My latest foray into learning Japanese has been reading the Muv-Luv Visual Novel series. This was the confluence of five independent factors:
My reading speed sucks. I wanted a fun and convenient platform for practicing reading.
Looking up words in a dictionary sucks. My first reading project in Japan was reading the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni manga series. Higurashi is somewhere in my Top 10 (and arguably at the #1 spot), but constantly looking up words killed its flow. I later discovered translation software that made dictionary lookups quick and easy for digital text. It was ideal for reading a VN.
My friend always sang the Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse opening at karaoke. He was much better than me at Japanese but much worse than me at singing, so I’d always have to jump in and bail him out. Plus it has this dancing robot girl music video that’s impossible to find outside of karaoke.
Muv-Luv Alternative is the highest rated VN of all time. I considered some other VNs as well. Ever17 seemed particularly interesting, but I couldn’t find the Japanese version. I also had a hard time finding a Japanese version of Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) for PC. Steins;Gate is sitting at #2, but I was satisfied with the anime and didn’t think the VN would add anything. I considered Tsukihime, but after reading Fate/Stay Night I thought better.
The only problem with Muv-Luv Alternative is that you have to read its prequel, Muv-Luv Unlimited, to fully understand it. Muv-Luv Unlimited is packaged with Muv-Luv Extra. To unlock Muv-Luv Unlimited, you have to read the two main routes of Muv-Luv Extra. In sum, I’d have to read two average-rated VNs to make Muv-Luv Alternative pay off.
Luckily I found a vintage 2003 Muv-Luv CD set for 500 yen in the basement of an anime/hobby store complex. I decided to give it a shot. In the worst case I’d get reading practice.
Muv-Luv Extra is a high school dating sim with two main routes and a few optional side routes. I’ve never actually played one of these before, but from all the VN adaptations I’ve seen, it was exactly what I’d expected.
The first time I played through the VN, I made my choices without targeting any specific girl. Rather, I made what I thought were the most appropriate choices given my own tastes and figured I’d let the game decide which girl I should end up with. This was a complete failure, as I was cut off halfway with a “normal” ending, which for all intents and purposes was a bad ending. After this I specifically targeted each girl in the following order:
An average character with an average route. Likable, but nothing special.
My second favorite girl, and the best route. She carries a sword, sneaks into your bed, and strips in front of you. It makes up for her incomprehensible feudal warlord speech.
The best sex scene (though it was technically the “bad” ending). The other sex scenes had too much love and piano music. This one was all raunch and metal.
My favorite character, but the route was pretty dull. Sometimes side characters are best left as side characters.
The tsundere. I thought she might become likable. I was wrong.
Decent route, pedophilic character design.
The whole thing took about five months to finish. As Japanese practice, it was ok. As entertainment, I surely could’ve read something better. Whether it was worthwhile depends on how well it sets the stage for Muv-Luv Unlimited.