Muv-Luv Alternative Review

Title: Muv-Luv Alternative
Original title: マブラヴ オルタネイティヴ
Release date: 2006-02-24
English release date: 2011-09-05
Developer: âge
English publisher: Amaterasu Translations (as a fan-patch)

"Muv-Luv Alternative" is a sequel to "Muv-Luv" I reviewed previously, and one of the most revered VNs in the English speaking fandom. There is only one question - does it deserve its fame? Short answer: Hell, yeah! Long answer: read below.

"You may not understand the truth, but that won't change it"
-Kouzuki Yuuko
Those guys... again.
There is a thing about expectations. If you go into a VN with high expectations, you might be disappointed by mere trivialities. Contrary, if you don't expect anything, you might be pleasantly surprised by a work of just above average quality. So, what do you say when you go in with high expectations and the game still manages to whack you over the head, strike your liver and set your nads on fire. Well, you probably say "Aaaaaaaa" and try to put that fire out before the humanity gene pool has a chance to give a relieved breath, but for the most part you will be speechless.

I avoided spoilers like plague during those two years that the translation was available to the public and now I'm really glad, as all those turns, twists and revelations took me by surprise. OK, there was one twist that I could see coming a lightyear away, but that's only one of many.

The first thing I noticed immediately upon starting the game is that it has even higher production values than its predecessor. Higher resolution, animated sprites, pseudo 3D action scenes and lots of voice acted lines for the protagonist - all of that shows that âge didn't stint on the resources. Also the OP was so amazing, that I watched it fully every time I launched the game.
Bad luck to catch a superior's eye, Takeru.
Moreover, "Alternative" has a much larger character pool. Many new faces are introduced halfway through the game with fully established roles in the plot. Obviously they are all voiced, as is our protagonist Takeru in all his flashbacks. Considering, that there is a huge amount of flashbacks in the game, we hear his voice quite frequently, which was a pleasant bonus for me. He was also sometimes voiced in "Unlimited" too, but the number of such scenes was negligible in comparison to MLA.

Despite all that, for some reason MLA doesn't allow us to rewatch scenes and CGs upon completion - there are no galleries or bonuses to unlock. I don't know why that was done. Maybe it has something to do with MLA being a completely linear story - you will see everything there is to see during a single playthrough. "Unlimited" was also linear, but pretended not to be; on the other hand, MLA doesn't even pretend - all the choices lead only to the changes in an immediate scene and do not affect anything plot-wise at all.

The plot of "Alternative" is a direct continuation of "Unlimited" and thus spoilers to that game are inevitable. Read further at your own discretion.

As you probably remember, at the end of “Unlimited” humanity failed to defeat invader aliens called BETA, Kouzuki-sensei’s Alternative IV plan went poof and Earth was doomed. Yes, a pretty downer ending. Now, at the beginning of “Alternative” Shirogane Takeru finds himself at the starting point once more. He is back in time to the 22nd of October in the “Unlimited” world, only with most of his memories and two years of military experience intact. He is ready to kick some serious alien ass and make sure that Alternative IV comes to fruition.

"I think it's better to keep pushing on in spite of one's mistakes rather than do nothing out of a fear of failure"
-Jinguuji Marimo

Not your usual high school class.
The beginning stages of the game are quite upbeat. Two years of watching Earth going to waste turned Takeru into a determinator, who seeks to accomplish his objective of saving humanity at any cost. Once again he is drafted into the 207th Squad lead by Sakaki Chizuru and has to initially relive his UL experiences. The previous game’s Takeru was weak and held his squad back, which ironically made them all a tighter group. MLA Takeru is a physically strong fighter, even though he hasn’t experienced direct combat in the previous world. His physical fitness helps everyone in accomplishing their objectives better, but the initial mood within the squad is a tad colder than in UL, though eventually Takeru manages to get everyone together.

There are some opinions on the Net that it would be more rewarding not to play UL before MLA, as the beginning stages are very similar. I couldn’t find anything further from the truth. Drawing comparisons between the previous world and the current loop was a major highlight during the early chapters of the game. Takeru wants to change the future, but is also fearful of making changes that would create too large of the difference between the worlds and render his unique knowledge moot. This contradiction is very well realized as we see Shirogane trying to hold onto his slipping advantage while at the same time yearning for new events to take place.
Last time Meiya beat you into a bloody pulp.
Takeru himself changes from an ineffectual weakling in ML into a certified badass. Luckily that doesn’t make him a Marty Stu as the writers painted a picture of an incredibly complex character for us. I can honestly say that after MLA, Shirogane Takeru became one of my favourite VN protagonists. He is just so human - he laughs, he cries, he feels uncertain and even loses his shit, but that's how people usually behave. Just as I said previously, watching the humanity go virtually extinct created a sense of obligation for Takeru to save the world. Surely, that would be a good thing? Not so much, and don’t call me Shirley. By putting such a vast goal in front of himself Takeru fails to see the whole picture. If anything, his perceived goals severely limit him and create lots of problems, and it’s part of his character growth to overcome them.

