Also available on Switch (soon)
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/02/2022 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
I can guarantee with absolute certainty that I’m the biggest Muv-Luv fan you’ve ever met. I am absolutely and utterly obsessed with the series and the universe it builds. It’s an incredible visual novel series, but I always thought that there was untapped potential for games in other genres given the alien invasion war drama nature of the series. Well, apparently âge agreed with me because two months ago, we got Project MIKHAIL in early access on Steam, a mech combat game that goes through some of the major battles of Muv-Luv Alternative’s story.
First thing to note here – at the time of writing, this game has been in early access for two months, and it is very much an early access game. There have been a lot of minor bugs and several massive bugs since it first hit the Steam storefront, although most of the major bugs seem to have been fixed. I still get a lot of crashes – I’d estimate one every three or four hours – but that’s the only remaining major bug that I encountered. It’s certainly better than when I had 23 hours of progress completely erased by a bug, but that bug has been fixed. I mention that to point out the dedication of the development team; pretty much as soon as reports starting coming in both to their official bug report system and on the game’s Discord server, the dev team informed everyone that the bug was there, that they were aware of it, and advised folks not to play the story mode until they could pinpoint and fix the cause of the bug. They also kept in pretty good communication with those of us affected and tried to restore our data. While they weren’t able to restore mine, they did create a new file for me and gave me back the equipment I told them I had and the resources I told them I had when my file was deleted. I still had to restart the actual game from the beginning, but at least I had the Shiranui I had spent hours grinding for. tl;dr there is that while the game is still very rough, the devs are working hard at fixing the bugs that get reported, and they’re good about keeping in regular contact with the community about the state of the game, so I have full confidence that this will be a fine game by the time it gets a full release on Steam and on Switch.
As far the story goes – because that’s why you play Muv-Luv – you play as a guy chosen by these two AI waifus to relive events from Shirogane Takeru’s life fighting the BETA and try to make decisions that will lead to the best outcome. This directly plays into the lore’s basis in the concepts of quantum causality and the multiverse theory; by making specific choices, you can lead Shirogane Takeru’s world to the best possible outcome. That involves a lot of trial and error, though; if your choice gets Shirogane killed, then you’ve got to restart from a certain point (usually no more than five missions back) and make a different choice, and the point where your choice gets him killed isn’t always immediate. It’s also worth noting that this gives a VERY abridged version of the events of Alternative; as soon as you finish the training missions, your very first mission is Operation 21 at the Sadogashima Hive. Still, though, it gives a lot of detail to the three major battles that the game covers, and each of those gets 7 or 8 hours’ worth of mission. It’s no substitute for getting the story from the original VN, but it’s a really cool way to re-experience it from a different perspective for those who’ve already played through Muv-Luv Alternative.
As I mentioned above, Project MIKHAIL breaks from the series’ norm of visual novel format and is instead a mech combat game reminiscent of MechWarrior. You start in the craptastic Gekishin, a first-gen Japanese TSF (tactical surface fighter for those not in the know), and it is a clunker. It’s slow, it’s not very maneuverable, and your combat options at the start are pretty limited. As you use the three main weapon types – sword, assault cannon, and knife – you’ll earn skill points in the respective area. These skill points allow you to improve your stats and unlock new abilities like using two assault cannons, two swords, an assault cannon and a sword, etc. You also get to customize your TSF. You can equip up to four weapons at once as well as customize your TSF’s head, body, legs, each arm, jump booster, OS, and comm system. If you wanted to have a bulky first-gen body like a Gekishin and a super sleek third-gen head like a Takemikazuchi, you can although it’s worth noting that you get a bonus from having multiple second-gen and/or third-gen parts equipped. These parts can either be found from random drops from defeated enemies or manufactured using materials dropped by enemies. The parts also have different quality tiers like you’d expect to see in a game like The Division where each tier up has an additional special perk. Your base level grey items have no perks at all. Blue is a step up with one perk. Then it’s green, yellow, and orange. The perks your equipment has can make or break the harder battles, so it’s definitely worth it to keep your eye out for high-quality drops and check your equipment for better parts after each fight.
You’ll also want to be making sure to complete the optional missions that unlock new TSFs as these unlock them for both manufacturing and as possible drops, and each gen feels radically different from the others. The rule of thumb with TSFs is that the newer the TSF generation, the less armored but more maneuverable it is. A first-gen TSF like the Gekishin, for example, can take some hits, but it moves like a brick; a third-gen TSF like the Shiranui, on the other hand, is fairly glassy, but you can zip around the battlefield with ease, allowing you to close the distance with enemies or create distance from enemies with ease. That mobility becomes the key to survival in harder fights as sometimes BETA will spawn with a blue glow; these enemies are stronger, sturdier, and much more aggressive than the normal enemies, and if you can’t maneuver out of their way, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Visually, the game is okay. It doesn’t look great for 2021 standards, but it looks fine for a budget game. The environments look pretty plain and empty, and the blood looks a bit silly as rather than truly spraying from sliced enemies, a splatter animation kind of sits in the air for a second, but it’s not that jarring in my opinion. The BETA and TSF models look pretty good, and it’s clear that’s where most of the attention was focused with the visuals. That’s what I would hope, too, as that’s what you’ll be looking at most of the time – the herd of enemies and your TSF. Unfortunately, while the visuals might be okay, the audio department is more of a disappointment. The English voice acting is rough ranging from passable to outright atrocious depending on the character, and there’s no option to use Japanese voices. Most of the music is from the original VN, so that’s rock solid as I’ve always loved the background music there, but some of it is either so average that I blocked it out of my memory or is painfully stock-sounding background music. Outside of some dialogue narrative scenes, most of the music just doesn’t feel epic enough to accompany the war that you’re fighting.
Project MIKHAIL is definitely rough. A lot of that roughness will definitely get worked out before the full release, but some of it – the voice acting, the sub-par visual fidelity, and the meh music – are unfortunately probably not going anywhere. That’s a shame, too, because there’s a really fun game beneath that, but it’s likely that only Muv-Luv fans will be able to look past the roughness and find that fun game, and this really could have been the series’ chance to expand the fanbase in the West. I’m kind of torn on whether to recommend this one. For Muv-Luv fans, it’s absolutely a must-play. For folks new to series, though, I’m torn because it would definitely spoil major plot points in Alternative and ruin the impact of that series, but it’s also a genre much more approachable to most people than visual novels. If you’re not totally turned off by the idea of visual novels, read the core trilogy before playing this, but if you’re the type of gamer who is just never going to play a visual novel no matter what, then go ahead and give this game a shot. It’s pretty inexpensive, and it’s fun if you can get past the jank.