Paying to Win in a VRMMO, Vol. 1

By Blitz Kiva and Kuwashima rein. Released in Japan as “VRMMO wo Kane no Chikara de Musou suru” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

You would think after reading all of the light novels currently out in North America about games, either with people trapped in them, transported to them, or having worlds based on them, that I would be used to things by now, but Paying to Win in a VRMMO reminds me once again: I’m not really a gamer. I get the aggressiveness of microtransactions due to playing Candy Crush Saga, but that’s as far as it goes. And while it’s refreshing to actually see a book where people play a game they can actually log out of at the end of the day, it also means that more than the usual amount of prose was expended in regards to items, levels, attack names and types, and the like. Don’t get me wrong, the fights were exciting, especially the final one, it’s just hard for me to get into it as much when I’m seeing “he swiped his inventory to grab another sword”. But I suppose that’s VR for you.

Our hero is the man on the right, Ichiro, a young obscenely rich man who is also a genius, having graduated Harvard at age 13 (which is the usual requirement for fictional geniuses). Sadly, the fact that he can easily do anything has led him to be bored by almost everything. Then his second cousin Asuha asks for his help with a problem she has, one that needs to be solved by playing the popular VRMMO “Narrow Fantasy Online”. Ichiro has no reason to refuse, so agrees, pays an obscene amount of money to get an arcade version of the game put into his highrise penthouse, pays an obscene amount of money to get the cool character traits he wants, and pays an obscene amount of money to level up to obscene levels. He does all this rather coolly and stoicly, with the occasional bemused grin. Luckily, he finds something in the game that, for the first time perhaps ever, really challenges him. That someone… is Kirito.

Pardon me, my apologies. That someone… is Kirihito, one of many gamers who base their stats and appearance on “a certain famous light novel hero”. The main reason to get this book is probably for the almost-litigious-but-not-quite parodies of Sword Art Online, which keep coming fast and furious – the idea that most newbies play as Kirihito (this book’s version of WcDonald’s), the high-level Kirihitos who team up and become a sentai team, complete with pose (the illustration alone is worth the price of the book), all the way to “King Kirihito”, who may not like that nickname, but is the only other person in this game who can challenge Ichiro, and is also the source of the problem that Asuha would like to solve. (Also, if you’re going to be broadly satirizing SAO that much, perhaps choose a name other than “Asuha”, maybe?)

To be honest, while I enjoyed the book somewhat, I found the characters wanting. Kirihito’s real-life self was probably the most interesting, and I approve of the author leaving it up to the reader to choose their gender. Ichiro unfortunately grates a little too much with his “I earned this money myself, so can use it to solve all life’s problems and none can complain” ways, which get called out a bit in-book, but are mostly shrugged off. Asuha is very passive throughout the book, which is very frustrating given that one of the major cores of the book is getting her to stop being so passive – I didn’t really feel the satisfaction I was supposed to. And the otaku maid just wasn’t over the top enough for me to find amusing. The writing is good, and the jokes are excellent, but Paying to Win needs some better character development stat.

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