I thought that Takeru grew up during the events of UL, but apparently that was just flowers. MLA is incredibly cruel both to its protagonist and the supporting cast. Some of the chapters can be really depressing and even painful to read. Sometimes I imagined a horde of cheery devils shoveling shit into a giant fan and all the splatters hitting Takeru with sniper precision. The VN is one big extended Break the Cutie fest for Takeru who passes not one but four Despair Event Horizons, which incidentally helps him to overcome himself and become a real man and a real soldier in the end. I adored the Takeru that came out of this baptism by fire alive, sane and stronger than ever.

"Those who show others the way must not avert their eyes from the weight of responsibility"
-Grand Shogun

Where did you learn such words, Kasumi?
As you remember, the UL arc words were "Even if your own life is what's most important to you, you can't protect it alone". And Takeru is obviously not alone, as he has all his squad to support him. They all get their own character development, but on a lesser scale than Takeru. However, there are a few mentions that need to be made.

Yashiro Kasumi is a weirdo white haired girl with rabbit ears. She first appeared in UL, but I didn’t even mention her in a review, because her presence in that game was fairly subdued. This time, though, she becomes one of the main characters. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch as a former emotionless girl who barely uttered a word becomes more and more human-like through her interaction with Takeru that are so heartwarming, taking in consideration her history.

The first half of the game is also marked by Takeru’s angst over his childhood friend Sumika he left in the previous world. At first it’s a bit strange, as UL Takeru didn’t think about Sumika nearly that much, but it actually makes sense, as in that world he entered a romantic relationship with one of the girls and eventually had to say a proverbial goodbye to Sumika. On the other hand, MLA does away with the unneeded romance and thus Takeru has much more time to think about what he lost.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
I wouldn't trust your compliments, Shady Man.
I really liked Kouzuki Yuuko in Extra and Unlimited, but she was like a mascot of those games and not a fully fledged character. It’s MLA that finally allows for her to really bloom and reveals her as a frightening combination of Magnificent Bitch and The Unfettered. Yuuko is completely ruthless in her advances to defeat BETA. She will do anything and sacrifice anyone for that goal. She manages to manipulate everyone into doing her bidding… including herself! At first her personality grates with Takeru, but finally even he expresses admiration at Yuuko, proclaiming that she is exactly the person humanity needs to win. I’m also probably the only person that enjoyed Yuuko’s infodumping on quantum physics. It might be because I’m a sucker for that particular branch of physics or maybe because the subject is treated very seriously with MLA being a hard sci-fi VN and all. Surprisingly, this was the second Amaterasu translated game that delves into that topic, though the other one was more on the soft side of the sci-fi hardness scale.

While reviewing MLA, it would be prudent to mention a particularly glaring retcon that occurs between UL and MLA. “Unlimited” introduced Mitsurugi Meiya as a relative of the Emperor, but MLA changes that to Grand Shogun without missing a beat. I don’t know if I’m correct, but I surmise that this change occurred because MLA scenario was not finalized yet during the first game’s release. The creators probably had no idea that plot would require for Meiya’s relative to step into the light and become a central character halfway during the game. Considering the stigma that Japan has with portraying Emperor in fiction, âge had to scramble to change it to Shogun in order not to offend right-winger otakus. Of course, that is only my interpretation.

"People should do what they can for their country. And the country should do what it can for its people"
-Ayamine Shuukaku

Meiya demonstrates samurai spirit.
It is also halfway through the game that this VN becomes very political. Different political philosophies clash within an action filled arc with various characters presenting their ideas and letting you make of that what you will. The arc is also of particular interest, because in all probability it is based on a real historical event called "2-26 Incident". All in all, there is a point in the novel where it becomes increasingly nationalistic, but surprisingly it’s done in a very intelligent way without bashing you over the head. It also helps that Japanese political right is different from US: less “You are all going to hell” and more “Revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians”. Such demeanor fits well within the story as Japan is shown to be constantly threatened by foreign forces with their own goals and agendas.

Halfway point is also where it becomes clear that it was a very good idea to fully read “Extra” and “Unlimited”. I have already mentioned in my previous review that many people suggest to only read Meiya’s and Sumika’s routes in EX. MLA proves them wrong, as at the very least Ayamine’s route is moderately important for full satisfaction. Not only that, but I was astonished how well MLA ties all the lose ends together at the end. Things like multiple route structure of the previous games is integrated into the plot and the VN even tries to logically explain such seemingly unexplainable things like transparent female Eishi suits…

"When you get to the point where you can laugh at your mistakes, you'll find new thing to replace what you lost"
-Jinguuji Marimo

Battlefield command post.
Talking about Eishi suits, let’s not forget that “Alternative” is usually labeled as mecha VN, which is not really true. Mecha combat is never the main point, as the VN prioritizes human drama in a seemingly hopeless world. Character interaction is the main point and the strength of human spirit is shown to be the driving force behind the heroic deeds. There is a relatively low ratio of action versus drama in MLA, which was pleasantly surprising, as while I like action well enough, the characters are the ones that make this novel.

