I recently finished reading Muv-Luv Alternative, the highest rated visual novel on VNDB and one I’d been awaiting the official release of for quite some time. Overall, I really enjoyed it, and it was a mostly satisfying conclusion to a unique and fun trilogy. However, there were a few elements that held it back from becoming an all-time favourite for me, such as some characters I wished had played a more important role in the plot. I’d be really interested to know if anyone else felt the same way as I did, so feel free to comment or message me with your opinions, and I hope you enjoy my review. (And sorry to those who haven’t read it, but it’s pretty much all huge spoilers.)
The Spoiler Police have their eye on you.
One of the great things about Muv-Luv Alternative is how much it builds on the plot of the previous two parts. After the end of Muv-Luv Unlimited, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the third installment, but it was a pleasant surprise to see Takeru sent back in time to deal with some of the events of Unlimited again, using the skills and knowledge he gained the first time around. I also really enjoyed seeing him return to the universe of Muv-Luv Extra, and seeing the inclusion of multiple difference romance routes in Extra and Unlimited become relevant to the plot. I always appreciate it when VNs take a convention of the genre the readers probably haven’t thought twice about, and then subvert your expectations by actually providing an explanation for it and making it an important part of the story.
So it’s Sumika’s fault I had to skip through Unlimited a bunch of times and read through several very slightly different endings to unlock all the CGs, is it?
I also really liked the characterization of Yuuko. Hearing about some of the political conflicts behind the war against the BETA added an extra layer of meaning to everything going on, and the moral complexity of a lot of her actions makes her a fascinating character. As I was reading the later parts of the story, I thought a lot about her choice to release some BETA during a training exercise, leading to the death of Marimo and several other soldiers. I wondered if she was really right that Takeru and his friends needed to be unexpectedly thrust into combat like that in order to toughen up before the real battles, and if the tragedy it caused was still worth it for the greater good. And whether she was right about that or not, would I be able to forgive her if I was in Takeru’s position? One of the most emotional moments of the story for me was when after thinking about that so much, I saw her holding a picture of Marimo while the soldiers were leaving for the Kashgar hive. I was really touched by that brief moment of evidence that at least part of her cold and detached personality was only an act, and that she probably was just as sad as everyone else about the loss of her friend, even if she also believed the sacrifice was necessary.
She even went to the trouble of finding the last surviving Kinko’s in the war-torn world to get the picture printed out and framed.
One thing I had somewhat mixed feelings about was the way the story handled the secondary characters in Takeru’s squad. I got pretty attached to some of them as they trained together and discussed their histories and motivations for fighting, and at first I thought I’d be writing in this review that Alternative did a great job of bringing new and interesting characters into the story. But I was pretty disappointed that they all either died or suffered serious injury before the final battle. It made me feel like they had just been glorified redshirts, there to demonstrate how much danger the protagonists were theoretically in, while saving the higher impact deaths for the end. I guess there is a bit of an in-universe explanation about the main characters living longer because they have “better causality” or something, but I think that’s still mostly an excuse to have the dramatic but slightly cheesy ending of Takeru and the main love interest girls on the final mission together without anyone less important getting in the way. I think I would have preferred to see some other characters, like Munakata, accompany them on that journey as well.
And tragically, Isumi’s Valkyries never became a yuritopia.
I also wasn’t quite sure how to feel about the sexual content. I do actually think the all-ages version handled the rape scene really well. I gather that it was pretty much just pornographic in the original, but with those explicit images replaced, what’s left is an effectively disturbing explanation for Sumika’s trauma, and a demonstration of exactly what a terrible threat the BETA are to humanity. But the subsequent consensual sex scene between Sumika and Takeru was pretty uncomfortable for me. I know that Sumika loved Takeru, and that she had been working on overcoming the trauma for a while by that point, and also there’s some other excuse about how sex is somehow important for how her robot brain works, but there’s still something about the quick transition from “Here’s a vision of how I was horrifically raped” to “Anyway, let’s have sex now” that’s just really unpleasant. It might have been better if the all-ages version made some slight changes to the plot to allow for cutting that scene completely, as it really feels like it’s just thrown in because of the expectation that VNs will have h-scenes rather than for any other reason.
And I really don’t need to hear any more about those details, thanks.
There were also a couple other weakness of the plot which brought down my overall opinion of it. For one thing, Takeru’s character development starts to get extremely heavy-handed. At some points, I felt like the whole plot was just a cycle of Takeru doing something wrong, then having several flashbacks to times when people said inspiring things to him, and then vowing to never do that bad thing again and going around telling all his friends what he learned and what a better person he is now. The flashbacks especially just got excessive. Some of them might have been an accurate representation of Takeru’s PTSD, and others were relevant to the whole plot about him gradually regaining memories from previous timelines, but I swear at least 75% of them were just making me reread some dialogue I already read an hour ago for no real reason. By the end I was ready to hurl my laptop across the room if I heard Marimo’s dying speech or anything about that old woman on Mt. Tengen one more time.
When you just want the plot to progress, but your friend won’t stop having flashbacks to the conversation you had yesterday.
Finally, there was the issue of Yoroi Mikoto. Ever since the female version of Mikoto was introduced in Unlimited, I wondered what her deal was. Why did she have a different gender in different worlds when no one else did? I came up with all kinds of half-baked theories about how one or the other version of Mikoto had some reason to be disguised as the opposite gender, or about how Mikoto was actually transgender but hadn’t come out yet in one of the worlds. Her father showing up in Alternative and saying something like, “Take care of my son—I mean, daughter,” just cemented my conviction that this was all important to the plot and would eventually be explained. But it just … isn’t. Even after finishing my first playthrough of the game I was convinced I must have missed something. I went back to make different choices and skip through—which took forever since some of the videos are unskippable—just to unlock Mikoto’s farewell letter and find out that it’s the same as the others, with none of the revelations I was desperately hoping it might include. I guess maybe her father’s slip-up had something to do with the whole causality conductor thing also giving other people around Takeru memories of other worlds. And I guess Mikoto is a girl in the BETA universe when she was a boy in Takeru’s original world, and is the only person we ever see change genders between worlds, because … she just is? It was just to set up some jokes in Unlimited about Takeru being uncomfortable with his bro turning into a hot chick, maybe? I think the writers could have actually done something really interesting with Mikoto, but instead there’s this complete lack of closure that was the most disappointing thing about the series for me personally.
“That’s … that’s it? That’s adorable, but that’s it?” – me realizing there’s no post-credits scene
I’m still really glad I read Muv-Luv Alternative—it was a solid conclusion to the trilogy, and I really enjoyed it overall. But after hearing it hyped up so much as one of the best VNs ever, it was a little bit anticlimactic. I think Mikoto and some of the secondary characters had a lot of unfulfilled potential, and I could have done without all the flashbacks and the robot sex scene. I’d still definitely recommend the trilogy for its interesting twists, fun take on alternate universes, and moments of emotional resonance, but there are other VNs I would personally give a higher rating. Now, a VN entirely about Yuuko and her adventures in apocalyptic politics and inter-dimensional travel—that’s something I would read the hell out of.