Greetings Moar Powah! I apologize for the hiatus; I came back from NYCC and had a lot of work to do, including some NYCC coverage that will be up later. At any rate, we’ve come to the conclusion of this exciting crossover!
And now we’ve come to the last of the trilogy, Muv Luv Alternative! There’s a lot I have to say about it; hell, there’s a lot of preliminary stuff to get out of the way first! Released in 2006 (three years after the original, it’s like it went through a high profile video game’s development cycle, or something), it’s an expansion of what was originally supposed to be Sumika’s route in Unlimited (a very, very large one, at that). Alternative was released as a separate game because âge couldn’t budget properly. That decision paid off a lot, as it’s not only the highest ranked visual novel in the English speaking world at the time of writing, but it is also in the top five in Japan. So does it live up to the hype? Hell yes it does, though to varying degrees for some people.
JAM Project doing the opening? Brace for awesome.
The plot picks up from the end of Unlimited. As a result of not wanting to include spoilers, there’s not much I can include, but it basically involves Takeru, the main character, going back to fix things in order to prevent Unlimited’s ending. What initially starts as a rehash of Unlimited with slight changes soon grows into a highly emotional tale that is phenomenal on so many levels. Alternative is the master of gripping your emotions tightly and not letting go. It does an excellent job of connecting you with Takeru, and makes you empathize with him through all his despair, elation, anger, utter helplessness, and a variety of other feelings. One particular arc for instance is so well known for metaphorically punching the readers in the balls repeatedly (a sentiment many would still apply to much of the story too, as it’s probably one of the most depressing visual novels ever). Additionally, Alternative manages to weave in very mature and powerful themes into the very gripping plot.
Stemming from âge’s tagline, “This is the alternative ending unable to be told before: a very great, very small, very precious tale of love and courage,” the game takes rather cliché ideas and spins them into very thought provoking themes. Themes such as “What does it mean to love someone unconditionally?” and “Can someone have enough courage to save the world?” These themes play roles in the plot very often, and as a result, drive large portions of the plot. Additionally, two other important themes are “How does one choose to live in the face of death,” and “How does one choose to eventually die.” The mecha and military elements are also implemented very well, and display very intricate levels of detail: the use of tactics, commands, squads, mechanical designs, and the like make those segments feel very authentic and entertaining and do fit rather well. In addition, Alternative also has a lot of references, nods, and homages to classic science fiction and mecha, both Japanese and Western. The premise can feel like a Japanese version of Starship Troopers (even though there’s already a Starship Troopers anime), but the actual plot is radically different. The only real problem many may have with the plot is the amount of talking and exposition: Alternative explains EVERYTHING you will ever need to know, whether you want to know or not. This often means there are many scenes that drag on a bit too long, even though they explain literally everything. Still, that does not diminish the quality of the plot, as the emotions, the themes, and the detail make the plot a very powerful one, one that is unrivaled in the visual novel medium.
On the art side of things, everything got a rather large bump in quality from the original. Character sprites are much more detailed and crisp, mechanical art is also highly detailed, backgrounds are lush and crisp, and CGs? Holy shit, CGs are flat-out amazing. There’s not much I can say about the art, other than that it was some of the best VN art I’ve seen.
In the sound department, you have what’s probably my favorite VN OST ever and maybe my favorite OST in general. The music takes a huge step up from the first game and is actually almost fully orchestrated. The themes are amazing, blood pumping, chilling, heartrending, and much moar, and all are carefully composed and conducted to work very well with the story. In particular, I noticed that three BGMs are inspired by songs from Gunbuster (in a homage-y way). Seriously, it’s one OST that will not get out of your head once you start listening to songs. My only complaint about the music is when they reuse songs from Extra (no, not the awesome ones) and make a few Extra-eque songs. Sound effects, meanwhile, are numerous, and voice acting is top notch.
This is actually a homage to the main theme of Gunbuster.
This also came from Gunbuster, but it wasn’t as memorable.
Following Unlimited, the narrative of Alternative is somewhat similar, except you now have a more mature Takeru to work with, so it can be rather refreshing. You get to follow his motivations, see how they change over time, and see how they stack up with his and other people’s philosophies. While the narrative can drag on at points, it’s still very solid. Meanwhile, on the presentation side of things, you pretty much have the best looking visual novel ever made. Hell, it’s so animated, you can already call it an anime! Following Extra’s and Unlimited’s unique range of sprite movements, Alternative takes them to the next level by adding in even more actions, and as a result, sprite movement has gotten a whole lot more versatile. It’s really amazing how Alternative can create large scale battles with just moving sprites and sound effects alone. Coupled in with VERY effective use of CGs, and you have some perfect battles. Little details lend a huge hand to making the Alternative experience much more enjoyable: sprites blink and move their mouths when they talk, the text pops up instantly and is centered and not backed by a slightly transparent background, the mecha HUD is really authentic, and the whole VN is 16:9 widescreen. Yes, Alternative is one of the first, if not the first, VN to employ a widescreen resolution. All these little tidbits actually add up to make Alternative feel cinematic. And this cinematic experience is part of what makes Alternative so special.
The characters in the novel are all top notch. We have the now mature Takeru, who still goes through enormous amounts of character development. I can’t say much about his character for fear of spoiling things, but Takeru has become an incredibly endearing character, and going through his trials and tribulations is frustrating, tearjerking, and incredibly rewarding, all at once. While the five heroines of Unlimited got most of their spotlight in Unlimited, they get a bit of development in this one as well. Meiya, in particular, actually gets a lot of fleshing out and development, despite having a large focus in the previous installment. A character who only showed up in Extra goes through tons of fleshing out and development as well: hell, said character is probably the second main character, despite this character’s limited (figurative) camera time. Alternative, however, also places many of the side characters in the spotlight, giving them equal amounts of importance as some of the main cast. In short, you have a lot of characters who all have legitimate and not contrived reasons for fighting, surviving, and even just existing, and these reasons make many of them very endearing characters. This, coupled with the protagonist’s growth, makes up one of the most important part of the novel.