Paying to Win in a VRMMO Review
Paying to Win in a VRMMO is a light novel series written by Blitz Kiva, with it’s illustrations drawn by Kuwashima Rein. How does Paying to Win hold up in genre which is arguably as diluted as it could possibly be at this point?
Ichiro Tsuwabuki has everything — he’s got the looks, brains, talent and a life of privilege and wealth that befits his status as the young heir of the Tsuwabuki Concern. When his younger second cousin Asuha Tsuwabuki introduced him to a VRMMO game called Narrow Fantasy Online (or NaroFan, for short) though, the always cool-as-cucumber Ichiro would soon find out about a world that doesn’t bore him to tears and actually excite him for once. With things like “levels” and “skills”, he also discover for the first time in his life, the beauty of hard work and dedication required to work on something from the ground up. Hard work, dedication… and money, that is. Lots of money, providing Ichiro with that needed sense of pride and accomplishment, haha.
In a medium that is already very good at this particular aspect, Paying to Win ticked off all the boxes needed to fulfill aforementioned aspect too — in that it is the embodiment of being a fun, mindless read. It’s more comedy and fun, and less drama and what have you. There are barely any commentaries on gaming itself, and the characters don’t get stuck inside the virtual world too, and can safely dive in and out at will. Paying to Win’s story has as much stakes as a slice of life.
In fact, it might be more accurate to just describe Paying to Win more as a slice of life, if anything. The characters spent as much time in real life as they do inside the game world, with much of their gaming community actually working adults. In fact, just as an example — almost half the series is entirely spent on a certain character’s aspiration to be a fashion designer. Despite Paying to Win’s isekai genre, the story seems to like external elements that have close to nothing to do with the actual isekai itself. With the exception of some small parts of the stories, the VRMMO and isekai is mostly used as a supplementary add-on, rather than the main focus of the story; a refreshing take on the genre, even.
Because of Paying to Win’s insistence of fun and comedy, it also constantly make jabs at certain infamous tropes and references. There is a novel within the LN’s universe that is said to have been incredibly popular, so popular that the protagonist “Kirihito” has had his character model made available in NaroFan as well — a young swordsman clad fully in black that is certainly not a reference to a certain light novel in our world as well. To play with the overpowered protagonist trope, there’s literally a few Superman references in the translation when Ichiro made his glorious, flashy entrances too. Paying to Win definitely doesn’t shy away in what it’s trying to do, which makes it more entertaining to read.
Overall, as a story, Paying to Win in a VRMMO certainly won’t offer any interesting food-for-thoughts, but it’s a fun read nonetheless.
What makes the stories fun to read are definitely the characters though, and have some decent character stories throughout. Interestingly, there aren’t over-exaggerated villains who want to take over the world or anything. At best, there’s the manipulative Matsunaga who enjoy scheming and crafting scenarios in the game world so that he has more materials to write in his blog, or the hostility of a certain CEO who had a history with Ichiro’s dad. The villains are more closer to your run-of-the-mill average joe who developed wicked thoughts at times, rather than villains who outright commit the most vile atrocities. Even Ichiro and his brazen confidence and superiority is likable enough that it’s hard to hate him as well.
Of course, Paying to Win has a lot of fun characters like the passionate Iris, the cute Amesho, the competitive King, the ever mysterious Tomakomai and the ever diligent Sunset Knights, and admittedly, some of them did steal the spotlight even with their limited appearances. Furthermore, a number of them also experience self-growth in surprisingly decent character stories. But I find Paying to Win especially shine in the way it treads the line between it’s characters being total assholes, while being good-natured enough that you forget about their obnoxiousness. Perfect in a way, in a light novel about an overpowered protagonist whom everyone call a “demon lord”.
The artwork by Kuwashima Rein is excellent and the color illustrations are especially a treat to look at. The vivid and detailed look help significantly in accentuating the characters. For instance, Ichiro, Iris and Matsunaga looked exactly the way I imagined them to be judging from their descriptions in the book. Their real life counterparts are good too of course, but the tasteful artwork is especially great at making their fantasy gaming avatars come to life.
Paying to Win in a VRMMO doesn’t shy away in what it’s trying to do, that’s also what makes it ever more so entertaining to read. Though, entertaining to read, and nothing much — a mindlessly fun experience thanks to it’s characters and generally light-hearted mood. Certainly not the kind of masterpiece I would recommend, and it didn’t really try that hard in distinguishing themselves from the genre anyway. But it’s simplicity is almost refreshing in a sense, and at worst, Paying to Win is the perfect light novel to wash off your palate after you read something a little too heavy.