Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows
Muv-Luv was a definitely surprise hit for me. I love me a good visual novel, especially when it's a cute slice of life/waifu visual novel, but this one was all that and more. After I heard about my friend David's GLOWING review of it, I knew it wasn't a game I could pass up, and even as high as my expectations were going in, every single one was smashed and surpassed.
Muv-Luv is actually broken into two stories. The first, Muv-Luv Extra, is what I expected to find here - a cute slice of life waifu story. Takeru, the protagonist, grows up next to his adorable girl-next-door childhood friend, Sumika, but then suddenly this hella rich big tiddy blue hair waifu named Meiya shows up randomly in his bed one morning, and WOAH commence typical harem romantic comedy story. There are, of course, more potential waifus than just those two. OBVIOUSLY Sumika is best girl because of the Childhood Friend Corollary to the Intergenre Waifu Conventions which clearly states:
While not automatically Best Girl, when the archetype is present and the option given, the Childhood Friend™ must be the chosen waifu for any anime-styled game. Possible exceptions to this requirement are cases of realistic hairstyles and/or colors, malicious personalities, and character gender depending on the personal romantic preference of the player.
The great thing about Muv-Luv is that there's not really a "bad" girl to pick as your Best Girl, but it's pretty clear that the two "canon" choices, so to speak, are Sumika or Meiya. It's a solid 30 or 40 hour experience through the game for one playthrough depending on your reading speed, but there are multiple endings depending on who you choose as your waifu, and it's pretty much guaranteed to hurt your feelings at some point because all of the girls are so cute, and you just want to make them all your beloved waifu. Of course, that's not an option either within the mechanics of the game or within the limitations of Waifu Law; after all, more than one waifu will wreck your laifu.
The second half of the game, Muv-Luv Unlimited, marks an abrupt shift in tone. It takes place shortly after the events of Muv-Luv Extra although your waifu choice does not appear to be taken into account, and Takeru is still the protagonist, but he wakes up to a world that just seems....off. Sumika is nowhere to be seen. Meiya is nowhere to be seen. The world outside his house has, somehow, become a barren wasteland, the only clue being a wrecked mobile suit of some kind crashed into where Sumika's house should be. Obviously, Takeru's immediate assumption is that he's dreaming. He walks through this would-be dreamscape carefree, wandering to the school only to find it guarded by armed United Nations soldiers. From there, reality begins to sink in for him that somehow he's not in the same world he was when we went to sleep.
The overall experience in Muv-Luv Unlimited is very similar to Muv-Luv Extra. It's still a visual novel, and it's still all about picking your waifu, but the tone is dramatically different. The world in which Takeru finds himself is much darker and more desperate than the world into which he was born, and the story's tone is appropriately darker and more serious than in Extra. Most the characters return from Extra; pretty much everyone is there except Sumika, who is depressingly absent; but in her place is a mysterious but adorable girl named Kasumi. Unlimited is definitely not a feel-good cutesy story like Extra was, but it's told so well that it's every bit as compelling. Most folks would actually probably find Unlimited to be the more compelling of the two, but since I'm a neckbeard weeb, but I love the cutesy waifu stuff.
I absolutely loved Muv-Luv. From the moment I read David's thoughts on it, I knew that this was a game that I NEEDED to play. Extra and Unlimited may be totally different in tone and mood, but they're connected so well that it feels both jarring and natural at the same time for one to follow the other immediately. Very few stories I've read or experienced can pull off that abrupt an atmosphere shift, but the fact that Muv-Luv does it so well is, in my view, a testament to the quality of its writing and character development. If you flat out dislike visual novels, there still may not be much here for you, but it's no exaggeration that this is one of the most excellently written and thoroughly enjoyable visuals novels I've ever played through. The story itself can take a little time to pick up, but the characters are likable enough to keep players hooked until the story really sinks its teeth in. No exaggeration, this is probably my all-time favorite visual novel. I understand folks who just don't like reading a game, so to speak, but if you're at all into or even curious about the genre, check out Muv-Luv. It's an immensely rewarding experience.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.