Hell Mode ~ The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing, Vol. 3

By Hamuo and Mo. Released in Japan as “Hell Mode – Yarikomi Suki no Gamer wa Hai Settei no Isekai de Musō Suru” by Earth Star Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Taishi.

This book is a very different beast from the first two, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. it’s good in that we get a lot less of Allen, on his own, spending pages and pages experimenting with different combinations of summons while fighting off monsters, which was in my opinion the weakest part of the books to date. He’s gotten so strong that the narrative can either quickly elide his tests, or else it shows him just instinctively knowing what to do. On the down side, this volume is a combination of two of the isekai fan’s least favorite genres: dungeon crawl AND magical academy. On the up side, this means the rest of the cast, especially Krena, has more to do. On the down side, Allen really is the standard OP protagonist now, so scary he can take out the most powerful hero in the land and terrify royalty. Basically, yeah, this is a light novel, all right.

Allen and Cecil are now ready to head off to the Magic School that they need to attend before being sent off to fight in the war against the Demon Lord. Joining them are Krena and Dogura, newly arrived from Allen’s hometown. On arrival, after yet another “your stats are all E, you fail, get out!” fakeout, which is a bit tedious by now, they settle in and buy a 20-room mansion that’s close to their real goal: dungeons. School itself is an afterthought here, what they want is to go through each dungeon, level up, gain skills, and get stronger and stronger. By the end of the book the cast, Allen and Krena especially, are so powerful that only the best in the world can really take them on. Which is good, because, having terrified the aforementioned royalty, they’re being sent off in Book 4 to the front lines.

It’s rather astounding (and honestly welcome) how this series does not care about romance at ALL. You could argue the kids are 12/13 years old, but that hasn’t stopped other books in this genre. Krena and Cecil meet up, and just become friends and allies, no issues. Later in the book they add an elf who I thought might have a crush on Allen, but no, she’s just worshiping him as the one chosen by the prophecy. Romcom is just not what this author is here for. Gamer nerdery *is* what they’re here for, and I assure you that despite what I said above, there’s lots of “let’s look at everyone’s stats here” for those who adore it. The party expands rapidly here from “Allen and a token girl” in the first two books to “Allen and his party of the most powerful students in the country”, including an elf princess, the son of the antagonist of the second volume, and a dwarf girl who gets nothing to do, but we’re explicitly told that she will eventually. And Allen, who COULD do all this by himself, but thankfully does not.

So yes, better than the first two books, and recommended for those who enjoy all the things that the louder light novel fans say they don’t enjoy. Next time: Allen Goes To War.

Hell Mode ~ The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing, Vol. 2

By Hamuo and Mo. Released in Japan as “Hell Mode – Yarikomi Suki no Gamer wa Hai Settei no Isekai de Musō Suru” by Earth Star Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Taishi.

Having now circled back to read the 2nd book in this series, which came out about a year ago, I find that I will be struggling to write a review of it, because so many of the strengths and weaknesses in the book are the same as the previous volume. In general, whenever Allen is NOT using his summons to fight things, I am reasonably entertained. It’s an interesting reincarnation fantasy where we’re learning about the world at the same time as the main character is, and the climax of the book is action that is actually exciting and cool. Unfortunately, the weakness of this book is that it’s still written for game heads, and I do not give a rat’s ass about how many summons it takes to screw in an orc’s lightbulb this time around. Plus, this is a one-man series still. Cecil plays slightly more of a role here than Krena did in the first, but sadly most of that role is to run away or get kidnapped.

After the events of the first book, Allen is now at a Baron’s house, serving as the servant to the young lady of the house, Cecil. Of course, we don’t really see much of his servant duties. Instead, we see him leaving the city to go out and hunt monsters, experimenting with different types of birds, beasts, stone creatures, and even fish that can buff you. He also starts taking out goblins, then moves up to orcs, which gains him the attention of the local soldiers, who see that he is clearly not Talentless but turn a blind eye. Things change when (it’s implied because pf Allen’s activities) the local dragon moves to the other side of his mountain, meaning that the poor city will soon be able to be rich again. Unfortunately, there are evil nobles who want to change that reality.

The last quarter of the book really is the best part. Allen and Cecil’s escape from what amounts to a dirigible is exciting and also ludicrous (break both legs? Use a leaf and heal myself instantly!). You’d think someone who was a 2-level magic user might try to contribute a bit, but I’ll put it down to Cecil being sheltered. We also get a much better look at the world itself, as after saving his daughter the baron tells Allen the real secrets about this world… and how it ties into his Japanese self selecting “hell Mode” in the first place. Of course, what this ends up meaning is that we’re going to be going to a different locale for the third book in a row, though at least Cecil will be coming along (and I suspect we’ll see Krena again too). I really enjoy the plot, and wish that I didn’t have to wade through 150 pages of experimentation to get to it.

The series is out up to Book 5, but I’m taking a break here so I can read in increments another book people have been demanding I try. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy books with lots of gaming talk in them, as well as books where the hero is not immediately OP but has to work to be OP.

Hell Mode ~ The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing, Vol. 1

By Hamuo and Mo. Released in Japan as “Hell Mode – Yarikomi Suki no Gamer wa Hai Settei no Isekai de Musō Suru” by Earth Star Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Taishi.

So, contrary to what everyone thinks, I don’t read everything. There are many light novels I have dropped, and even more I never started. Including this one, which came out over a year ago. The title made me suspect that it was one of those books filled with stats and OP kids who only think in terms of leveling. (Which, to be fair, it absolutely is.) So I gave it a pass. Then I was at Anime NYC recently and the folks at J-Novel Club asked if I could possibly give this one another try. It’s gotten popular enough that they’re releasing a print version of it. That said, its volumes are chunky, tending to run 350-400 pages, and frankly my backlog is already pretty huge. So I decided to read about 15 pages of it per day in among my other reads. So, having finished the first book, how is it? It’s… OK. Decent.

The ‘hardcore gamer’ of the title has gotten tired of games getting easier and easier with tons of free toys to play with to keep folks from bailing. He misses the days when it took almost a year just to gain one level on your game. Then one day he downloads a game that offers easy mode, normal mode, extra mode… and Hell Mode. Naturally, he chooses the last one, and decides to be a summoner. The next thing he knows he’s being born in another world as Allen, a young child of a serf. We don’t even know how he died in Japan, and it’s not important. What *is* important is that he quickly realizes that he’s in the world of the game he chose… and he’s really made it ridiculously hard for him to do anything. And… honestly, he’s pretty OK with this. Actually, he takes everything really well.

So, first of all, if anyone notes the cute girl on the cover with Allen and expects this to be a two-person sort of book, it’s not. Krena is strong, and has mad sword skills, but the mere fact that she and Allen are so young means they can’t hang out together all the time, and she’s mostly a minor supporting character. Honestly, this book is almost just Allen by himself, though his father and Krena’s father also play a large role. Once you get past the endless stat chatter, level chatter, and the many attempts to figure out how the game actually works (he’s living it, so doesn’t have the manual, though his grimoire sometimes helps), this is not that bad. Allen is very likeable, and his goal, raising the status of his family so they’re no longer serfs, is a good one. That said, there’s another major problem with this book, which is that it seems to be a prologue: Allen is essentially moved to a new location at the end of this, and the second book promises to be very different (and also has a different girl on the cover).

So while this was not entirely my genre, I can see why it would have fans. I will try a second volume to see if it gets better… but I’m still only gonna read it 15 pages at a time.