When it comes to action, “Alternative” boasts a highly realistic mecha action. Every battle takes toll on the machines called TSFs and they have to be constantly repaired. There are no physics defying kung-fu moves or instantaneous power-ups. That’s why the pilots of these machines have a really low survivability rate. While a giant ass robot sounds great in theory, it’s just a tank that can move in three dimensions and can be just as easily destroyed. Despite that, when the action scenes come, they come in force. TSF action manages to be just as exciting as it sounds and the events happening on the screen push the engine to the edge when the aliens appear.

And the aliens finally do appear. We haven't seen them in "Unlimited", but "Alternative" allows us a glimpse into the mysterious adversaries (it's hard to call them "villains" as they are so incomprehensible). At first, BETAs appear to be nothing more than slaughtering machines, but final revelations put MLA among the most intelligent treatments of alien invasion scenarios. The final Reveal reminded me a lot of P. Watts novel "Blindsight", which I suppose is a good thing.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

The setting, the heroes, the drama and the action are superb. The question remains, was there something that didn’t work out. Well, I could say that the second half of the game is a bit too wordy, especially where Captain Isumi is concerned; I could say that MLA likes repetitions just a tad too much, but all that would be just nitpickings. There is only one thing that didn’t go down so well with me and that is the epilogue.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
Oh, and for whatever reason the last 4 minutes of the game are untranslated (not even as a Notepad file). I had to look for a subtitled video on Youtube to understand what they are saying at the very end.

"Humans are never complete until they die..."
-Shirogane Takeru

Not everyone would be such an optimist in your situation.
To sum up, "Muv-Luv Alternative" is a very long game that carries within it many themes and many plots that resonate with different people. I suppose that is why the game is so popular. I myself completely fell in love with it and even lackluster (in my opinion) ending couldn't diminish my enjoyment of it. Heartily recommended for everyone.

Oh, and an offhanded comment that doesn’t have anything to do with the game itself, but rather with the packaging. Just like with “Muv-Luv”, Amaterasu patch works only with an old out-of-print edition of MLA (JAN 4526563000159). The cover of that version is really beautiful, but it’s one big ass huge spoiler! Whose bright idea was that?! That’s why I used a reprint edition cover for this review.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Amaterasu Translations site for the English patch
Buy the game: the game sometimes appears on Mandarake.
Download the first three translated volumes of "Alternative" manga here.

Final Verdict: 99%


  1. Its' here! And true to my word, I checked every day until you finished it, that's how much I liked your Extra/Unlimited review.

    Yeah, that ending was a little too Japanese for my tastes. I tend to see a lot of similar endings...and the more culturally Japanese of works, which means anything with Samurai or Mecha in it. I think the review "could" have gone into unspecific arc thoughts a bit more. After that political-praise, the only praise we got was the final romance, of which was awesome.

    Best part of the two reviews, that character study. Review more character focused VN's is my suggestion!

    I'ma ask a question, as I like questions. What do you think of the characters never having a "reveal" arc? I mean, actually telling them the whole sha-bang about our Protaganist?

    1. If I understand correctly, you are asking about the characters never learning that Shirogane is from another world.
      I personally think that it's a very good thing. In now way I can imagine how they could have pulled that off without resorting to cheap tactics. It was never needed for the heroines to know the truth. At best it wouldn't have changed anything, at worst it would have caused an angst for them that the person they are so fond of (underestimation of the year) is fighting for them even though he shouldn't even be here.

      As for reviewing more character based games... I'll see about that, but I don't think I'll be able to play and review anything until sometime into January. Holidays and all....

  2. Just finished it, and I can say that this its undoubtedly the best VN that i have played, and one of the best works of sci-fi that i had the pleasure of read.


    Now beliar, I concur with you in that the epiloge was lacking, but I think that the reason that Takeru "lose" his memoires it's because there was never a only Takeru. The Takeru in alternative was an amalgama of all the posible Takerus, and when he goes back to his world, he must go in a blank state for fix the law of casuality and all the possible branchs can be achieved.

    As for Kasumi, I think that the reason that she conserve hers memories, it's because she is the kasumi from the alternative world, and because she was left unable to forget Takeru so Yuuko send her to Takeru's world to erase all memories of Takeru in that world, and so preventing that the world suck him back

  3. I think i was one of the few that loved the epilogue, most because it was very cheerful, and well, MLA has the most depressive moments in fiction history (at least by my standards, i still remember crying and sobbing hard for days after a certain CHOMP, and everything that happened after), so i don´t care much about it's logic. Although i didn´t like much how there was a "domino effect" in the last operation, felt a bit forced.

    and pardon my rusty english