~A guest review by Frog-kun~
This is a review for the Paying to Win in a VRMMO light novel series, written by Blitz Kiva and illustrated by Kuwashima Rein. The series consists of six volumes, which were first published by Hobby Japan Bunko in 2014. The English edition was first released by J-Novel Club in February 2017, and the series is currently complete in both English and Japanese. The sixth and final volume was released in English in January 2018.
Paying to Win in a VRMMO isn’t what you’d expect to see in a VRMMORPG story, a genre that has become mainly defined by action stories. It’s not even really about its protagonist, a bourgeois businessman who rises to the top of the MMO world through his inflated spending habits. Paying to Win in a VRMMO is mostly about the community of a small VRMMORPG and the sorts of escapades they get up to inside and outside the game world. It’s a slice-of-life comedy, first and foremost.
The charms of Paying to Win in a VRMMO aren’t really evident in the first volume. It’s a slow burn without many satisfying climaxes. The humor is more on the dry side, and besides the protagonist Ichiro, not that many characters stand out in terms of personality. However, they do get fleshed out over the course of six volumes, resulting in some charming group dynamics as the story progresses.
The main reason to read this series is because of Ichiro. He’s rich and arrogant, but not necessarily scheming or malicious, which makes him strangely endearing most of the time. It helps that, despite being overpowered in the game and impossibly talented in real life, most of the other characters are simply exasperated with him rather than slobbering at his feet. Instead of a power fantasy, Ichiro merely comes across as a colorful personality.
My favorite character, however, was Kirihito. You might be able to tell from the name that the character is a reference to the Sword Art Online protagonist, but their role in the story is cleverer than a mere parody. Kirihito represents the kind of character that normally plays the lead role in these types of light novels, but here, they’re a rival and a side character. This portrayal got me to think about how those “solo player” kinds of characters would fit into the larger gaming community when the story is not told from their perspective.
I also liked how Kirihito is androgynous, and how their birth-assigned gender is different depending on whether you read the light novel or web novel version of the story. Either way, their gender isn’t important to the plot, and the character doesn’t profess to see themself as either male or female. This is the kind of character that I could see resonating with non-binary readers, and I appreciated how the English translation retains the gender ambiguity without sounding clunky.
This series arguably peaks in volume 5, which brings even all the minor characters together to play important roles in the plot. Otherwise, this series does seem to struggle to give roles to its characters. There are many scenes where characters appear but don’t end up contributing to the story at all, or struggle to stay relevant after their storyline concludes. The biggest culprit of this is Asuha, who is initially introduced as Ichiro’s second cousin and primary love interest, but fails to do anything of note in the plot or romance department despite featuring in every volume.
Volumes 2-4 are also a problem. These volumes tell a simple story about a girl named Iris who gets into a feud with a fellow fashion designer about designing the best in-game armor. On its own, it’s a pleasant read, but in the overall scope of the series, it’s simply a side story that somehow takes half up the entire series’ length. This entire subplot could have been compressed into one or two volumes without losing anything of note.
Overall, Paying to Win in a VRMMO is a charming series, but not without its inconsistencies. I’ll recommend it to people who are interested in the “community” or “worldbuilding” aspects of VRMMORPGs, although it’s not the strongest series in its subgenre. Even as a parody of certain light novel tropes, you’ll probably get more laughs out of Konosuba or The Devil is a Part-Timer! But if you have the patience for Paying to Win’s mellow storytelling, you may find yourself feeling sad too, when the story reaches its end and the players go their separate ways.
Frog-kun’s Rating: Maybe Recommended
You can purchase the ebook of volume 1 online via sites like Amazon. This is an affiliate link, so a small percentage of sales goes toward this site.