Muv-Luv is a Japanese graphic novel available on Steam, Xbox 360, PS3 and Playstation Vita.
Disclaimer: As graphic novel type games live and die on their narrative, this review will only include details from the prologue and very early parts of the first chapter. Very minor spoilers incoming.
With the tag-line of “save in the name of true love,” anyone could be forgiven for thinking this is a run-of-the-mill dating simulator and not a graphic novel, which presented some small level of confusion to begin with. The novel actually begins with some fore-story and then opens into a flash-animated robot fight, offering a jarring transition from relative tranquillity to action, but this “action” is almost instantly revealed to be a video game. I would say this is equivalent to the writing standard (but ultimately poor) writing escape of “it was all a dream,” but it actually serves a purpose to flesh out your own character by the name of Takeru Shirogane, who after leaving the game due to a game over is instantly presented as a perverted, morally bankrupt character. The classic anime trope “male accidentally grabs female’s breasts” is quick on the draw as this is still within the first few minutes of the game. Takeru after realising his mistake continues to grope his childhood friend Sumika Kagami [third woman from the right in the picture above] (making the excuse that it’s a “reflex”), and constantly hits her throughout the first part of the game.
I had always been assured through research, and through players of graphic novels that they were essentially choose-your-own-adventure books, transferred to a digital medium, and in that sense, I would be fine with this game, if there were any choices to be had. Within the entire prologue, there is exactly one choice, and it seems to have no effect on the rest of the story. This takes out the main reason games are games (as opposed to movies, or in this case, a book). This reason being the concept of agency. The player’s ability to make choices that impact the story, or their character’s life, or indeed, just choices at all. With this kind of setup, I find it hard to see why Muv-Luv was not just a manga, anime, or book. Or, at least I would, were it not already a manga. So the idea of transferring it to a game was a natural progression, I can see, but as far as I am concerned it was handled poorly.
That is not to say that the story is dull, not at all. At the very start of act one, Takeru wakes up next to a woman he does not know [third pictured woman from the left], and is caught in bed with her by Sumika. She seemingly disappears, and as Takeru comments, should have had no way to even enter his home. So intrigue does grab the player fairly early on in the game, which is sure to be enough to keep a mystery fan, or a romance fan going (as the game is large predicated on those two themes). However to see our character, consistently hit women, insult them and generally be a bad person is not something a player generally wants to see, unless that’s their choice, but even then, we have no choice in the matter. It is worth noting that the choices offered open out later in the game, but the opening does not offer a good view of the game.
With the black marks on the game mentioned, its merits should be discussed. As an adaptation of the manga, Muv-Luv of course, has the anime/manga style of artwork, which generally works well in a graphic novel. More cartoon-ish and the disconnect from reality could leave some players uninterested, while a more realistic approach would fall into the uncanny valley due to animation in graphic novels being frame-by-frame with big jumps between each one (much like a comic book), so to use manga style visuals is both a smart move in terms of game design, and remains faithful to the source. The intro-sequence does this particularly well, being quite reminiscent of the Marvel opening credits in that respect, quick flashes of different images with music over the top.
On the subject of music, the soundtrack. The opening soundtrack does not really accurately depict the rest of the game, as it is exciting, jumpy, action-packed music, where the rest of the game (necessarily) is a more calm sounding affair, to fit the mood of being able to take as much time as you wish to follow the story or make a decision.
The options menu should also be discussed as there are some peculiarities. Of course, there is the industry standard of brightness, sound volume, language and the like (though it is worth noting that even if your language is set to English, the voices will still play in Japanese). But there is also the option to mute any given character separately. So if you find one of the characters you interact with annoying, you can simply shut their voice off, which seems odd, as the narrative lives in these characters, and to shut one out would be doing a disservice to the game.
Anything that can be said about a game is irrelevant, if it is actually fun. But a graphic novel is not truly predicated on fun, but on the narrative. So, is the narrative interesting enough to keep a player going to the end? Much in the same way books work, yes. If and only if you enjoy romance and mystery. If someone interested in Muv-Luv can’t make it through a book of either of these genres, I would advise against it.
A note to the achievement hunters who get this game, however. You will have to play the game multiple times to get everything, as all of the achievements revolve around endings, so you had better really like the story, or you won’t 100% this game.
Overall, however, Muv-Luv can be recommended to a mystery or romance fan, or indeed just a fan or graphic novels.
Review Code Supplied by Age Studios