Muvluv Alternative

Posted 7 April 2011 by

This is a review written in June of last year. I’ve gotten a few requests to put it back up, so here it is. I’ve updated it a bit to reflect current events, but it remains largely the same as the original.

Muvluv Alternative
A tale of love and courage
by âge

And with this review I’ll be launching into previously explored territory, the most exciting territory of them all. See, TakaJun and Ixrec have already reviewed this game, so it seems just a bit redundant for me to be writing another one, right?

Well, with no offense intended to either party, I find TakaJun and Ixrec’s reviews to be, shall we say, lacking. They don’t do a very good job of explaining what the game is actually about and what people should expect from it – and given that it’s currently being translated (the series itself, at least), I feel that the English fanbase deserves more of a rounded sort of opinion on the game, rather than a straight rundown of likes and dislikes.

Ed.: The translation is complete as of April 2011, so I feel that this review is now somewhat irrelevant. It should still serve as a decent introduction to the game, at least.

Also, I liked the game a hell of a lot.

On another note, I’m well aware that the game has many problems and “sticking points,” so I’ll try to do my best to point those out.

And finally, I’m aware that it may seem a bit odd that I’ve written this review without having reviewed the original Muvluv beforehand – and thus the question of why, indeed, I did not write a review of the original arises. Well, the answer is rather simple indeed: it doesn’t deserve a review. It’s something you have to play in order to get to Alternative and not really anything more than that. So sorry to fans of extraordinarily unfunny conversations about food.

Preface

Ah, Muvluv. One of the most famous names in eroge, up there with titles like Key’s output and Fate/stay night. Given its popularity and visibility, even among the western spectrum of the fandom, I don’t think there’s a need to explain the premise of the game itself. Mecha, scifi, warfare, etc.

What does need explaining, however, is that the game isn’t about anything that you may think it’s about. It’s not about the richly detailed setting. It’s not about the awe-inspiring battle scenes. It’s not about humanity battling an alien menace. If you are looking for these elements, you will certainly find them – but that is merely the surface of the story itself. The core of Muvluv Alternative, the reason why I enjoyed it so much, is something much simpler and much more relevant.

If I had to distill it down into a single concept, I would say that Alternative is about how people choose to live – and, by extension, how they choose to die. It’s about what Takeru learns from encountering people who have chosen to live in a way so very foreign from his own as he searches for something to call a “foundation,” something he can root himself in that he may carry himself with the same pride that he observes in others.

Well, whether or not you agree with my evaluation here, the point is that Alternative’s most important story elements are human drama and personal growth. I should also note that it is a decidedly non-escapist piece of fiction; death runs rampant and the idea of personal responsibility is stressed again and again. Many players will also find the ending rather unsatisfying.

Taking these factors into account, it would be prudent not to approach Alternative with the same mentality as one may have adopted for a mecha anime along the lines of the recently popular Code Geass or Gundam 00. At its heart, I’m not sure I even feel comfortable with categorizing it as an action story.

That said, Alternative’s strong plot and sheer intensity should be enough to win over people who are content not to concern themselves with what lies beneath the surface; I cannot imagine many people wholly and utterly disliking the game, regardless of its flaws and unconventional (for its genre, and perhaps even its medium) thematic elements.

Personally, I approached Alternative expecting to enjoy it quite a bit – and indeed I did. However, I enjoyed it for nearly wholly different reasons than I had imagined I would. I suppose that basic concept is what I’m attempting to express with this section.

To put it simply, Alternative will probably betray your expectations in interesting ways – it’s most likely not about anything that you think it is. (I’d like to note that I’m speaking to the western fandom here; more specifically, the people who will be playing it in some months from now when Ammy finishes translating it. And if you weren’t planning on playing it, you really should!)

Ed.: Once again, the translation is available now.

Well, now that we have my likely misguided rambling out of the way, let’s move on to something more concrete.

Aesthetics
Artwork: 60/100
Music: 80/100
Voice Acting: 80/100
Presentation: 100/100
Overall score: 95/100

Standard disclaimer: This section generally has little impact upon the final score I assign to a game. It is included simply for completion’s sake.

