Tag Archives: neutral

Changing World: How It All Began

Title: Changing World: How It All Began

Author: Sergei Katz

Dave is a stock analyst with a disability. When he’s offered the chance to beta test a newly developed full-immersion virtual reality game, he’s all in. But a few early mistakes puts him at a disadvantage starting out, and it will take luck and cleverness to ensure his character isn’t eliminated early on.

I probably should’ve stopped reading when the first chapter was pumping the main character up as a super-awesome stock analyst with an unbelievable ability to make money. It would have been a more engaging story if it had focused more on his disability and how going into the game world changed that.

It was also a very odd choice for a disability–the inability to see colors doesn’t seem to be as compelling a reason to abandon your everyday life for three years as perhaps some others might have been. And Dave doesn’t seem like much of a gamer otherwise. His main draw for playing is supposed to be getting around this disability.

And that all ignores the fact that after the very beginning, his life and personality outside the game has no relevance.

The actual game begins the litRPG aspect. Unfortunately, the story has a tendency to play up whatever the main character is finding or doing as awesome, without giving a good sense of the strengths or weaknesses of others. This makes the story as a whole less interesting because the stakes are either not there or poorly defined.

The fights, for example, tend to describe what’s going on by what’s happening with HP bars, rather than focusing on specific skills or strategies by both sides (and when it does try to show what both sides are doing, it tends to give a tiny bit of detail and then go back to talking about HP bars). So the fights are no fun to read because of their vagueness and lack of detail in the important parts, and excessive detail on the unimportant parts.

Both of his pets bother me. The bird in no way acts like a bird, which could be partially explained by this being a game, except nothing really indicates this is pet behavior specifically.

Overall, this has the bones of an interesting story, but the execution falls flat in a number of areas. I rate this book Neutral.

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Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 2 (Light Novel)

Title: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 2

Author: Ryo Shirakome

Format: Light Novel

Hajime and Yue have conquered the first labyrinth dungeon, but their troubles are only getting started. Once they’re finally free, they run into bunny-girl Shea, who’s fleeing for her life. Although Hajime isn’t thrilled about it, they eventually join forces, as Shea may be able to help him find the next dungeon. He plans to conquer all the dungeons, learn their ancient magic, and somehow get himself home.

Shea is the most annoying character in this book. Her willful misreading of every single situation to conform to the way she wants it to be has the makings of an extreme villain. But of course she’s supposed to be comic relief.

“Please don’t talk about me like I’m dense or something. In fact, why don’t you learn to read the mood instead? You’re always trying to twist every situation into an opportunity to satisfy yourself.”

At least Hajime gets it.

I don’t find her funny, I find her insufferable. And since the whole book is about her, more or less, that made a good deal of this one hard to read through since I mostly kept hoping something, somewhere, would finally kill her.

At least the new dungeon was more amusing. This time Hajime, Yue, and Shea are challenging a dungeon built by a real sadist, whose annoying traps are much worse than the monsters they faced previously.

And there were some bits of genuine humor.

“Did you get her?!”
“Shea, anytime anyone says that the enemy’s alive.”

Overall, this book firmly cements the series as going the harem route, which is a shame (Hajime’s opinion, once again, is firmly discarded by absolutely everyone—what Shea wants, Shea won’t stop until she gets). I plan to go on long enough to see Hajime’s eventual reunion/confrontation with his classmates, but I disliked a huge amount of this particular book. I rate this book Neutral.

No Game No Life (Anime)

Title: No Game No Life

Episodes: 1-12 (Complete)

Sora and Shiro are sibling gamers, collectively known as Blank for their habit of not putting any username in when possible. They never lose, except to each other. One day a god named Tet summons them both to another world, where everything is run on games. Humanity is at the bottom here. But now that Sora and Shiro have arrived, that’s about to change.

I have mixed feelings on this one. There’s a huge amount of gratuitous fanservice, and a number of the girls getting stripped are very young. Steph, the granddaughter of the previous king of Imanity (humanity), is treated with casual abuse and humiliation, mostly because she’s sincere but naive and not good at games. So there’s a lot to dislike.

The games themselves are better. In a world with magic, even familiar games can have interesting twists. The best one is probably the chess match with living chess pieces, but this doesn’t go at all the way you might expect (well, it’s not exactly a “chess” game by the end). The other highlight was a word game that has the power to materialize or de-materialize the words in play, which leads to some interesting strategies.

