We think we may be developing a bit of a problem - we're turning into a bit of a visual novel addict. While Sony may have given up on the poor old PS Vita, we haven't been able to put ours down, always part way through one of the many story-driven games that have graced the console since its inception. Our latest addiction? Muv-Luv, an oddball romantic visual novel centred around either a high school lacrosse championship, or a war-torn alternate universe with giant mechs, depending on the game. Offering two games in one, Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited, the briefly titled "Muv-Luv" is a bumper pack of visual novel fun that's a nice change of pace from our usual diet of otome games - because this time, we're wooing ladies instead. We're equal opportunities casanovettes, don't you know?
The original Muv-Luv experience, Muv-Luv extra is a light-hearted school drama staring Takeru and his bevy of female classmates. Once a normal teenage boy, doing normal teenage boy things, his world gets turned upside down when he awakes to find a mysterious girl lying in bed with him - and his parents are nowhere to be seen. Oddly enough, it turns out she's an heiress to a multi-million yen company, and for some reason, she's been ordered to keep Takeru company while his parents head off on all-expenses-paid jaunt around the world. However, being a member of the rich elite, Meiya doesn't really know how to act like a normal teenager, leading to all kinds of hilarious capers along the way.
Along for the ride are your ditsy childhood friend Sumika, the prim and proper 'Class Rep' Chizuru, dainty cat-like Tama and the somewhat apathetic Kei - along with a whole load of other weirdos - in a tale of everyday school life, love and epic lacrosse championships.
Despite its bog-standard school setting, Muv-Luv can be surprisingly weird and out-there, mostly when Meiya tries to 'help out' her friends in extravagant ways - like airlifting in a gaggle of the world's best personal trainers to beef people up for lacrosse; summoning a whole load of professional chefs just to make Takeru's school lunch; or launching a full frontal samurai-style attack on a stage show bad guy at a theme park, to name but a few. The combination of her naive innocence and unlimited resources is one that often gets her into trouble, given that she tends to take everything deadly seriously, much to the amusement of Takeru and her peers.
During the course of Muv-Luv's main story, Takeru (you) will often have a choice of responses or actions to pick from, which can help steer the story in a different direction, in typical visual novel style. In Muv-Luv Extra, each of the girls has their own unique ending to play through, depending on the decisions you make along the way - pick a certain option, and your affection with a particular character will grow, leading you down a particular path in the story. Takeru seems to be a bit of a moe magnet, with his female classmates practically throwing themselves at him at times, particularly in the case of the vicious rivalry between billionaire newcomer Meiya and childhood friend Sumika, especially when it comes to cooking for the object of their affections. Regardless of the route you're playing through, it's all very goofy and off the wall, with more than a few wtf moments thrown in for fun.
Where Muv-Luv Extra is over-the-top and silly, Muv-Luv Unlimited, the sequel, has a much more serious and sombre tone. Teen stud Takeru wakes to what he assumes is a 'normal' day, only to find neither Sumika nor Meiya around - and heading outside he finds his house sits in the middle of what looks to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with nary a soul in sight. And a gaggle of giant chuffing robot wrecks on his front lawn. Somewhat shell shocked by this strange turn of events, he makes his way to school, only to find it's now a high-security military base, training soldiers to take on a mysterious alien menace known as the BETA, which has driven humanity pretty much to the brink of destruction. It seems Takeru has woken in an alternate dimension, plagued by memories of a world he can no longer reach.
Things get even stranger when he finds himself enlisted as a cadet, in a class with some rather familiar faces. There's Class Rep Chizuru, rich girl Meiya, the mysterious Ayamine and cutesy Miki, alongside his best friend Mikoto, who's now a girl too - but no Sumika, his ditsy childhood best friend. He remembers them all, but they don't know him, and as this world is very different to the one from which he came, he'll need to find a way of gaining their trust, if they ever hope to pass their cadet training. As he grieves for his missing friend and pines for the old world, he must try and find a way to fit in in this new war-torn world, where at any moment, the dreaded BETA could be knocking at their door. Along the way, he'll get to know his new comrades, as they study to pilot the giant mech-like robots that are the key to humanity's defences - and if he's lucky, he might even find a special lady along the way.
While Unlimited still has much of the school-yard humour of its predecessor, it comes wrapped up in a much more serious, and arguably better structured tale, with the same kooky cast of characters, and plenty of funny moments along the way - whether it's Mikoto being scared of ghost stories, a team-building sleepover that turns out to be a bit dangerous for Takeru, or Meiya's growing video game addiction. As before, at various points during the story, you'll have a choice of responses or actions you can take to steer the story towards your chosen girlie, each of which has their own unique endings to play through. However, the routes do share a lot in common with each other, so much of each play through will be similar, save for a few scenes and the endings.
However, the Muv-Luv compilation does have a few slight issues along the way, most notably, that old visual novel bug-bear, typos. While for the most part, Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited are OK, the game does seem to have an issue with words which should end in an é - with words like 'touché' and 'cliché' become 'touch' and 'clich' respectively, leaving you to do a double take while reading. We also had some issues with the Auto-Skip Mode, which allows you to fast-forward over sections you've already seen. When set to 'Previously-Read Text', Auto-Skip should pause on anything new - the problem is, it rarely does, and you only realise you've skipped over something important several screens too late, and have to go back through the logs to catch up on what you missed.
Problems aside, both Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited are solid visual novels with some great characters and plenty of twists and turns along the way. Muv-Luv Unlimited probably has the better story of the two, what with its war-torn, bleak setting and some genuine edge of your seat stuff thrown in along the way, but Muv-Luv Extra wins on sheer randomness and wtf-ery. Sumika is still the best girl though, if only because we see way too much of ourselves in her.