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Game Info:

Muv-Luv (マブラヴ)
Developed By: aNCHOR Inc.
Published By: aNCHOR Inc
Released: July 15, 2016
Available On: Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Microsoft Windows
Genre: Visual Novel
ESRB Rating: Mature (Fantasy Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language)
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $29.99

Sometimes a bait-and-switch is not all bad. Sometimes, if done well when writing a story, it can serve for some dramatic twists. The Muv-Luv franchise is known for using this to transition from a romantic comedy to an apocalyptic mecha thriller story. The first two arcs of what is a three-part story are Extra and Unlimited, which attempt to set the stage for their sequel and the grand finale, Muv-Luv Alternative.

The first part is Muv-Luv Extra, which is an almost tediously cliche wacky romantic comedy visual novel set in a world contemporary to our own. It practically ticks off a list of all the tropes of the romantic comedy visual novel to an almost parodic extreme. This is still important, as Extra is merely serving as an introduction to the characters that will play critical parts in the next two parts of this epic story (and include foreshadowing and scenes that only make more sense later on). It has multiple endings, and all of these endings are canon to some extent, as the succeeding story arc makes clear.

Muv-Luv Unlimited takes place after any Extra arc (available from the start in this port, but one should play Extra first for it to make sense), and the genre shifts dramatically. Taking place at the beginning of the Extra story, your protagonist wakes up to discover everything outside his bedroom is a wasteland and that Earth no longer is as he knew it. He comes to realize he's in an alternate world parallel to his own, where humanity is in a losing war against an alien species called the BETA. Worse, there are two plans left for humanity, one which will stop the alien menace for good. The other involves humanity fleeing their world and considering it lost. Like Extra, Unlimited has multiple endings that will all be canon to a degree in the final arc. Unlimited also ends with humanity failing to prevent the fall of their world no matter your efforts in any Unlimited story path, but this merely sets the stage for the final arc and sequel Alternative.

The gameplay is that of the typical visual novel, with branching choices, keyboard/mouse-driven controls, and the ability to save and load your progress at any point. The game uses an updated version of the engine used in the original Japanese releases with a lot of options to customize the interface and should be familiar to anyone who has played a visual novel of any sort before.

Muv-Luv (マブラヴ)
Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent genre shift twist; excellent visuals and music
Weak Points: Extra portion is filled with a lot of somewhat boring romantic comedy cliches that can be tedious
Moral Warnings: PG-13 level language (b***rd, s***, and a rare f*** or two depending on game route); Violence involving non-lethal military training and slapstick comedy; Some blood depicted on characters with visible injuries; sex outside of marriage implied or discussed to have occurred; some occasional displays of partial nudity; options to act in a callous or demeaning way to various characters are possible story options in many routes

Graphically, the art in both Extra and Unlimited draws from the same character design well, with stereotypically "anime" designs, including large eyes, multi-colored hair, and other design tropes associated with the Japanese VN genre. However, due to the genre shift, the art for the more serious, grimmer world of Unlimited has a more gritty, darker tone. This is to represent the dying, battered, wasted shell Earth has become, making the colorful character art stand out in stark relief. Meanwhile, the vibrant and happy world of Extra is set in a relatively peaceful modern-day world like our own, making for an interesting contrast when the genre later shifts in Unlimited.

Sound is again a clash of contrasts. Extra has many cheerful synthesized music and sound effects, while Unlimited has many more somber and dramatic soundtracks. Given the setting shift from romantic comedy to apocalyptic sci-fi, this fits the genre shift quite well. Unlimited is not without its levity, thus retaining some of the lighter music from Extra, but as the story of Unlimited progresses onward, this becomes the exception as opposed to the rule. Voice overs are in Japanese and sound quite distinct and well-acted.

The stability is excellent. The original games did not age well technically, forcing the developers to overhaul the game engines for ports to consoles and Windows 7 and up. The Steam releases are based on these later ports and run quite smoothly on modern operating systems.

Morally, we've got some definite problems with both Extra and Unlimited, with what is more prevalent noted specifically for each outlined below.

Violence is about slapstick cartoon level in Extra, while the more serious and military focus of Unlimited involves no actual purposeful violence to harm or kill others depicted. We do see combat training sessions with weapons like knives and guns in the Unlimited story, with offscreen implications of more than this that go unexplored.

Muv-Luv (マブラヴ)
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 82%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5


Morality Score - 52%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 2/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

Language in Extra is about on the level of a daytime TV show at worst, while the more dire nature of the Unlimited portion is about that of a primetime movie. Some common profanity like d*** and s*** is heard in both, with the more profane usage of b****d and b***h more rarely heard in Extra, though s**t is a bit more common, with a rare f*** in a scene or two, depending on the game route in Unlimited. Dialogue in both games can be slightly crude, with the main character being the butt of jokes like getting hit in sensitive areas. It's worth noting the main character Shirogane Takeru's dialogue is rendered as frequent Western profanity in the English script because his dialogue in the Japanese script is redolent with a lot of crude ways to address others in Japanese, and this is frequently rendered as profanity in English as the cultural equivalent.

Sexual content in both Extra and Unlimited involves partial nudity and implied and/or outright sex outside of marriage (without explicit details). Since this title was ported from the console versions that were all-ages releases, there is not much worse depicted. While there are de-censorship patches available, the censored versions are devoid of exposed genitalia or other pornographic imagery. For obvious reasons, I would not un-censor these games.

Morally and ethically, you can choose to act in a somewhat unscrupulous fashion if you so choose in both Extra and Unlimited. Some of your choices in this regard involve deceitful responses to friends and authority figures. That deceit is generally in the form of direct orders from lawful superiors to keep certain information on a need-to-know basis, even if the truth must be lied about to make sure that information remains secret. The Unlimited portion of the title promotes lawful and respectful obedience to military figures and adherence to martial traditions and decorum.

Overall, Muv-Luv Extra and Unlimited are a great two-part prequel to the fully realized conclusion in the third arc and I highly recommend them. Morally, these games cover some mature and concerning subject matter, especially in the language and sexual content department, and even despite being censored by default, they still aren't for non-mature audiences. If you are mature enough for the material discussed and like the idea of a multi-part epic tale that has an interesting and novel genre shift, then this is a very worthy game to purchase.

About the Author

Daniel Cullen

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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