In a word, the character art in Alternative is mediocre. It accomplishes its task, but does little beyond that. The designs themselves are fairly funky as well. Also, it doesn’t help that the majority of tachi-e are reused from the original Muvluv – making the new ones they drew for Alternative stick out like collective sore thumbs. That said, I’ll give it a 60 because the mecha designs are attractive and all of the artwork for them is very polished indeed.

Alternative’s soundtrack is excellent. Every piece of BGM fits the scene it’s used in perfectly and most of them aren’t half bad to listen to either. You even get a JAM Project OP and insert songs by Kageyama Hironobu and Endoh Masaaki! Why is my score an 80, then? Because age had the bright idea to continue reusing the awful music from the original Muvluv constantly. I will seriously never get some of those shitty slice of life tracks out of my head. Sure, they’re necessary in a few parts of the game, but they used them way more than they had to outside of those parts.

No real complaints about the voice acting outside of Takeru. The spottiness of his voicing can be a bit distracting and I don’t think Hoshi Souichirou was a very good choice for him. Other than that, everyone is fine. No real standout performances, though, and Kuribayashi Minami manages to hold two roles despite being the worst seiyuu involved with the production. Oh well.

All right, there’s no way I couldn’t give a perfect score to the presentation category. No other eroge even comes anywhere close to Alternative’s system and visual presentation. Some of the battles simply have to be seen to be believed. And it doesn’t hurt that Yoshinari Koh contributed some animated sequences, either.

In summary, Alternative’s art isn’t anything to write home about, but the overall aesthetic presentation is quite the experience. You seriously won’t believe some of the stuff that rUGP can do.

Substance
Text: 75/100
Characterization: 95/100
Structure: 33/100
Scenario: 100/100
Overall score: 99/100

Do your best to overlook that 33 until I explain it, all right?

The text in Alternative is nice and meaty, doing an excellent job of reinforcing the realistic characterization. I enjoyed the fact that all of the characters sounded like they were real people for the most part, rather than anime stereotypes. That said, there’s nothing really interest-grabbing about the text itself. It’s just a means to an end here – and don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against that.

The characterization is essentially perfect, save for a rather unfortunate group of exceptions. Takeru reacts believably to every situation he is placed in and his growth throughout the course of the story is both realistic and inspiring. Now, Takeru is far more important for this category than any other character, since the story revolves around him in a big way, but the supporting cast members (in this case, everyone except Takeru, in my opinion) are depicted in such a way that the player can really get behind Takeru’s reactions to their personalities and actions… with the exception of the cast from Extra and Unlimited, that is. Mikoto, Chizuru, Tama, and Ayamine are fairly boring characters and remain this way until the very end of the game; fortunately, the brunt of their development is gotten out of the way in Unlimited and Alternative ignores them for the most part, instead choosing to focus on the characters with actual presence, a category under which pretty much every other character in the game falls. Also, the characters’ interactions with one another are pretty realistic too. I quite enjoyed the scene where Takeru confronts Sumika about their relationship near the end of the game, as it possessed an edge so often lacking in anime-style romance.

And now it’s time to discuss Alternative’s flaws. Its absurd, glaring flaws. Put simply, you need to be a very, very patient person in order to enjoy Alternative to its fullest extent. The fact that you have to play through the insipid food talk extravaganza of Extra and the blue balls festival of Unlimited in order to even get to Alternative is bad enough, but Alternative doesn’t even have the decency to start getting good until another 10-20 hours have passed. And even then, it lacks any sense of pacing. The story is frequently interrupted by mostly uninteresting briefings and (quite literal) lectures about things that aren’t even very important in the long run. The entirety of chapter 8 was apparently devised as an exercise in trying the player’s patience, as it consists of pretty much nothing but the aforementioned briefings and lectures. It also comes directly after some rather blood-pumping development that gets the player itching for some action, thus making it the best example of the game’s incredibly poor pacing and structure. If you cannot overlook Alternative’s horrible pacing and the fact that you need to play two entire games, neither of which is worth playing on its own, in order to reach the damn thing in the first place, then your final impression of the game will suffer accordingly. And honestly, I can’t blame you if it does.

Ed.: It’s probably not as bad as I’m making it out to be here. I was venting at the time.

