The Light Novel and anime series Sword Art Online is far from the first work of fiction to have players stuck in some sort of game world, but boy if it hasn’t been the springing point for so many writers hoping to borrow the trope. The Young Adult Fantasy genre is no stranger to authors jumping on and imitating the trope. Endless Fantasy Online feels like another one of these. It straddles the line between “competent” and “redundant” and while the result is far from perfect it still manages to be enjoyable.
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The story focuses on Luke, who volunteers to beta test a game using a character he has also named Luke. This game utilizes full immersion technology that puts the main character’s being directly into the game. While going through the tutorial, hackers scramble and encrypt the game data. As a result, Luke finds himself stuck in the game along with countless other beta testers. Making the most of things, he works as a botanist, eventually joins a guild, and travels to understand the world he finds himself in and hoping to find a way out of the game.
This book is at its best when Luke and his guild members “Travelers 4 Hire” are working together for their shared goals. I have played with many players and characters like Penny and Backstab, complete with ability macros that spam catch phrases. The game mechanics, as provided, appear to work as intended even if sometimes they feel more filler than substance. Luke finds himself taking a Ranger class which is a nice blend of ranged damaged, high cost single target DPS skills, healing magic, and a pet; these skills feel well thought out and balanced especially when compared with equal classes in the game world he finds himself in. The encounters feel exactly as scripted as one found in a top tier MMO, which is a boon given the source world.
That said, the story also has some inherent problems. The way that Vortex Industries, the corporation that owns the game world, handles the assault on their servers is completely unbelievable. At one point about one third of the way through the story, the main character is informed that the company owning the MMO is going to be helping everyone who is stuck in the game by allowing standard VR players a chance to play. This will allow the company to see what is going on in their game world, since they had to cut all of their connections into the game. Instead of creating new, secure connections… the company is going to open up their servers to the outside world. Instead of helping players survive with weapons and armor, the company intends on add more competition for them. I half expect to find out Vortex Industries is actually in on these players being trapped.
There is also something to be said about the number of stats and skills. This is what the LitRPG community would refer to as a “crunchy” book… but some of the numbers thrown around seem like they don’t make much sense and were pulled out of thin air. This will probably only be irritating to a minority of readers though, especially as the skill usage and acquisitions themselves are fairly smart.
The book spends a fair amount of time exploring Luke’s decisions in regards to what skills he trains, and he ultimately decides to lean on his ability to tame and use beasts over the use of magics. This makes sense for the character but also feels really sub-optimal given the game world’s early focus on magic and just how overpowered it is. This is a choice I won’t personally fault, but readers expecting a character to make plans that exploit the game world to its fullest may be disappointed and even caught in disbelief.
Ultimately, this is an enjoyable read, if not one that plays it too safe to the established formula. It ends in a way that sets itself up for several sequels, and the second book in the franchise has only recently dropped. I will likely be picking it up as well. This book is easy to recommend to younger readers, the audio book is absolutely solid, and even at its worse the book proves itself serviceable.
Note: The image used in the title card for this review is not from the book itself, but official artwork found from the author’s Patreon, which can be found here.