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oh comrade in arms, you no longer fear death: a review of the muv luv series
The Muv Luv games win the award for Worst Introductory Visual Novel for a novice of the genre. The first game consists of roughly six hours of harem hijinks (Extra) and then another six or eight hours or so of something very different but still not quite excellent (Unlimited.) Granted, Extra can be remarkably entertaining considering the fact that it's almost totally fluff, and Unlimited has some great moments interspersed with the cliche. Unlimited also pulls the neat trick of taking your typical protagonist of an anime rom-com (Takeru, in this case), totally pulling the rug out from under him and forcing him to either change or die. Not to mention that Muv Luv is graced with some of the best visuals (despite the deliberately generic character designs) in the visual novel business. But as an experience, without the grace of its successor, Muv Luv suffers hugely.

Here's the thing, though. Muv Luv will make you curse the silly moments of comedy. It will make you cry out for the good stuff. You will rage in anger against the potty jokes and episodic storytelling and occasionally heavy-handed drama. But there will be a moment in Muv Luv Alternative, Muv Luv's very necessary sequel, when you will realize that you want to go back to those earlier times when life was simple for Takeru and his friends. You will long for the days of lunch battles and tomfoolery, when the main character's biggest problem was which girl he wanted to marry. That is when you realize that no matter what you do, you will never be able to go back. Your carefree days are over. Once you realize this, Takeru realizes it too. He grows up, and takes responsibility for his actions. Your heart is broken, over and over again.

That's Muv Luv in a nutshell—a game that initially appears to be a fun and fantastical romantic comedy, but turns out to be a tribute to the power of courage, responsibility and sacrifice in the face of all-consuming despair. It is anti-escapist entertainment. You will probably weep and cheer simultaneously.

I think it says something for the Muv Luv series that no matter how you feel about Takeru initially, by the end you will be saluting him, and you will mean it. That poor bastard.
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