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Game Info:

Muv-Luv Alternative (マブラヴ オルタネイティヴ)
Developed By: aNCHOR Inc.
Published By: aNCHOR Inc.
Released: September 18, 2017
Available On: Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Microsoft Windows
Genre: Visual Novel
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence)
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $39.99

Grand finales are a hard act for multi-part epics. Not only do they have to succeed at bringing realization to their preceding story arcs, but they must also resolve and expand on the story in a way that will leave the story reader satisfied the tale was excellent as a whole. Muv-Luv Alternative is the third and final act in the main Muv-Luv story, attempting to do this as best as possible.

In Muv-Luv Extra, protagonist Shirogane Takeru was the target of the affections of multiple girls in his high school, including his childhood friend Kagami Sumika. While it had multiple paths and different women who all vied for the love of Takeru, it was little more than a screwball romantic comedy, retreading the tropes of the romantic comedy genre to an almost tedious extreme.

After beating any arc of Extra, Muv-Luv Unlimited was made available. Rewinding time to when Extra began, Takeru wakes up to find a world that is far different from the happy and carefree contemporary world he is used to. He instead winds up in an alternate history world where Earth and it's people are being wiped out in a losing war against an alien species known only as "BETA". Despite his efforts in the multiple routes of Unlimited, not only does he fail to avert the worst case for the world and the game ends as the Earth is doomed to destruction, he realizes the world of the BETA is one where his childhood friend Sumika does not seem to exist, though everyone he knew in Extra does in a far more serious and grimmer apocalyptic setting.

Alternative takes place after all the possible endings of Extra and Unlimited. Realizing he has become caught in a stable time loop in an alternate universe where Earth is doomed despite his best efforts, Alternative is the dramatic finale, as he's been through enough loops to know where he went wrong. He not only wants to end his torment at reliving the same final days of the alternate Earth, but he also wants to free it forever from the threat posed by the BETA, which is finally encountered in all its horror for the first time. As he soon discovers, both of those goals are quite connected, and the reason Kagami Sumika as he knew her does not seem to exist becomes key to ending both the BETA threat and the torment of repeating Earth's final days over and over.

Muv-Luv Alternative (マブラヴ オルタネイティヴ)
Highlights:

Strong Points: Gripping story; amazing musical score; well-animated and well-drawn
Weak Points: Quite long; Little story variation despite your choices
Moral Warnings: Intense and bloody military-style combat on foot and in bipedal machines against both humans and a monstrous alien species; intense depictions of blood and gore; incredibly vulgar language with every form of profanity up to and including f*** said frequently; lots of crude jokes referencing bodily functions; sex both in and out of marriage is brought up, with only the former condoned as a moral positive and tastefully implied as having occurred; references and descriptions of a graphic rape (minus explicit visual details); lots of sexually charged jokes including accusations of lesbianism as a form of crude humor at one point; references to racism with demeaning slurs based on ethnic background; story requires the player to perform several cold and brutal acts with a big-picture moral end that still requires immoral outcomes as a result to others despite their ultimate goal being the survival of humanity in the process

Muv-Luv Alternative is a visual novel game using a slightly improved game engine used by the previous Steam release of the first two titles, again based on the all-ages PS3 Port of MLA (Muv-Luv Alternative). While not an entirely kinetic novel, as there are story choices that do affect later events, the tale is one with a single ending with only minor changes. Since MLA is meant to be the final game in the three-part arc of the series, this makes sense for reasons of narrative verisimilitude.

The gameplay is done via a keyboard/mouse-driven visual novel engine. Aside from customizing the appearance and size of game windows and other features in the game options, this a pretty straightforward if quite a long story that is mostly read and occasionally interacted with via multiple choices provided for certain story scenes.

Graphically, while retaining the bright and colorful character art of the previous titles, the grim, faded, almost monochrome shades used to depict the lifeless husk and apocalyptic war that has turned most of the Earth into a wasteland is much more omnipresent. Even the animated sequences are drawn in a much more harsh and realistic style compared to the preceding Muv-Luv games. The more light and cheerful contemporary colors are available in flashbacks and certain story scenes referencing the previous entries. Given the brutal and sharply drawn apocalyptic backdrops of the BETA infested Earth, these flashbacks to a happier and more peaceful world stand in stark relief. The BETA especially looks quite disturbing, being at turns humanoid to some extent and utterly disturbing aliens closer to nightmares given form.

Sound effects and music are stunning and crystal clear. I recommend some high-end speakers or headphones if you want an aural feast of orchestral and synth music that still has some comedic and whimsical tracks for the brief moments of levity. However, the MLA soundtrack is much more filled with dramatic dirges, stirring vocal music, and dramatic orchestral synth music for the intense scenes of war and combat. The sound effects are just as much a mix of silly sound effects for the funny moments and sounds of rending flesh or discharge of ammo from various types of mechanized weapons during the more intense war sequences. All voiceovers are in Japanese save characters who are identified as Americans speaking English, which is rendered fluently by native speakers.

Controls are nothing special or especially difficult to get used to, utilizing the standard keyboard and mouse controls used by countless other visual novels, and both are quite responsive to input. Stability is excellent, as this port is a modern computer-optimized release that required no advanced tweaks to run with perfect fidelity, though many options exist to tweak performance if you have issues.

Morally, we have a huge amount of things worthy of concern.

Violence is quite graphic. There is a lot of blood and gore from both humans and the BETA, who are aliens that are shredded, shot, and otherwise rendered into piles of gore by humanity and vice-versa.

