Paying to Win in a VRMMO, Vol. 3

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.

The afterword mentions that this volume’s story was not part of the original webnovel, but was especially written for the books in order to try to flesh out Sakurako/Kirschwasser’s character, as she doesn’t get much to do in the main series. She gets a lot more to do here, and I like her determination and devotion to the game, but I wish that we’d gotten a little bit more of the mysterious backstory she has – it’s hinted she’s “had a rough life”, but that doesn’t really go anywhere, and we don’t have any flashbacks to how she met Ichiro. The author, in the afterword, notes that Sakurako’s age was a factor – not with him, but with the editors, who apparently think that being a Christ\mas Cake makes you unable to be a heroine. Bleah. That said, her scenes were good, even if the novel, understandably, feels like it’s just marking time.

The fight between Nem and Iris occupies most of this volume, and you feel frustration with both of them, though obviously far more with Nem. I kept feeling a sort of tension regarding their real-life identities – given Megumi’s irrational jealousy of Iris, finding out her real-life identity would be catastrophic, as she can and would destroy Iris’ life. Fortunately, this is likely not that serious a series, and instead the whole confrontation seems to be more of an object lesson than anything else. As for Iris, when she’s putting herself down adn indecisive she shows off her actual age – ironically, it’s only when tearing Ichiro apart verbally that she really comes alive, and I’m pleased that any romance, if there is any, is far away – I much prefer Iris wondering why on earth everybody else falls for him.

Ichiro himself spends most of this volume in the real world, meeting with the creator of Narrow Fantasy Online and also talking about his worldview with an AI that is one of the game’s sysadmins. This section serves more as setup for future volumes than anything else, but it does feature Ichiro being far less irritating than he was in the first two books. That said, his lack of presence in the game until the very end means that there’s not as much ‘parody’ in this story that’s meant to parody a certain type of genre, even if you add in obvious fanservice like the return of the Kirihitters. The main thing I enjoyed about this volume are the small details that come up throughout the book- I won’t go into specifics, but a description here, a character reveal there. It’s the sort of volume where the little things distract you more than the main plot and thrust of the book itself, which – as I said above – feels like it’s treading water. Which it is, that’s what it was designed to do.

So this is still a solid, but not great series. I hope the next volume features more of Ichiro being ludicrous and Iris screaming at him, which let’s face it is why I read this by now.

Paying to Win in a VRMMO, Vol. 2

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.

Having established its premise and characters in the first book, the Paying to Win series goes about trying to tweak and fix a few things that weren’t as strong as they could be in the second. This involves a) introducing a new potential love interest who isn’t in middle school and Ichiro’s cousin, and is also able to be a little more critical of Ichiro’s callous lack of tact; b) have a flashback to show us how he managed to get so ridiculously leveled up before Asuha was able to join him, and also explain things like how he got a suit of armor that is literally a business suit. But most importantly, and most effectively, this second volume doubles down on showing you how obviously, knowingly, and teeth-grindingly irritating Ichiro is to everyone and everything around him, and the effect this has on both the secondary characters and the reader.

I cannot emphasize this enough: holy Mother of God, Ichiro is annoying. You will want to punch him in his cool, smug, self-satisfied face multiple times as you read this book. It’s far more clear in this second novel that it’s deliberate, and reader sympathy is meant to be with the young gamer and wannabe fashion maven Iris rather than him. He is the sort of character that, were he an antagonist or a villain, would receive the absolute best retribution possible, possibly while screaming “THIS CANNOT BE!!!”. Sadly, Ichiro is the hero, and the book’s whole purpose is that he really is this good at everything. Only King Kirihito was able to actually challenge him in the game, and since this is a flashback to the previous week, you know that he’s going to succeed at everything ridiculously easily here. That said, I liked his insistence that it doesn’t matter if Iris’ butterfly brooch is aesthetically good or not – he likes it, so therefore it’s fine.

Iris herself is a good character, far more developed than Asuha/Felecia, mostly as she gets to express everything the reader wants to. Every time Ichiro praises her creations, it sounds like he’s really calling them awful, simply due to how bluntly he speaks all the time. I liked the glimpses of her real-world life, and showing off how talented kids who are used to being the center of attention can get crushed when they go to a school that specializes in talented kids and realize other people are, in fact, better than they are. She also has a nice sense for biting retorts, as I’ve said. The author’s afterword says that webnovel readers have nicknamed her “the Evil God”, and I look forward to seeing why, though I can hazard a guess or two.

Other than Iris, the main reason to plow through this book despite Ichiro is the writing style – it’s funny and assured, and the narration has its own distinct voice, something I always enjoy. This is also due to the translation, of course, which is excellent – probably my favorite J-Novel Club translation to date in terms of noticing the quality (though Sera did get gendered at one point, which only serves to remind us how ridiculously difficult it is to avoid giving away gender in English). Recommended to anyone who loves seeing smug jackasses win effortlessly and be smug about it. Also, bonus points for having Voltron show up, only one volume after the SAO sentai team parody.

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.