There’s also a lot of references to other games or media. I’m sure I didn’t even catch half, but that can make watching it a sort of game in and of itself, as long as you’re sufficiently familiar with the sources to recognize the callouts.

I like the art style too. The colors are more bright and illustration-style, and gives it a unique aesthetic.

The story unfortunately only gets a small way into what’s clearly a larger narrative before cutting off. Sora and Shiro’s ultimate plan—to challenge Tet again to another game—is barely laying the groundwork in the 12 episodes available. Given that the series is older, it’s unlikely that a sequel will show up, so keep in mind the show doesn’t really accomplish much plot-wise due to its length.

Character-wise, Sora and Shiro have enough personality to carry the show. They’re geniuses in different ways, but even the outgoing Sora is a social wreck. I dislike how Sora pervs on pretty much every girl, especially his 11-year-old sister, who he’s constantly trying to take pictures of in the bath. Their codependence, however, is a nicer touch. They can’t interact with people at all outside of games, so they only rely on each other. I also thought the attempt to paint Steph as competent in her chosen field is undercut by the fact that she’s too much of a moron otherwise to make a brilliant ability for diplomacy plausible. Maybe if it was all deskwork.

Overall, I can’t really recommend this, due to the incomplete story arc and the huge amount of fanservice on underaged girls. I might at some point watch the movie, which is supposed to do better in both of those aspects. I rate this Neutral.

The Rising of the Shield Hero #12 (Light Novel)

Title: The Rising of the Shield Hero #12

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Format: Light Novel

Naofumi is still working on building up the village. Between raising a gifted dragon egg and dealing with the crazy girls after him, he doesn’t have a lot of time to rest. News of Itsuki fighting in the Coliseum, though, forces him to detour to try to recruit the last Hero by whatever means necessary.

This book is a mess. Structurally, it doesn’t hold up well. The plot has three separate main conflicts going on, and they aren’t tied together very smoothly. It’s more like two and a half shorter stories bludgeoned into a novel-length book.

I hate this segment of the village life even more than the previous book. Alta lost all my sympathy after she got healed and started being a creeper on Naofumi, but she’s finally gotten so bad that Naofumi is jumping at the chance to run away in a manner she can’t follow. The whole harem aspect isn’t even done well, as pretty much all the girls except Raphtalia have a single character trait they beat to death and virtually nothing else (it doesn’t help that they’re all very much underage). When I find myself wishing that something would just come along and kill them off, they’re an active detriment to the story.

In a related note, Naofumi’s attitude about slavery is getting worse. This isn’t helped by all his slaves enthusiastically supporting him as their owner. Forget being slaves, these are kids. I’m shocked none of them have any issues with him bossing them around, even if he is telling them the fastest way to get stronger. I don’t actually mind Naofumi personally seeing this in a wrongheaded way, as that’s part of his morally grey character, but it’s a bit too much when everyone else decides to worship his decisions.

Gaelion is better. I liked that Naofumi finally got a dragon and decided to raise it, although predictably things go sideways before too long. I appreciate that Naofumi actually chooses a male, since the cast has been way too imbalanced towards the girls for too long. Although it’s not the same case as Filo, Gaelion ends up as someone else Naofumi can talk to, and one of the few people around him who isn’t interested in jumping him.

Itsuki’s confrontation with Rishia was also decent. Rishia’s been overcoming all her past limitations, and now it’s time to go back to the person who both inspired her and rejected her. But Itsuki never thought much of Rishia, and his curse series has even further stopped up his ears, so their actual battle is an amusing sequence of “Hey, the person fighting you is over here!” I am disappointed the book never confirms which curse series he unlocked, as several guesses are offered but none confirmed.

The last part of the book is the only part I actually enjoyed. Sadeena has some interesting comments about Raphtalia’s family, and that turns into a big mess by the end and gives Naofumi a new goal. I’m pretty sure this will be related to one of the Sacred Beasts as well, so that should hopefully bring the story out of this slump and back into a better plot.

Overall, it’s been an extremely rocky road through this arc, and although I still have hopes the series overall will get better I’m getting less enthusiastic about having to buy the next book to find out what’s next. I might look for the web novel to get an idea if the plot actually gets better or if the tacky harem plotline continues to dominate. I rate this book Neutral.