Somehow, though, I’ve managed to overlook the pacing myself. As TakaJun and Ixrec’s reviews have mentioned, the game is simply so hotblooded that you’ll forget all about the boring lectures once things start heating up; in particular, chapters 9 and 10 make up for chapter 8 and then some, which is no small feat.

More than that, however, as mentioned several times now, I found Takeru’s character development and the underlying themes of pride and personal responsibility quite provocative; I think Alternative has some genuinely inspirational things to say – at least, more so than any other eroge I’ve played. That’s really at the heart of my overall evaluation here; I can’t help but feel some respect for age for managing to hit so close to home with the human elements in Alternative while maintaining their setting and plot at the same time.

I know, however, that a lot of people will probably find Takeru’s little journey throughout the course of the story to be either uninteresting or irrelevant. Why? Well, the number one reason is the fact that probably somewhere from 30-50% of the game’s text is Takeru’s narration. You’ll read essentially his entire thought process regarding everything that occurs around him throughout the entire story. I personally really enjoyed this aspect of the game (for a number of reasons that I’m sure no one cares to hear), but it’s quite obvious that the majority of players most likely do not want to read scenes with multiple characters where the narration has five times the line as the all of the actual dialogue combined. Seeing as I enjoyed the extreme care taken with Takeru’s characterization myself, I cannot characterize it as an outright “flaw,” but rather as a point of contention.

Also,  it’s quite possible that some players will feel as if they are being preached to at various points throughout the game. Alternative sticks to its guns; Takeru is never shown an exit route or allowed the privilege of lamenting his fate. Those who prefer unambiguously happy endings and unconditional sympathy may be a bit put off by the fact that Alternative essentially derides these notions as being cheap or petty.

Not everyone will be able to agree with the entirety of what Alternative has to say. Nor will most players be able to completely overlook the fact that the game is horrendously paced and requires an unreasonable investment of their time. However, I really want to stress that most people will enjoy it anyway. The intricate storyline, engaging action sequences, and proliferation of memorable scenes should be more than enough to ensure that the vast majority of players will come out of Alternative without feeling that they’ve wasted their time.

Final Score: 99/100

Ed.: Original closer piece omitted due to lacking relevance at the time of republishing.

Post Details

  • Post Title: Muvluv Alternative
  • Date Posted: 7 April 2011
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6 Responses to Muvluv Alternative

  1. DxS says:

    Is there any reason that you didn’t just cut out/edit the parts about the translation project being released soon instead of leaving it in and inserting notes?

  2. fuji says:

    Ma’am eh? Ma’am? eh? Ma’am? eh? Ma’am?

  3. Hayate says:

    Given that I’m nosey as fuck, I throughly enjoyed reading a review written by (no this isn’t sucking up nor a shoddy attempt at flattery) one of the most prominent users in the VN fanbase outside of Japan. If possible I’d kind of like to hear out your review of AsaIro, as it’s relatively unheard of within the Western fanbase. Seeing as you gave it a 10 on vndb and even somewhere in the Ammy forums that it’s the greatest thing you’ve read since Alternative (which is a huge statement given that it’s universal that MLA is your all-time fave and you’ve even played Oretsuba and Muramasa in between) I’m rather curious as to what makes AsaIro great before I try it out myself sometime down the line.

  4. Kefit says:

    Heh, funny how you pointed out a lot of the issues I have with Alt over a year before I played it. And indeed, the sticking points you mention are very big problems for me. I guess one way to sum it up is that Alt does entirely too much telling rather than showing. This notion invaded characterization and dialogue too, with characters constantly discussing the themes of the game at length in very precise ways that ended up feeling incredibly weird and unnatural to me. Unfortunately, I felt that this approach consumed much of the characterization that should have been present. To be honest, I frequently lost my patience with a lot of the dialogue in the final stages of the game.

    That being said, in the very end I at least did not regret reading the game. Chapter 10 is very powerful, even if I think it tries a bit too hard and feels too scripted. It was also, finally, where I felt I could agree with you on the game’s presentation – something I wasn’t hot on for most of the rest of the game. The ending is…extremely strange, but there was one detail in it that caught my mind and somehow made it satisfying for me. Very 微妙.

    Oh, and I will say that I disagreed with some of what the game had to say thematically. And Alt does indeed preach. I guess I prefer thematic elements like this to be more ambiguous and to let me come to my own conclusions.

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