Muv-Luv photonmelodies♮ (Steam)

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Also available on PlayStation 3

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Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/28/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night

As was the case with Muv-Luv photonflowers*, Muv-Luv photonmelodies♮ is a collection of side stories in the two Muv-Luv universes.  There are only three stories in photonmelodies♮ as opposed to the 12 in photonflowers*, so I’ll give a brief overview of each of them.  While there’s only a quarter of the stories in this pack, each one is beefier with one of them actually being the official fourth main story in the series.  All told, I spent over twice as long on photonmelodies♮ as I did on photonflowers*.

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The first story in photonmelodies♮ is Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles: Aspiration which follows Makabe Sejiyurou, a pilot cadet with the Japanese Imperial Royal Guard who is sent to England’s Dover Base for a 10-day UN exchange program so that he can learn more about how the European Union forces fight and about their TSF design philosophy.  I got EXTREMELY annoyed with Sejiyurou’s melodramatic BS at first, but after a while, he started to loosen up a little bit, and I started to warm up to him a bit.  He’s placed with the 44th West German Army Tactical Armor Battalion “Cerberus,” West Germany’s most elite TSF squad comprised of some of the best pilots that the EU has to offer.  They also all happen to be from German nobility.  As such, Sejiyurou is not only hoping to learn more about being a surface pilot to serve the Empire on the front lines against the BETA but also about European knights’ code of chivalry and how it compares to Japanese samurais’ bushido.  Between the cultural gulf between German and Japanese society, the truly wacky antics of some of the Cerberus pilots, and the stick firmly lodged deep inside Sejiyurou’s colon, there is a plethora of entertaining and hilarious situations in which Sejiyurou finds himself despite being in England, the last shred of Europe not yet under BETA control.  It got off to a bit of a rough start, but by the end of the story, I was actually sad to see Sejiyurou return to Japan.  Hopefully, we’ll get more Muv-Luv centering around Cerberus and Sejiyurou in the future.

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The second story in photonmelodies♮ is Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles: Resurrection.  Here we see some familiar faces, specifically Yuuko and Isumi’s Valkyries from Alternative.  Resurrection follows Silvio Orlandi, an intelligence agent for the EU who’s been cybernetically augmented following a disastrous mission failure that killed his best friend and very nearly killed him with his legs and left arm being eaten by the BETA before he’s miraculously rescued.  Yokohama base, home of the Alternative IV project, is the only base in the world no intelligence agency has managed to infiltrate thanks to Yuuko’s brilliant intuition and her “spy shield” remnant of the failed Alternative III project.  That is until Yuuko invites the UN big wigs to Yokohama for a presentation on Alternative IV’s progress.  She requests the EU send Orlandi as her bodyguard to protect against terrorist threats, the two biggest being the Christian Allegiance, a terrorist group that believes the BETA to be God’s punishment for humanity’s sins, and the supporters of Alternative V who want to see Alternative IV sabotaged.  This gives Orlandi his ticket inside to gather intelligence, but over the course of his mission, he finds that not everything is quite as he’s been led to believe.  As far as the characters go, I had already grown to love the characters who returned from Alternative, but Orlandi annoyed me in the same kind of way that Sejiyurou did albeit not quite as badly.  Like Sejiyurou, though, he grew on me over the course of the story.  The plot, though, is far better than in Aspiration in general.  Aspiration started fairly low for me in terms of my interest before spiking whereas Resurrection stayed fairly in the middle with a slight increase towards the end.  Neither of the Alternative Chronicles stories really blew me away, but I did thoroughly enjoy both and would love to see more with those characters.  You actually do get a VERY brief cameo of Orlandi at the end of the Total Eclipse anime, and the very end of Resurrection teases the events of Total Eclipse.

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The last of the three stories in photonmelodies♮ is easily half of the length of the whole game, and it’s definitely the main attraction here.  Muv-Luv Altered Fable: A Shimmering Shard of Spacetime (which I’ll simply call “Altered Fable” from here on) is the official sequel to Muv-Luv Alternative and picks up immediately where Alternative left off.  Takeru wakes up once again in October but with no memories whatsoever of his struggles against the BETA or the unspeakable atrocities he witnessed and survived.  It looks like everything has corrected itself and looped back to the beginning of Extra…except that Mitsurugi Meiya isn’t the only new student to transfer into his senior class.  As showing up is her twin sister, Mitsurigi Yuuhi, and the enigmatic girl genius from Russia who skipped multiple grades, Yashiro Kasumi.  This is not completely as it seems, though; Kasumi bursts into tears upon seeing Sumika and Takeru.  She remembers everything.  She alone knows the horrific fate that befell them when the BETA invaded.  Other characters from Alternative make appearances, too; Irinia Pyatkh shows up as an exchange teacher from Poland as does Irma Thesleff from Finland, Albert Walken from the United States, and Paul Radhabinod from India.  Later, the Valkyries show up – Isumi Michiru, Hayase Mitsuki, Suzumiya Haruka, Munakata Misae, and Kazama Touko.​  Four of the characters from Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse also get a super brief no-dialogue cameo in part of Altered Fable.

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In a lot of ways, Altered Fable is a retelling of the core story of Extra – heck, the original release in Japan was called Extra Final – but it’s also more than that.  It’s like the “true” version of Extra more than a simple retelling or enhanced version.  Some of the events are the same – the cookoff, the Christmas party, the hot springs trip – but they’re dramatically different because of the extra characters, and that’s not even touching on the totally new events like the tropical island trip and the entire ending of the game.  There’s also much less of an emphasis on picking your Best Girl this time around despite having Yuuhi and Kasumi as potential waifus (the latter of which makes me uncomfortable since she’s explicitly stated to be a minor; no “they’re 18!” anime logic here).  Fortunately(?) the Steam version is a port of the PS3 release with anything questionable removed.  No matter who ends up being your “chosen” waifu, it plays zero role in the ending which kind of cheapens the dating sim aspect of it.  I didn’t mind that at all, though; I was there for the bits of intrigue and mystery they kept dropping.  Speaking of that, I won’t spoil anything in case anyone reading this wants to play it, but the ending sucked.  It was a serious Mass Effect 3 situation; I loved almost all of the game until the last half hour.  The ending just…no.  There were still mysteries unresolved, I wanted to pick a final Best Girl, and the way they resolved the big mystery was just dumb and unfulfilling.  Don’t get me wrong, the first 98% of the game is so good that it’s absolutely worth playing, but the ending is definitely a letdown.

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Muv-Luv photonmelodies♮ is honestly what I wish photonflowers* had been; a few long stories rather than a lot of short ones.  The stories in photonflowers* were great, but the length of the stories in photonmelodies♮ really lets you get to know the new characters and get a feel for that part of the universe.  With the exception of the ending of Altered Fable, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with photonmelodies♮.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Alternative, mind you, but it was still great to see what happened after the little teaser ending of Alternative and to see Kasumi’s character get developed in a context that isn’t constantly one breath away from a gruesome death.  You also get to see three totally different places; Europe on the front lines of the war against BETA, a return to Japan on the front lines of the war against the BETA, and Japan in the peaceful BETA-free world.  It’s a fantastic little side story pack, and I can’t recommend it highly enough even with Altered Fable’s lackluster ending.

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