Language is pretty obscene for multiple reasons. Unlike the previous game, since this is a military setting with lots of bloody combat and both humans fight aliens and even humans briefly fight humans at one point, virtually every expletive and profanity can be heard multiple times. While all voiceovers are in Japanese save for any character explicitly identified as Americans speaking English, the script is riddled with both spoken and written examples of every crass word possible, including a ton of uses of the f*** word. There are some crass and crude jokes told by some of the characters referencing body functions and other degrading circumstances, typically done as a form of black comedy to add some levity to the apocalyptic circumstances.

Sexual content is pretty severe despite this not being based on the pornographic ports. There is one identified rape scene that has all the explicit details censored or merely implied in the images, but the script leaves no doubt it was a cruel, degrading act meant to defile a woman, though the game appropriately depicts it as a horror whose perpetrators had no excuse for.

The game does, however, avert sex outside of marriage due to plot reasons, as the below spoiler shall elucidate.

Due to the Muv-Luv games being based around the premise of a stable time loop that branches off from Muv-Luv Extra's endings and takes into account all the preceding alternate endings for Muv-Luv Unlimited as canon, that means they all did occur at one point and thus any sex out of wedlock in those games did occur. However, it's established the canon ending in Muv-Luv Extra where you wind up with your childhood friend Kagami Sumika was always intended to be the true ending, as you marry her in that ending at some point, and thanks to the time loop, the Kagami Sumika of Alternative has all the memories of all other versions of herself that married your protagonist to varying degrees at some point. Your protagonist retains all the memories of all previous possible canon endings of Extra and Unlimited, even the endings where he was romantically involved with anyone other than Kagami Sumika, in or out of wedlock. Alternative establishes, due to the fact both your protagonist and Sumika have overlapping parallel memories, they are the same person with memories of their other selves in worlds parallel to Alternative, and it's by following up on the canon ending where Sumika marries the protagonist does Alternative's stable time loop finally close for good because those marriage vows are fulfilled in full as part of the means to end the endless looping of time and space permanently.
Muv-Luv Alternative (マブラヴ オルタネイティヴ)
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 36%
Violence - 1/10
Language - 1/10
Sexual Content - 1/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10 (+6 for denouncing suicide as utterly immoral and reinforcing repeatedly how how shirking responsibility to friends, superiors, and famil is a sinful act with tragic consequences)

As a result of the above spoiler content, while there is a tastefully censored yet obviously intimate sex scene that takes place, it takes place between two parties who are married as a result of the stable time loop that underpins the plot. There is a lot of partial nudity in these scenes for obvious reasons, but nothing explicit is depicted due to being a port of the PS3 all-ages version of MLA.

There is some sexual humor, generally a bunch of female catfighting over the male lead, and at one point they try to imply some of their fellow women are lesbians for each other. This doesn't go anywhere save being an attempt at dark humor by pushing each other's buttons. All confirmed intimate relations or confirmed sexual interest is definitely between heterosexual couples only as far as the story is concerned. There are some revealing military pilot suits for the in-universe combat machines, but aside from some unfortunate translucent material and a few that have a flesh-like tone that implies nudity (but reveals nothing), everyone in the story is otherwise sensibly dressed for the most part in full military uniform.

This is an intensely hard science fiction universe. Psychics and extrasensory perception are known plot elements, but are considered in the context of science and have no supernatural connotations. There are some references and names from other religions and deities, but these are used in a generic sense like codenames and military shorthand, like "Operation Lucifer", used to denote a major military campaign at one point.

Morally and ethically, this is set in a grim universe where humanity is fighting for survival as a race against a relentless, utterly alien foe slowly killing off the Earth and all that live on it. As a result, you are constantly forced to make decisions for the greater good that would be immoral, like letting people in a disaster area die to prevent an even worse disaster at a later point because of the diversion of resources to the disaster. There is no way to choose any story option that will not stain your hands with blood and the story requires some harsh, brutal, and downright cruel choices that must be made to ensure the survival of humanity. The game does however emphasize strong respect for lawful authority, as you serve as an elite special operations unit of the fictional military forces in-universe, and are thus bound to military protocol and held accountable for dereliction of duty.

Two especially poignant morals are made quite prevalent through the plot. The first is that it is utterly immoral to shirk responsibility to friends, family, and lawful superiors. Every mundane and fantastical case in which this gets people killed, hurt, or traumatized when they could have lived is directly laid at the feet of those who abandoned their duty as an indelible shame worthy of the deepest contempt. A second moral, rather atypical of a game with a lot of Japanese specific cultural values, is the absolute condemnation of suicide as a remotely honorable means of atonement for failure. By contrast, the plot makes it quite clear suicide is NEVER the answer and doing so for any reason is a sin that can never be forgiven. Given your protagonist considers this briefly in tune with the Japanese cultural more that suicide as restitution for failure to perform one's duty to others is a valid way out, it was surprisingly both narratively fitting and morally uplifting to see this title makes it clear suicide is worthy of marking you as having committed an unforgivable sin.

Muv-Luv Alternative is a visual novel with a plot I admit made me weep tears of both joy and horror in equal measure. It's a story of love, sacrifice, redemption, atonement, and realizes the plot threads begun since the original Muv-Luv to force the player to consider questions about the fabric of reality, the depths of bonds between people, and how a war against an inhuman enemy could drive humanity to be in danger of becoming no better just to survive. Morally, this is a dark tale filled with all sorts of harsh language, the brutality of an apocalyptic war against a terrifying alien menace, themes of rape and sexual sadism, and a universe where even the most moral person has to stain their hands in blood simply to survive. It's a tale that even as an "all ages" release without explicit pornography is not appropriate for anyone except mature adults.

This said, if you can handle the themes presented and want a story that will leave you hooked for days on end that will leave you spellbound, Muv-Luv Alternative is a worthy conclusion to the Muv-Luv story well worth its purchase price.

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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