Also available on PlayStation 3
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/22/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
I love Muv-Luv. I legitimately think it’s the greatest visual novel series of all time. The original (which is actually two-thirds of the trilogy in one) and Muv-Luv Alternative are absolute masterpieces. When I heard about the two sets of side stories that had gotten English releases, I knew I had to try them out, and I figured I’d start with photonflowers* since it’s the one I heard of first.
So a little backstory about the first game if you’ve not played it since photonflowers* is structured the same way. The first game includes Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited. Extra is your typical cutesy waifu-filled slice of life romantic comedy harem anime-styled visual novel. You go through each day’s antics, pick a Best Girl, and watch the cuteness and shenanigans ensue. Unlimited takes place after Extra; your main character wakes up for school like usual but finds himself in a strange, blasted out wasteland. Turns out he’s somehow awoken in an alternate world nearly 30 years into an alien invasion. Over half of the human race is dead, and the entire continents of Asia and Europe have fallen to the alien menace. There’s still some cutesy pick your Best Girl shenanigans to be had here in the context of a UN military training facility, but it’s all under the looming specter of extinction at the hands of the BETA (Beings of an Extra-Terrestrial origin and Adversaries of mankind; stupid acronym, I know).
The reason I gave all that explanation is that, as I said, photonflowers* is structured the same way. There are 12 stories in the game; seven of them take place in the “real” world of high school slice of life shenanigans while five take place in the dark apocalyptic world of the alien invasion. Of the seven in the regular Muv-Luv world, six are prequels that take place before the events of Extra, and one is a sequel that takes place afterward. The sequel story also assumes that you picked Sumika as your Best Girl (she’s the canon choice although by no means the only possible choice if you make the correct decision to open an eBay tab to buy and then play that game). As for the stories that take place in the world of Unlimited/Alternative, they take place all over the timeline. One takes place a decade before Unlimited, one takes place a few years before, I think two take place around the same time give or take a year or so, and one takes place two years after. Basically, you’ll understand absolutely nothing of what’s going on unless you play Extra, Unlimited, and Alternative first. And if you don’t play those three, you’re wrong. Just in general.
Most of the Extra stories are pretty feel good. The sequel story will put your heart through the wringer, but as with everything on the Extra side of things, it has a happy ending. The other six are mainly just exposition character building, giving you a deeper look at that character’s perspective prior to the events of Extra. With the Unlimited/Alternative side of things, however, it’s a lot more varied. Only two of those stories take place from perspectives you’d be familiar with as the others are all based on media that (as far as I’m aware) hasn’t been translated to English. Still, though, the context of the world is more than enough to let those stories have their full impact. All five of those stories will put your heart through a blender. I’m a pretty empathic person, so well written stories and characters can affect me pretty well; all five of those stories had me ranging from misty-eyed to tears trickling down my face. There’s absolutely no drop in writing quality here from the main games.
Being part of Muv-Luv, it didn’t surprise me that these remain among the best written visual novels I’ve ever read (which says a lot considering that they had to be expertly translated as well as being expertly written). What I wasn’t sure about would be how high the quality level would stay with the sound design and the voice acting of the new characters. Fortunately, however, both are just as top-notch as the writing. With the voice acting, the same voice actors return from the main games. Granted, I have absolutely no idea what they’re saying since I’m a filthy monolingual American, but the emotion their performances convey kind of transcends language. As for the sound design, it’s disturbingly well done. I don’t mean that as in “It disturbs me that they did such a good job.” I mean “Since they did such a good job, I’m disturbed because you can every rip, snap, and squelch as the BETA eat a TSF pilot alive.” Maybe it’s because I have over 100 hours invested in this series and its world and character, but the sound design – both sound effects as well as background music – just made it feel more real than words set to a drawn background should. The immersion is unreal.
If you’re a fan of Muv-Luv, you’ll love photonmelodies*. If you’re not a fan of Muv-Luv, it’s because you haven’t played it; fix that. I’ll wait. -montage of waiting for a week- Okay, now that you’re a fan of Muv-Luv, you need to check out photonflowers*. When you finish Muv-Luv, you’ll inevitably think, “Man, I wish there were more!” Well, photonflowers* is there to answer your plea. It’s literally just more Muv-Luv. More of the characters you love, and more characters you’ll soon love. More of the world in which you’ve become engrossed. It doesn’t tread new water for the series – if you didn’t shed a single tear during Alternative, you’re a legitimate psychopath – but it doesn’t need to. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and Muv-Luv was perfect from the start.