far as to buy out the entire freaking neighborhood to make things “convenient”, effectively leaving the area as a deserted land? Believe it or not, this character can be sympathized with even after doing all that nonsense.

But why so? Well, on the surface, she seems like a snobby brat that’s trying to be a nuisance towards Sumika. As the story goes on, however, the “player” could realize that Meiya herself doesn’t quite know 100% how to handle things as a human individual. Like Sumika’s rivalry with her, the scenes outside their households downplay the fact that Meiya’s pouring money into needless home renovations that affect the two childhood friends. She enacts with all the other students in regards to the activities in class. However, many things are completely new to her. She doesn’t know how to enjoy herself in public or participate in things like cooking, playing arcade games, or celebrating a team victory. It can make a person feel bad for Meiya since she’s practically an alien to everybody. If anything, she has servants do some of the harder work for her.

So, yeah. There’s a great deal of focus on Meiya and her interactions with what she sees as foreign. That isn’t to say the entire story’s about her, though. In fact, several chunks of Muv-Luv Extra give many other students time in the limelight. They each have their own unique personalities that may also develop the further they interact with each other. For example, there’s who Takeru calls “Class Rep”; she practically acts as one, since she’s rather picky for a fellow student and wishes to thrive on an orderly manner. There’s also Mikoto, who is perhaps the most ditsy character here. He can literally trail off from anybody else in the plot.

Nevertheless, the plot seemingly goes wherever it wants. Nothing is completely out of nowhere or anything like that, but there are times where characters can have conversations over even simple things like where and how they got their lunch or something like that. Admittedly, there are some scenes that drag a lot with conversations that don’t mean anything to the overall story. I personally found myself disinterested when the plot shifted focus on the lacrosse team Class Rep stresses to triumph with.

Nothing’s a complete waste of time, though. For every bland dialogue exchange there could be, there’s loads more world-building and character development. It’s always interesting to see how Takeru interacts with his peers, and sometimes even teachers. Many things can have you learn a lot about what a certain character may be going through or what they desire to do. It’s only obvious that Sumika, Meiya, and Takeru are the most notable characters to develop new feelings and ideas for one another. The visual novel does at least feature a dialogue option every once in a while to get you to take a path that would, in the end, cause the story to trigger one of multiple endings. Whoever Takeru decides to form a romantic relationship with depends pretty much on those small decisions.

…………………….And then Muv-Luv Unlimited takes place………………………….

Muv-Luv Unlimited completely ditches the highschool setting, yet stars the very same Takeru that witnessed all the events of Muv-Luv Extra. For whatever reason that we’re never told, Takeru is in a parallel world where Sumika doesn’t even exist and there’s a much higher focus on futuristic war and military. After spending hours upon hours getting to know the beloved characters of Extra…after being invested with their interactions and conflicts…and after I managed to get Sumika and Takeru to be an adorable couple…

Muv-Luv Unlimited took all of that away from me.

Now I know how readers of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic series felt when it rebooted.

Anyway, in this half of Muv-Luv, Takeru is the alien around these parts. The only person who got to grasp that he’s from an alternate world is Yuuko, who in his world was the class’s physics teacher. Just about all of the students from the first half are back in a new variation that suits Unlimited‘s science fiction tone more. It doesn’t go to the point where the Muv-Luv aesthetic is totally different, though. It’s still made clear that this is a visual novel revolving around interactions with the main cast.

As much as it hurts me to see the previous half fade into memory, I do admire the efforts made to convey that heavy emotion with Takeru’s position as an outcast in this world. Heck, Unlimited seems to pin the spotlight much more on the main cast as a whole than just specific characters (with Takeru being the obvious exception). And considering the new take on everything here, Takeru’s mood and emotions might just reflect how the “players” would be feeling. It’s tough to try and adjust to this new take on the cast, but the story makes sure Takeru does it.

Much like Extra, Unlimited also has overarching mysteries for “players” to mentally piece together. We all have to wonder just how Takeru would be able to adjust from being a wimpy newcomer to being one with the team of TCF combat pilots. It’s also intriguing to compare and contrast with the versions of the characters in this world to those that were in the old highschool world.

Verdict

If you hadn’t been able to tell by now, Muv-Luv has been a mental roller-coaster ride for me. The good news is that it wouldn’t have been if I wasn’t interested in seeing what would happen. I constantly wanted to know what the characters would do or say, and I found them all to be memorable and fun in their own respective rights.

Even after all I’ve said, there’s still a lot I didn’t really mention. It’s perhaps for the best to keep spoilers under wraps, but I can at least say that there’s a very entertaining package to be had here. The stories are engaging and mysterious, but there are also plenty of genuinely funny moments that I definitely treasure. It’s probably no wonder that this became an anime; it has all the right aspects to take the form of such a medium.