It is no secret that I have enjoyed visual novels for decades now. Despite that, the Muv-Luv games were never on my radar until I read about them in RPGFan’s Essential Visual Novels feature. With my interest piqued, I jumped at the opportunity to review Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered. Touted as a standalone story that takes place during the events of Muv-Luv Alternative, it reportedly requires no prior knowledge of the series and is meant to be a good starting point for curious neophytes.
As someone entering the Muv-Luv universe for the first time, Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered is not quite the series entry point I expected. Its story and characters do stand apart from other Muv-Luv games, but I still felt a little lost. At its outset, the game threw me completely into the deep end, drowning me in unfamiliar technical jargon and historical lore that I felt I was supposed to know already. There are also several disjointed scenes throughout the game with fleeting characters and hanging plot threads that clearly connect to previous Muv-Luv games. Total Eclipse occasionally presents surface-level background context to fill in some gaps, but they are awkwardly shoehorned-in infodumps. Curiously absent is any sort of character guide, which is sorely needed considering the sheer number of dramatis personae in this game’s ensemble cast.
Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered occurs during an alternate version of 2001 where alien hordes have been terrorizing Earth for decades. At a secret UN base in Alaska, weapons developers and military personnel from around the world come together to pool their knowledge to fight these powerful aliens. We step into the shoes of Yuuya Bridges, a foul-tempered test pilot who gets under the skin of everyone, especially uptight weapons developer Yui Takamura. Yuuya and Yui are surrounded by an ethnically diverse ensemble cast, among whom personality conflicts and political tensions run high. Naturally, this prompts the question of whether the real threat to humanity is people rather than aliens.
The plot tested my patience during the first half of its 30-hour duration because I did not like a single character. Yuuya was an acerbic jackass wrapped up in a clueless “harem sausage,” while the others tended towards obnoxious combinations of shallow anime tropes and caricatures of ethnic stereotypes. It also didn’t help that the story during these first 15 hours featured nigh-intolerable amounts of cringe-worthy anime schlock (the harem trope is strong with this one). It was through sheer force of will that I powered through it, as I was ready to shelve it well before then. From what I understand, the 2012 Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse anime only covers this first half, albeit with some creative liberties.
Imagine my surprise when the plot took a dramatic turn for the better in its second half. The characters developed beyond their tropes and became tolerable — even likable in some cases. The story also became more engrossing and less schlocky. I rather enjoyed those latter 15 hours of Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered, though whether it’s good enough to make up for the slog of that first half is something I’ll leave for players to decide.
The localization is impressive, considering the amount of text in this lengthy game. Not only does the writing match up well with the voiced Japanese dialogue, but it has personality. Technical errors exist here and there but are relatively few in the grand scheme of things. If you are opposed to foul language, be warned that many characters have sailor mouths and drop plenty of f-bombs. In addition, the storytelling could be much smoother. Progression feels simultaneously rushed and plodding. There is a lot of abrupt cutting back and forth between scenarios and many instances where characters say mountains of words without saying much at all.
Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered is a long game that is short on gameplay. This game is akin to a one-path, one-ending kinetic-style visual novel rather than a Choose Your Own Adventure style one with branching pathways and multiple endings. Yes, there were maybe two or three junctures to make choices, but the choices themselves were inconsequential, making their inclusion seem pointless.
The dynamic graphics give this game far more visual depth and motion than the typically “flat” visual novel format of still character portraits and backdrops. In this game, backgrounds have dimension, and the whole game (not just select cutscenes) has some measure of dynamism. Said dynamism comes in many forms, from still scenes shown from dramatic angles to “still” scenes with various animated elements. The cherry on top is that some cutscenes are animated FMVs. In short, Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered looked better during play than screenshots suggested and made me feel like I was watching an immersive anime series. I should note that some scenes have flashing strobe effects, so be warned.
And lest I forget to mention the art, character and mecha designs are more austere here than in previous Muv-Luv games. While this look fits Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered’s overall vibe, it may not excite those seeking glitzier and more stylized artwork.
The slick interface uses a hidden menu format that looks great but is sometimes slippery in use. In addition, a few options in the settings menu were a little unclear as to their functions, and some options — like switching to full screen — didn’t function for me. My biggest caveat with the interface, though, is that I wished the dialogue was in text boxes, because lettering atop the busy backgrounds made for strained reading.
As far as sound goes, Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered is solid across the board. The Japanese voice acting is excellent. The actors all played their roles wonderfully, and not one performance felt phoned in, no matter how minor the role was. I also like how sound effects are used to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the story. The vocal songs and instrumental music presented throughout the game get the job done, but I have yet to find myself wanting to listen to the soundtrack outside of the game.
If I were to sum up my feelings on Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered in a simple catchphrase, it would be, “It gets better, I promise.” The first 15 hours of the game was a confused mishmash of a military enthusiast’s mecha fantasy and a schlocky harem anime, while the second 15 hours had me exclaiming, “Why did you take so long to get good?!?!” Overall, Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered is not a bad visual novel, but I firmly believe that established series fans would get more out of it than first-timers.