The NPCs in This Village Sim Game Must Be Real!, Vol. 3

By Hirukuma and Namako. Released in Japan as “Murazukuri Game no NPC ga Namami no Ningen to Shika Omoe Nai” by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Alexandra Owen-Burns. Adapted by Aysha U. Farah.

I imagine that a dream that a lot of mystery writers have is to be able to write a book that’s all mystery and no solution, where you can just coast on being cool and baffling the reader. For the first two volumes of The NPCs in This Village Sim Game Must Be Real!, that’s pretty much where we’ve been with each book giving us a few hints here and there but making up for it with exciting battle scenes, heartwarming character development, and awesome lizards. Unfortunately, we only get two of the three in this third volume, as the rest of Yoshio’s family and his childhood friend-turned-wannabe-girlfriend are shuffled to the side so that he and Carol can figure out what the heck is going on. The result is… I dunno, it’s explained well enough, I just really didn’t like it. Then again, I’m not sure, with this kind of setup, there was an answer that I *would* like.

After surviving the attack from his co-worker and Player Two, Yoshio now has to deal with the fact that Carol has, through the power of the Gods, managed to mail herself to him. Fortunately, his family is away the next few days, and Seika is giving him at least a bit of the benefit of the doubt. That said, he not only needs to get her back into the “game”, but also figure out what’s going on. This is not helped by other people continuing to attack him, as a hit has been put out: attack Yoshio and get the Book of the Gods and Carol, and get a big reward. So he’s got to try not to get killed, protect Carol, and find the creators of the game, who are in a small town in Hokkaido. When he finally gets there, the answer is not what he expected. More importantly, though, can he get Carol back to her game world? Did anyone else survive that last monster rush? And can Yoshio protect them himself?

I don’t want to get too deep into the mystery reveals that we get here, but I think the main issue is that I find it a bit tonally jarring with the rest of the series. It feels as if the author decided to take some characters from another series they’re working on and have them make an appearance as the cause of everything we’ve seen. Which is fine, and I’m sure that series has lots of yuri antics from what we see here, but it feels like it has nothing whatsoever to do with Yoshio and his struggles. His journey has been so personal in the first two books that it doesn’t work when he’s meant to sit there and passively hear what’s going on from a third party. I admit I was amused, though, when Yoshio has to explain that no, he actually does NOT want to stay in the other world with cool powers, he just wants to go home and confess to his long-suffering sweetheart. (We don’t get to see that either, also to my irritation.)

The author hints that if this is popular enough there might be more, but there’s no more of the webnovel it was based on, and I suspect this is it. It’s a bit of a misstep, in my opinion, but those who enjoyed the first two should still read it.

The NPCs in This Village Sim Game Must Be Real!, Vol. 2

By Hirukuma and Namako. Released in Japan as “Murazukuri Game no NPC ga Namami no Ningen to Shika Omoe Nai” by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Alexandra Owen-Burns.

I will give credit to the realistic NPCs, they’re not doing a bad job here. Aside from the one annoying running gag of “the sister likes her brother a little too much”, they’re all nice people. The seeming traitor from the last book, the doctor, returns after their village is wiped out, and their guilt and suffering is well drawn out. Heck, even the two red pandas who are brought in to add bodies are cute and also strong – and I loved “please do not touch our high explosives”. That said, the NPCs may be real, but I’m far more interested in what’s going on with Yoshio, whose problems in this book escalate until, when the book ends, you’re screaming at the author to release the next one already. Especially when we learn that Yoshio is not the only one whose loser life has been improved by a mysterious game… and that his game’s opponents may be closer than he thinks.

After surviving the first monster rush, our NPC heroes are busy preparing for the next one, and their world is expanding a bit more – though they’re not quite ready to leave their cave as of yet. The same could be said of Yoshio, who is interacting more with his family and co-workers but is still having trouble with Life In General. This includes his unlucky childhood friend, who everyone thought he was going to marry when he grew up. Unfortunately, she got a nice job, he did not, and he began the downward spiral that led him to where he is at the start of Book 1. And now that they’ve reunited, he’s sure she deserves someone much better than him (and is not seeing the fact that she seems to be as lost as he is right now). Additionally, his sister is still worried about being stalked – with good reason – and his coworker is also really immersed in a strategy game… one that seems very familiar.

