Understanding the MMO Revisited: Log Horizon VS Overlord

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VS

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My very first blog was a brief discussion about how SAO, Log Horizon and Overlord used the mechanics of MMO’s well or poorly in their respective stories.  Looking back on it now I think it was wholly inadequate, and with “log horizon vs overlord” searches being the most frequent hit to that post, I’ve decided to revamp my work and bring it up to snuff.  I won’t address SAO here because I’ve covered it extensively.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Log Horizon is undoubtedly better than Overlord in every conceivable way unless you want a mindless power fantasy, in which case you should be asking yourself what appeals to you more, being Kirito or being an OP skeleton guy with a bunch of demon followers.  Whatever games mechanics Overlord has in play are mostly thrown out the window because Ains can use magic to essentially change his class.  He can’t use special warrior skills, so this spell would be ok if he was made more vulnerable by doing it, but given how weak everything is in the world around him it hardly matters what debuffs he gives himself by temporarily going warrior.  And he can still use magic when in warrior form anyway so he would only suffer losing the special stats of mage gear, which again hardly matters because the world he’s in is too weak for him.  He can even use pay-to-win items to wield the strongest types of melee weapons in the game, something that would totally break a real game’s balance and should logically be restricted, but restrictions are something this particular show wants to do away with.  Overlord doesn’t care about being a good story, about crafting a good setting or placing limitations on it’s protagonist, it wants to provide the viewer the fantasy of getting to play as the Lich King, with a bunch of powerful demon servants, stomping the world.  And you know what, if that’s really what you want then I guess I can’t blame you.  It can be fun to feel like the big unstoppable bad guy instead of the flawless, invincible hero.   However in achieving this fantasy Overlord threw out a potentially interesting setting and narrative, and those things matter quite a bit more to me.

Log Horizon therefore is a more or less a heaven-sent miracle in comparison.  Log Horizon is an order of magnitude above Overlord, and most anime in general.  For now let’s just talk game mechanics.  Game mechanics are integral to Log Horizon’s story, and they’re very well thought out.  Low level players get EXP boosts, classes play a clear role and no one can just jump classes to avoid their limitations like in Overlord.  This is extra important for the main guy, Shiroe, because his class is a support class.  Shiroe can’t just overpower his foes, he constantly has to be thinking ahead, using distractions, buffs and debuffs to bring easy victory to his party.  While Shiroe can appear just as invincible as Ains, it’s shown that he struggles against some foes and it’s suggested that the rug can, and probably will, be pulled out from under him later down the line.  Shiroe’s also a member of a group, Debauchery Tea Party, and he’s likely one of the least powerful members of the group in terms of pure strength even if his strategic abilities are top notch within the group.  Whereas Ains was seemingly alone as a player in a game universe of NPCs given life, Shiroe is just one of 30ish nigh-legendary players and the end of the second season suggests that with the group leader far away, the rest of the group may clash in an upcoming season.  Additionally, the final episode season 1 introduces Nureha, an enemy who is either on par with Shiroe or very nearly so, who demonstrates the same kind of understanding of the game world’s mechanics and who runs what is arguably the most powerful guild in the world, Plant Hwyaden.   All this is to say that Shiro is not wish fulfillment and the world and story intends on treating him like an actual person with actual limitations and even gives him powerful enemies to contend with to boot, all of which I’m very much on board with.

In addition to well defined class roles and a strong emphasis on party play, crafting and other professional or subclass skills that appear in most MMOs play an important role in Log Horizon’s world. Various forms of crafting, from cooking to engineering are both present and well explained.  The cooking skill in particular was vital because up until it’s value was discovered everyone was auto-making tasteless meals and being miserable because of them.  And in learning about how subclass skills mattered and how they could be applied, characters were able to create items and spells not available in the normal game.  This sparks huge revolutions later down the line as Shiroe converts NPCs onto adventurers, Nureha makes an unbreakable disguise spell, some of the Round Table members make a steamship and Plant Hwyaden creates portable cathedrals to let players revive anywhere.

