Tuesday, January 26, 2010

King of RPGs

I recently read the first volume of the American manga "King of RPGs" after seeing it mentioned on a couple of gaming sites. I thought it would be worth doing a review here.

It's been a while since I read any manga. I still watch some anime, but there really isn't much manga that makes it over here that interests me. There's plenty of manga written for men my age over in Japan (and I don't mean the pornographic stuff), but the manga that makes it over here is pretty much just the stuff written for teenagers. Admittedly, I haven't looked that closely at the available selection in a while, mainly because if there's one thing that makes me feel like a dirty old man it's hanging out in the manga section at the bookstore, so there may be some stuff that I've missed.

I decided to give King of RPGs a try because of the gaming connection. I'm glad I did, because I like it, but it isn't quite what I was hoping for. The big issue I have is how over the top everything in it is. Over the top slapstick humor is a staple of a lot of manga, but it's not a requirement. It's certainly not inappropriate to the genre, but it isn't a part that I appreciate all that much.

An example that shouldn't spoil any of the plot is the appearance of "the pit of commons" which is a basement of a game store filled with worthless CCG cards honed to "razor sharpness" due to friction over the years. Things like this only serve to take me out of the story due to their ridiculousness.

One other factor of the story bothers me, and that's the police officer who hates gamers and gaming. Checking the author's bio, I see that he's only a few years younger than me, so he probably remembers the bad old days when roleplaying was the chosen bogeyman of various authority figures. The problem is that those days are over. Including it is about as timely as including an authority figure out to stop that "devil music" that is rock and roll. The target of today's crowd of clueless authority figures is video gaming, not pen and paper RPGs.

Enough with what I don't like. There's a lot here that I do like as well. The characters are a fairly interesting mix. Another manga tradition is an ensemble cast where it's sometimes hard to tell just who is the main protagonist, and we have that here. The two top candidates are Shesh Maccabee, a recovering MMOG addict with a multiple personality disorder, and Theodore Dudek a wannabe "great gamemaster" who apparently hasn't ever actually done much gamemastering, but has spent his life collecting RPGs and learning gamemastering techniques (yeah, I can identify with both these characters, except for the multiple personality part...).

The supporting cast includes the MMOG addict's best friend, a fan of anime and anime games, including dating sims; a tomboyish girl gamer with a thing for ren faires; and a "gamer" girl who Theodore pays to play in his games to attract other gamers (and who is hinted to possibly hire herself out for other reasons, although I may be reading more into that then the author intended). There's also a number of characters that you'd expect to find in a college dorm or around a game shop that get a line here and there.

Antagonists include Gavin Slane who is only into games in order to make a profit off collectible items, and the aforementioned police woman who hates games and gamers. All of these main characters and antagonists are college aged, including the police woman who is apparently some sort of student trainee.

There are some great scenes, like when Shesh plays Gavin in a CCG and goes into "crazy RPG player" mode and we see the whole game go down in a narrative format with Shesh roleplaying his side of the game in his head. Similar scenes of the actual RPG sessions are equally entertaining.

There's lots of good references and in-jokes to gaming and gaming culture both in the dialog and the artwork. One such reference is to a rather infamous trick using the Chaos Orb card from the original Magic the Gathering release. The card was an extremely rare card that you used by throwing it up in the air, and any card it touched on landing was destroyed.

Speaking of the artwork, it's good. The artist handles both the "real world" and the fantasy scenes well, and packs a lot of good detail into many of the panels. The characters are well and consistently drawn, and have been designed in such a way that I never have any problems telling who is who.

Despite being a long time gamer, I don't think I was the exact target audience of this book. I think someone more into manga as well as gaming would appreciate it more, and I'd recommend it highly to any gamers who also consider themselves manga fans. Even with my reservations, I still plan on getting the next volume when it comes out.

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