Infinite Dendrogram: The Beginning of Possibility

By Sakon Kaidou and Taiki. Released in Japan by Hobby Japan. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Hodgson and Nick Nomura.

The cliche has become that every single light novel released over here in the past four years or so has been a variation on “fighting monsters in a fantasy role-playing game”, but each of them have had their own little variations to separate them in some way. There’s the old ‘trapped in the game’ variation, like Sword Art Online or Log Horizon. We’ve had ‘the mechanics of the world are game-oriented but it’s just a fantasy’ like Danmachi and Death March. We’ve had ‘resurrected into fantasy worlds that are clearly based around cliches’ like KonoSuba and Isekai Smartphone. It’s been rare that we’ve actually seen a light novel that is just ‘let’s watch the hero play a new VRMMO game’. Playing to Win is closest, but even there the conceit is not that of the average guy playing a game, it’s that Ichiro is a arrogant rich guy. With Infinite Dendrogram, we finally have a book that (at least so far) is only ‘let’s explore the new game’.

Our hero is not playing the game the day it comes out – he had to study to pass college exams first. So it’s about a year and a half later, and he’s well behind his older brother, who’s been somewhat impatiently waiting for him to join. Once he does, Reiji (aka Ray in the game) picks out his weapon, his home base, and his Embryo, which is basically a sentient weapon/defense that grows along with the player’s character. His turns out to be a sword (later a halberd) which can also become a cute girl (because of course – come on, it is still a light novel) who essentially serves as his partner – though sometimes reluctantly, especially when dealing with zombies and the like. Together they try to level up while dealing with player killers, the fact that the home base they chose is rapidly losing its population due to wars, and the usual inconveniences that come up in a game.

The idea is that the game has more variations than almost any other known to man – we see a journalist as one of the minor characters, not a normal character type in a game like this, and one player is even a pimp with his own succubus. (This is actually the most amusing part of the book, as the player is underage, so his succubus specializes in things like really soothing backrubs because of the age restrictions). That said, Ray and Nemesis (his Embryo) are fighting types, and while there are indeed signs that he is a Very Special Hero indeed, for the most part we see him fight, explore, learn, and fight some more. The fights are quite well done, and the book as a whole reads very well. If there’s one thing that disappointed me, it’s that I was expecting more of a twist, I suppose? There are suggestions that the game is meant for some higher purpose, but here in the first book it’s just a lot of cool fights, RPG exploring, and endless bear puns. There’s no ‘gimmick’ yet.

Still, if you like this genre, and want something uncomplicated, this is an eminently readable book. Recommended for light novel and RPG fans.

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