Speaking of revival, it’s one of the other things that sets Log Horizon apart froms other MMO contemporaries.  In SAO, people die when they are killed, in the game.  In Overlord it’s uncertain what exactly would happen if Ains died though considering that he seems to have literally become his character he would likely perish forever.  The result is that both stories have to feature invincible protagonists because death is final and it would spell the end of their stories.  By comparison a lot of the biggest moral questions raised by Log Horizon are dependent on the fact that the players don’t die, and it’s not afraid to kill all of it’s most powerful players over the course of it’s run.  This is made all the more impressive when it becomes know that death in the game causes the vanquished to lose memories of real world.  And it’s made even more impressive in season two when the players who weren’t stereotypical otaku go insane trying to escape back to real world.  And you can hardly blame them because if you have a marriage coming up or a family that are no doubt worried about, it makes sense that you’d want to get out of the game and unlike SAO there’s no clear way out.  To its credit Overlord also features no clear way out, though it has yet to do much of note with that story detail.

All of the last few paragraphs are there to say that Log Horizon pays a lot of attention to detail, and uses the details of settings phenomenally to create a plethora of subplots or expand the main narrative.  Hell the game is even evolving as the players get to know it, like how Shiroe’s alt account enters the game, a spam bot is given an avatar, we see continents outside of Japan, flavor text starts to manifest as actual events, and of course the appearance of the Traveler aka Genius Monster class.  Log Horizon has already given us a large, richly detailed  world, and it looks like it will only get bigger.  And I didn’t even talk about the lore, with it’s totally new classification of spells and theories as to why demi-human monsters like Goblins became violent monsters, the lore is awesome.  And if all of this wasn’t enough, Log Horizon puts a ton of effort in characters and character development.

One of the biggest criticisms of Log Horizon season 2 is that was really slow and we spent too much time with the kids.  I agree that Log Horizon season 2 is slower and than season 1 but I think that’s entirely intentional and it doesn’t make the show boring at all.  Log Horizon has always been a headier kind of show and a lot of season 1 was about improving life in Akibahara so that players were secure and could focus on solving the big problems like “how do we get home?”.  As of Season 2 players are mostly secure and there’s little left to do beyond solving the greatest mystery in the story (which obviously won’t be resolved quickly because that would be boring), there’s hardly any immediate goals and what few exist have no clear path or resolution, with everyone’s primary needs provided for, and only mysteries left to unravel, the whole world of Log Horizon sort of stalls into a semi-rigid status quo, much like the real world.  And to fill the gaps left by a narrative that went from driven to directionless, Log Horizon season 2 put more emphasis on character development.  I think the introduction of the people who go insane trying to get home was probably best development among the player base at large, but Akatsuki had a good arc too.  Akatsuki has generally struggled with being in love with Shiroe, she’s best at straightforward violence whereas he’s mostly a schemer, she struggles to keep up with his plans, she has other girls to contend with, and she thinks she’s not quite worthy of him because she’s not as good at the game as he and the other Debauchery Tea Party Members are.  In response she obsesses herself with getting stronger and learning a Teaching and while it can seem frustrating watching episodes of Akatsuki struggling furiously and going nowhere, that is the fucking point.

Whereas in season 1 the main characters, had concrete, easily understood goals to achieve after a few episodes of aimless exploring, season 2 is about how people struggle with being adrift without any clear goal ahead of them.  For some that means going crazy, for others it means throwing in a lot of aimless effort to get some kind of result, and for a few it means striving for new big goals or getting ready to start a war.  And in the end Akatsuki gets her Teaching and gains a lot of her wavering confidence back.  William makes this awesome speech to inspire his raid group and the raid group clears the dungeon the kept losing to.  And the kids gain a lot resolve after seeing older players destroy the world around them as they go insane.  Season 2 is about the frustration of being stuck in limbo but ultimately overcoming it to face the next challenge.  Is it slow and maybe a little frustrating to watch?  Sure, that conveys what the character’s are experiencing.  Does it make Log Horizon season 2 bad?  Not at all, I was just as engaged as I was during season 1 and I will defend it with all the fury of a random blogger on the internet.

Ultimately what I hope you all take away from this is that Log Horizon is fucking amazing and you should go watch it if you haven’t done so already.  Log Horizon gets a bad rap for looking ugly and being slow but it far outclasses SAO and Overlord on every literary front and it’s by far the best example of a “trapped in a MMO” story done well.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, I’ll see you in the next one.

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