Infinite Competitive Dungeon Society

Title: Infinite Competitive Dungeon Society

Author: Toika

Translator: FudgeNouget

Chapters: 354 (Complete)

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/infinite-competitive-dungeon-society

Shin is following in his father’s footsteps of exploring a mysterious dungeon whose depths are invite-only. Meanwhile, Earth is drastically changing as monsters start appear, followed by dungeons of their own. But Shin isn’t concerned about the new ability users or monsters. He’s determined to conquer the depths of the dungeon.

It’s hard to give this one a good summary because it is a very long story, so there’s a lot going on. On a surface level, at the beginning there are two plot threads that rarely intersect: the Two Moons incident that caused Earth to gain monsters, magic, and little dungeons, and the giant extra-dimensional Dungeon that Shin is working his way through.

It takes a good while before the full story comes out about why both the big Dungeon and the little ones exist, and I like how this takes a familiar trope and twists it a bit, and then goes on to break out of it completely. Heroes defend their world, and monsters invade, but there are reasons behind why all of this is going on, and it’s a lot more grey than it first appears. Shin is stubborn and passionate, and even though Earth is in a very bad situation, he’s looking beyond the immediate problem and towards the bigger picture. Because Earth isn’t the only world facing these kinds of problems. And some of those other worlds have already lost.

This is a litRPG, but it twists away from skills and stats by the end. Actually, it was fascinating that the whole “dungeon” concept is an abstraction, and Shin eventually tries to tackle things at a deeper level. I liked that Shin has actual experience as a spearman from training with his father (and I also like that he’s using a less-common weapon), which makes his progress in the dungeon more believable. He picks up or creates a number of skills and abilities, but I like that after a certain point the concept of a skill can’t overcome actual knowledge/training in how to fight with his chosen weapon or technique.

A large focus of the fights isn’t so much the stats but the strategy. Some of that is tied to skills and their cooldowns, but more of it is about evaluating his enemy, trying to interrupt their dangerous moves, and most importantly not getting hit. Despite his rapidly increasing power, he’s also got enemies far stronger than him—and also a father who is determined to win in any competition against his son.

The one downside for me is unfortunately a rather big one. I don’t like any of the girls. They’re all introduced by hair and eye color, height, and breast size, and every single one falls in love with him and competes to be his wife. They have only the most minor personality variations because of this. They’re flat, uninteresting, and clearly there just to pander. Which makes the harem ending unsurprising but also annoying.

I kept hoping that he’d meet at least one girl that either hated him for real or just wasn’t interested, or could get more of a focus than trying to jump him. In the same vein, all of the elementals are female, all of the tamed monsters are female, and even his sister’s relationship with him is less than platonic (for a while I was hoping she was just playing up to his crush on her to extract benefits from him, but no luck). Even Daisy, who initially appeared to be sane, eventually joins in the “marry me too, please” crowd.

So that being said, I found Ren, Walker, Leon, and Lin way more interesting. Ren is a hotheaded beastman who can’t always live up to his own expectations, but gives his all however he can. Lin is half-dragon and a blacksmith who takes over the dungeon floor shop when Loretta gets a vacation. His grumpiness hides a sharp mind. He’s unwillingly friends with Shin, who keeps toppling his expectations (and thus creating more work with every bet he loses). And so on. The men manage to have better character arcs, and they aren’t spending every other sentence trying to get down Shin’s pants.

The chapters are a bit longer than the other web novels I’ve read so far, so it took quite a bit of time to finish, but the story is complete. I’m on the fence about recommending it, though, as the girls all harping on Shin gets really tedious, even though the fight scenes and the idea behind the dungeon was great. I rate this book Neutral.

Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC)

Title: Shining Resonance Refrain

Systems: PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC

Yuma is a young man with the power of the strongest dragon, the Shining Dragon, living inside him. After being rescued from the Empire’s clutches by the knights of Astoria, they beg him to use his power to help them fight the Empire. Yuma isn’t eager to grasp a power he doesn’t fully control, but the Shining Dragon may be the only hope against the powerful Empire . . .

This is a mediocre game, which can still be fun but has a lot of lower-budget frustrations. If you know what to expect going in, that should help decide if it’s worth your time.

The voice acting is excellent (too good for some of the lines these poor actors had to say). Zest and Agnum were particular standouts for me, but pretty much everyone is done really well.