A lot of this book, obviously, seems to rely on what I would call “magical realism”. Yoshio’s game clearly isn’t just a game – even if his new pet lizard is not a clue, the ending of this volume certainly shows us that. The scene with Yoshio facing down his sister’s stalker – and his former attacker – is tense and gripping but also feels a bit too on the nose in terms of narrative convenience. But then, in a book where our hero can manipulate the narrative in order to save others, perhaps that’s not what I should be paying attention to. The final section is chilling in the best thriller way, with Yoshio suffering a vicious attack and trying to protect his friend while ALSO trying to save his village. He does not achieve all of these things, unfortunately, but at least he’s not completely done, and That Cliffhanger promises he can, perhaps, fix things.

The author has stated that this series was always meant to be three volumes, so the next will be the last (unlike Vending Machine, which was very open ended when it got axed). Fortunately, we should get the next volume soon. Very fortunately, because I’m absolutely on the edge of my seat wanting to see what happens next. Get this.

The NPCs in This Village Sim Game Must Be Real!, Vol. 1

By Hirukuma and Namako. Released in Japan as “Murazukuri Game no NPC ga Namami no Ningen to Shika Omoe Nai” by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Alexandra Owen-Burns.

One of the more interesting surprises of 2018 was a light novel series that, on the face of it, looked like the stupidest premise in the entire world. It was called Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon, and its plot was exactly as you’d expect. And yet it not only proved far, far more entertaining than anyone could imagine, but also very good at keeping this a realistic and well-thought out world starring a guy who is a literal, non-moving, vending machine. The reason I bring this all up is that I was not planning on giving The NPCs in This Village Sim Game Must Be Real! the time of day till I saw that it was by the same author as the vending machine story. Can lightning strike twice, I thought? Well, good news there. It wasn’t just a fluke, this is a very good author. This book, about a 30-year-old NEET bum watching a group of five ex-villagers trying to survive, is excellent.

Our protagonist is Yoshio, a man who’s spent the past ten years living at home with his family holed up in his bedroom. He won’t leave the house, he won’t get a job, his parents and sister are seemingly disgusted with him. Then one day he gets a game in the mail, asking him to watch over a sim group of villagers fleeing from monsters trying to survive in the wild. There’s Gams, the soldier defending them all; his sister Chem, a healer; and a normal not-very powerful family: Rodice, Lyra and their 7-year-old daughter Carol. As Yoshio plays the game, he begins to notice that these NPCs are far too natural and well-written to actually be computer generated. What’s the game part? Well, he’s God, and once a day he can write them a prophecy, as well as perform a miracle if he amasses enough Faith Points… which mostly come from spending real-life money. Well, typical game.

As you can see, the plot description makes a reader go “meh”, but as always the execution is where it matters. We spend just as much time concentrating on Yoshio’s home life as we do on the NPC villagers, and it turns out there are multifaceted layers as to exactly WHY he gave up on life and is being a NEET in his room. His family, too, are all dealing with their own issues. The game, therefore, serves as a way to get Yoshio to start caring about life and other people again, and it works quite admirably. By the end of this first volume, he’s opened up to his parents, re-bonded with his sister, and gotten a regular job (if only to pay for the game). The villagers are not quite as interesting as the Yoshio side (the one bit of humor in the book, which features Chem being a brocon and competing with a 7-year-old girl for her brother’s attention, I could have done without) but they also have their nuances, and I appreciates that they really do need Yoshio’s help to survive, but not because they’re innately weak or anything – this world is dangerous.

There are several hints that this may not quite be a “game” at all, mostly due to the offerings the villagers send him by sacrifice every day being then mailed to Yoshio from an address in Hokkaido. I expect the end two books in the series will go deeper into that. (Like Vending Machine, this seems to stop at Book 3.) Still, once again this writer takes a seemingly flat premise and expands on it beautifully. I will absolutely be reading more.