Muv-Luv Extra Review

The beginnings of true love.

Muv-Luv Extra Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and PS Vita
Developers: âge and ixtl
Publisher: Sekai Project

Like many other obscure Japanese series that I have unknowingly stumbled into, Muv-Luv is a sprawling and surprisingly massive series of visual novels that only recently made their proper English debut. A series spanning no fewer than 10 titles, even more counting the fan discs, and has been routinely praised for its storytelling, characters, and presentation. With even the game’s store page dubbing it “the most highly-acclaimed visual novel series of all time”. After going through the first installment, Muv-Luv Extra, which is sold along with the sequel, Muv-Luv Unlimited as part of a compilation simply called Muv-Luv (confusing, I know) I can safely that that, yeah, this series is something really special.

Muv-Luv Extra is a dating sim centered around Shirogane Takeru, a highschool boy whose life is only peppered by the presence of his energetic childhood friend, Sumika Kagami. But one day things suddenly take a sharp turn after he wakes up and finds a mysterious woman in his bed who seemingly has intimate knowledge of him. This woman, Meiya Mitsurugi, is an absurdly affluent and rather eccentric individual who kickstarts a series of antics that turn Takeru’s ordinary life into something extraordinary over the span of a few weeks.

And I certainly do mean extraordinary, as Muv-Luv Extra is one of the most extreme and wild comedies I have ever seen, game or otherwise. From the onslaught of absurd scenarios that occur throughout the storyline, the intense emotions and stakes set by its colorful and lovable cast, the overwhelming excess of silliness, and an overall outlandish nature that regularly had me leaving the game idle while I laughed or paused to let everything sink in. It is a culmination of everything stupid and wonderful that I love about this genre of manga and anime, executed with an almost unbelievable level of affection and sincerity, not only for what the game is, but for everything that inspired it.

As the story shifts away from its first third, things even out a bit, with the absurdities becoming less common while the story focuses on a more typical rigmarole of highschool anime style antics. Including an section centered around Takeru serving as the manager of a woman’s lacrosse team for the school’s culture festival, and a hot spring section wherein the story winds down into a more straightforward romance story, long after the characters had been established and after the player has grown to know their chosen girl, along with the rest of the cast.

It is a well paced shift in tone, spread out over several hours, with the absurdity never really going away, and the more serious moments being surprisingly impactful for such an intentionally silly story. It is a very deliberate mix that kept the story tonally engaging and left me eager to discover what happened next. With such a structure, it should come as no surprise that the story does not change much depending on the route taken by the player. Choices alter certain scenes and the ending, but barring two bad ends the player can stumble across, the main story remains the same.

Even with that in mind, I still found myself wanting to go back through the game just so I could see more of the characters. A process that the game makes simple enough by adopting an expedient skip function that has scenes rapidly play out. Normally a feature like that would be expected, but Muv-Luv Extra strangely has two skip functions. A regular skip that goes through all dialog, new and old, which is activated by pressing Control, the usual skip key for visual novels. The skip function that I am used to, which pauses at new text, is called auto-skip, and is toggled by pressing F5. This is a genuinely bizarre decision that confused me for quite a while… actually, that’s a lie. It still confuses me.

Anyways, going back to the characters. While it is customary for most dating sim protagonists to be blank slates, the story deliberately attempts to give Takeru a personality, and a particularly flawed one. He can be crass, impatient, shortsighted, dim, and, well, a massive jerk. Yet, he is a character who has his moments and instances wherein he shows himself to be a far more talented and compassionate person than the superficial nature of his personality may imply. I assume that this is the beginning of a trilogy spanning arc for Takeru, wherein he must evolve from his flawed and selfish self into someone noble who saves the world in the most manly way. By piloting a giant robot.

I could go on about the rest of the cast, but I think it would be more apt to say that they are a surprisingly well balanced concoction of charismatic characters who often develop out of their familiar archetypes into being something exceedingly entertaining and endearing, and just the right level of absurd. From the no-nonsense personality and grounded nature of Takeru’s class representative, Sakaki Chizuru to the insanity of Yoroi Mikoto. An effeminate boy whose father likes to abduct him and strand him in the south Pacific, where he must fend for herself on deserted islands, get caught in tuna nets. When writing it all down, it sounds like a jarring combination, but with the game’s absurdity being so well established, it actually helps the tone and does not seem out of place at all.

The story of Muv-Luv Extra is certainly far and above anything I would expect from a dating sim of any variety, but where it becomes truly exceptional is in its presentation. With the advent of countless low budget visual novels entering the market, it is easy to expect a rather plain presentation, with character sprite that only have a few poses and emotions, only a limited scattering of CGs, and for static character movement and animation. Despite being originally released in 2003, Muv-Luv Extra is easily the most impressive visual novel I have ever laid witness too.

The entire cast has a wide array of poses and expressions, multiple outfits, and even back sprites. They move across the screen pleasantly, juking and jiving about when the scene calls for it, are placed deliberately in each and every scene, and the size of characters scale in order to gauge their distance from Takeru, sometimes residing within the middle of the background. The game does not use text boxes, and instead presents dialog as color coded subtitles. Every line from a character (aside from Takeru) is fully voiced, giving more life and personality to the already lively cast. The game even remembers where the player was if they quit the game from outside the main menu and will automatically load that point on startup.

This is all fairly simple stuff that really give Muv-Luv Extra an extra sense of polish and visual flair. It honestly feels like a generational leap in regards to technical prowess and visual fidelity when compared to other more contemporary visual novels, which is really quite remarkable for a game that’s nearly 15 years old. However, not all of it feels like a leap, as there are some signs of the game’s age. Its character designs and general art style, while well executed and appealing enough, really is reminiscent of various anime from that era. This is most evident in the way everyone’s hair is drawn like it is overly shiny and the design of the school uniforms. Still, the designs are memorable and varied enough for each character to be distinct on nearly every level.

Other signs of age are less quaint, such as the game’s resolution. From what I understand, Muv-Luv originally had a native resolution of 800 by 600 and for the western re-release, it was given a resolution of 1024 by 600, making the game widescreen. To accomplish this, I believe that the developer or publisher cropped CGs and background vertically, and inadvertently stretching them ever so slightly. I am not a fan of this because the backgrounds and CGs look quite good and I would have liked to see them at their original resolution. But apparently that was simply not in the cards, with the western version of Muv-Luv being based on later versions of this game which were already designed around a 16:9 aspect ratio.

The western release also saw the removal of one of the songs from the game’s soundtrack, with the track わるだくみ or Waruda Kumi being replaced in several scenes because of how it is a pretty blatant rip-off of Livin’ La Vida Loca, but with a whooshing noise thrown in every three seconds. Besides, I think the track they replaced it with is pretty good. As for the soundtrack as a whole, it is quite catchy and enjoyable on its own, and matches the fluctuating tone of the game’s story quite well, shifting from somber, to intense, to tranquil, to absurd.

Beyond a few minor technical oddities Muv-Luv Extra is a nothing short of excellent. It knows exactly what it wants to be and executes its goals incredibly well, resulting in an exceptionally entertaining story peppered with endearing characters, with what is easily the best presentation I have ever seen from a traditional visual novel. It’s rampant absurdity and unabashed love for what the story represents easily makes this among my favorite visual novels of all time. But you know what the best part is? It’s supposed to only get better from here.

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