The gameplay is not too bad. The action battle system provides virtually no challenge if you’ve spent a bit of time investing in aspects (I didn’t even get the best magic-boosters and was able to use Agnum to basically solo the final boss in about a minute). There’s a lot of flexibility with setting up your characters to suit your playstyle, and the Grimoire makes obtaining materials much easier. Some drops are restricted by chapter, though, so it’s not possible to craft certain aspects early.

It is disappointing that the “true dragon form” is actually worse than the first form (and the game recognizes this enough to give you an aspect to change Yuma back to that first form, if you feel like wasting a slot). It wouldn’t be as awful if you could at least pick the elements to attack with, instead of cycling through all the elements with every breath. Dragon form is a fun gimmick at first, but it doesn’t take long for un-transformed Yuma to noticeably out-damage his dragon form.

The world map is frustrating. You can warp back to the main city, but there is no way to warp anywhere else, which means re-treading the first few areas of the map over and over and over and over. At least the enemies are on-map so they’re easy to avoid.

Also, I’m not big into framerate wars, but this game was absolutely terrible at managing a decent framerate when magic spells or flashy abilities are on screen. It was dropping to a point where everyone was running in slow motion. I avoided Excella because most of her gravity spells caused huge lag.

The story lacks any real standout moments. There were a few places where I was laughing at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny, like Excella declaring she’s totally for the people in the same speech where she’s willing to sacrifice the whole nation to keep her dying father alive. But there were also moments of genuine humor, and although some characters stuck closer to their tropes than others (Lestin), it was still fun to see the various character interactions.

I’m not a fan of the visual novel format, which looks ridiculous when the screen blacks out to show a slash mark as a substitute for actual fights. I’m also not really a fan of the whole dating aspect, although that part at least is entirely skippable.

You do get some control over the ending, which is nice. I picked Agnum, because he was my favorite character all game, and he had the most interesting hints about what he and Yuma would do after the game is over. I mean, exploring the uncharted areas of the world with a guy who is also an excellent cook (and also cheerful, encouraging, and generally a total best friend) sounds like the most fun to me.

Overall, this is a budget title and it shows. I found it enjoyable enough since I knew going in the kind of game I could expect, but I don’t know that I’d be interested in a replay (I set it down after beating the final boss, with no interest in postgame). It took me about 60 hours to beat the main content, which allows for quite a bit of grinding, so the actual story content could be beaten significantly faster (especially if you don’t max out every character’s affections like I did). I rate this game Neutral.

The Shield of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #2)

Title: The Shield of Kuromori

Author; Jason Rohan

Series: The Shield of Kuromori

Kenny Blackwood only meant to save his new friend Kiyomi from an untimely death—but what he’s unleashed in her might be worse. With an oni’s lifeforce now powering her body, she’s starting to adopt oni mannerisms and habits. So he’s determined to find her a cure. No matter what it costs . . .

I didn’t like this one as much as the first. I did actually enjoy Kiyomi’s changing personality, as I felt that saving her in the prior book was a big cop out, and seeing that the action has ongoing consequences has made that more palatable. But Kenny is in the process of throwing everything away for the sake of “fixing” her, and it’s not hard to see that this is going to land him in a whole heap of trouble in the long term.

(Besides, she doesn’t seem to be losing her essential personality. It’s basically her with new eating habits and anger management issues. Which is to say not very different from before at all.)

The book is still packed with a variety of weird Japanese monsters. This time, though, there’s a particular gang of them in addition to the random surprises. And this gang is acting much more intelligently than the rest. I liked the mystery of what was actually going on with the telescopes. (And the humor involved in the whole setup.)

I was less fond of the new human characters. I loathed Stacey. Pushy girls that will pretend to be in danger to get a reaction just hit all my “please someone kill you quickly” responses. But she’s wriggled her way into Kenny’s life (mostly by blackmailing him) so I guess the story will be stuck with her in the future too.

Overall I was mostly annoyed as I read this book. Annoyed at Kenny for pretending to go along with people only to abandon them when they were counting on him. Super annoyed at Stacey. And I’m not sure I care about the series enough to finish it out, especially since that currently means tracking down a copy of the third book. Maybe if my library gets them I’ll reconsider. For now, I rate this book Neutral.