Muv-Luv: Photonflowers on PC
Muv-Luv: Photonflowers is a rather difficult game to review due to its very nature. It’s basically a collection of relatively short visual novels dedicated to the Muv-Luv saga.
This means that if you haven’t played both Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative, this review is absolutely of no use to you because you shouldn’t touch Photonflowers with a 10-foot pole. This is without a doubt something you should play after you have enjoyed the original games.
If you’re still with me, I will assume that you have played the original games, so let’s approach the other elephant in the room. You’re probably familiar with the fact that the interactivity in the Muv-Luv series is fairly limited. Its charm is almost entirely in its narration, characters, and art.
The short visual novels included in Photonflowers evolve the concept to its extreme consequences, as it often happens with this kind of side content. The only choice you’ll make is the order in which you’ll “play” them. Everything else is just straight narration from the beginning to the end.
This isn’t necessarily a flaw, as this kind of linear narration fits the purpose of going in-depth into elements of the story that weren’t touched by the original games. That’s pretty much the whole purpose behind Photonflowers.
From the technical standpoint, the art is of varying quality, mostly due to having been created by different artists at different times. When Photonflowers was originally released for PS3, it was assembled from a variety of PC sources.
This means that the artwork of the Muv-Luv part of the game is certainly more vintage (2004). On the other hand, the visuals of the Muv-Luv alternative half reflect the fact that its parts were originally released between 2008 and 2011, showing a more advanced and refined character design. On top of that, the mecha design is absolutely top-notch, way beyond what you’d expect from a visual novel.
This also reflects in the soundtrack, while the voice acting is very well-executed across the board. Of course, voices are exclusively in Japanese, but if you’re into this kind of game, I doubt you would mind.
As soon as you launch the game, you’ll immediately be asked whether you want to delve into the stories dedicated to Muv-Luv or those going in-depth into the Alternative universe.
The Muv-Luv part of the collection is in itself pretty much divided in two. Before the Cherry Blossoms Bloom is a fairly sizable look into the relationship between Takeru and Sumika after the end of her route of the original game. It’s nostalgic, charming, and interesting in how it depicts two dummies with little actual experience in love finally coming to terms with it.
On top of that, we have six short stories each focusing on the heroines (Meiya gets two because she’s awesome). They certainly aren’t as deep and involved as Before the Cherry Blossoms Bloom, and the tone is certainly lighter and more comedic.
That being said, they’re a handy exploration of the personalities and backstories of all the girls (and Takeru himself). Personally, I feel they’re perfect for a quick playthrough following some of the heaviest moments that you’ll find in the Alternative half of the collection.
Speaking of the Alternative half, that’s where things get serious. Yet, if you’re familiar with the franchise this likely won’t surprise you.
Atonement is a great exploration of one of the past of one of the most beloved characters of the whole franchise, Marimo Jinguuji. It will pull at your heartstrings and most certainly explain things that you may have guessed but weren’t explicitly spelled in Unlimited and Alternative. It’s certainly one of the best parts of the whole collection.
Rain Dancers is perhaps the most interesting as it’s the first real experience western gamers are going to get of the war against the BETA outside of Japan. While it’s brief, it does a great job at expanding the settings and letting the player connect with people who (unlike the main heroes) had their homeland overrun and completely swallowed by the unflinching alien hordes.
In this case, it’s Italy, and the interactions between the beautiful and badass Monica Giacosa (older sister of Valerio, if you happened to watch the Total Eclipse anime) and her British commanding officer Hugh Winston, are nostalgic and insightful in how they broaden the player’s horizons on the situation of the world as a whole.
Chicken divers is another brief one, and it aims its camera on a mostly-overlooked aspect of a pivotal battle of the Alternative story. It provides some tragic insight on the emotions and inner struggle of pilots who know that their survival expectancy is close to zero. It does a great job in driving home just how desperate humanity’s situation is.
Inheritance shows another close-up view in the aftermath of the same battle, as relatives of a departed heroine come to terms with her sacrifice.
While Confessions is third in menu order, I’ve left it for last, because it’s without a doubt the best part of the whole collection. It’s also the one that will punch you in the heart the hardest. It explores the last moments of the heroine mentioned above, her memories, and the last radio call made to her subordinates. If you have played Alternative, you likely know who I’m talking about.
Also, if you have played Alternative (and if you haven’t, you shouldn’t be here), this will hurt you. It will hurt you as much as the final chapters of the original game if not more, likely depending on how fresh your playthrough of that is. There are moments in which clicking to progress the story felt physically difficult for me, and I will not hide the fact that I cried a lot. I am crying again now that I’m collecting my memories to write about it.
Ultimately, Muv-Luv: Photonflowers is a treat created for those who have played and loved the original games, which are doubtlessly among the best visual novels of all time. If you have, this is a very well-written, extremely engaging look into a fascinating and tragic world that deserves to be explored much more in-depth than what the original localized released allowed.
Incidentally, the best is yet to come. The second collection, Photonmelodies, which is already being localized, is even better, and not just by a little bit.
Score: 4/5 – Great
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