Unpopular Opinion: Overlord vs Log Horizon – The Final Reckoning

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After many, many complaints from Overlord fans I have decided to write a more balanced and formalized version of what began as an off the cuff, first ever blog post before evolving into a second much more antagonistic blog post.  There will be spoilers for both shows but at this point they’ve been out for plenty of time so I don’t care.

I will specifically be comparing just the anime versions of both Log Horizon and Overlord, which was my default premise but needs to be spelled out for some people.  As a result my knowledge of Overlord will be limited to the following: Anime season 1, a smattering of later clips, some plot descriptions of the events of season 2 which I believe to be fair and accurate if broad and general.  If I get something wrong about Overlord please consider whether or not my mistake is based information I should have, given the parameters I just laid out.  I’m happy to admit honest mistakes and welcome fair criticism, but I can only speak about what I know and any faults that come from things I don’t know are – for the purposes of this post anyway – essentially invalid.  For Log Horizon my knowledge is limited to both seasons of anime but I’ll mostly stick to season 1 both in the interests of fairness and because of the real heart of my positions on these two shows are based in their foundational building blocks.

Both Overlord and Log Horizon take place in fantasy worlds which are not-exact copies of a video game the main character plays, and both protagonists now inhabit their in-game avatars.  One notable difference is that Elder Tale, the game Log Horizon’s world is based on, is a modern MMORPG played on a computer – not a super immersive VR game like SAO, and Yggdrasil – which is the game Overlord’s world is based on.  Overlord’s game and tech is also 100+ years in the future.  Also noteworthy is that at the start of each story, Elder Tale is releasing a new expansion 20 years after the open beta was made available.  Yggdrasil meanwhile is shutting down after 12 years of popularity.  However these are relatively minor differences.

The main differences are as follows, in Log Horizon everyone currently playing the game appears to have be trapped in the fantasy world based on Elder Tale, in Overlord’s case Ainz is the only such character we see though there are some vague hints that he may not be here alone or is not the first player to be trapped here.  The other main difference is the difficulty of the fantasy world counterparts.  Log Horizon’s world is very difficult at first, because the old input style for commands and skills is hard to do while you have fight enemies with some limitations you would have if you were fighting irl, such as first person view.  Because of the new expansion and new level cap that comes with it there are also new ultra difficult encounters and enemies – but the main source of difficulty is in the beginning when players have to adapt and relearn how to fight now that they inhabit their avatars.  After that the world is mostly business as usual with difficulty more reflective of the game it’s based on.  Overlord’s world on the other hand seems like a remarkable downgrade from the game Yggdrasil.  Ainz is extremely powerful, so much so he stops an elite invasion unit which can summon angelic monsters, considered dangerous by the people of the fantasy world, by himself and without taking damage.  There are other marked downgrades, because all the other characters that we meet are NPCs huge amounts of knowledge has been lost and skills and spells, basic abilities in Yggdrasil, are now rare and usually restricted to lower tier levels.  For example, late in Season 1 of Overlord a necromancer summons a pair of Bone Dragons and declares them to be immune to magic.  He’s wrong though, they are only immune to magic below a certain level – and no humans of this world can use magic of that level – and then Ainz’s companion Narberal Gamma one-shots them with higher level lightning magic.  Likewise potions have downgraded somehow, with the NPCs using blue potions vastly inferior to the “original” red potions Ainz possesses.

The differences between these worlds give the two stories vastly different tones right from the get go.  Overlord is a power fantasy with some mystery elements, where the protagonist interacts with the setting and NPCs mostly in search of answers to his questions.  Log Horizon is about building a society and this is by necessity, now that thousands of gamers have been trapped in this world they not only have to interact with the NPCs, who are given much more depth with regards to their social and political organization than their Overlord counterparts (by season 1’s end anyway), they have to interact with each other and make something of themselves or be lost in a downward spiral that begins almost as soon as it is discovered that players respawn instead of dying in the game.  In Overlord it is unknown if players die and respawn or just stay dead but this is hardly a concern as Ainz steamrolls almost everything he fights.  In Log Horizon, the lack of death immediately causes a chain reaction of problems in multiple cities and thus the creation of functional, civil societies becomes a priority.

The tonal differences are also made apparent by the differences in shows’ respective protagonists.  Ainz is a total powerhouse on his own and he has a number of powerful servants he can command.  His main obstacle is in hiding his identity, since he’s a lich, as he gathers information.  He also generally hides his power level by using his warrior form, but again this hardly seems to matter to since he is one-shotting most monsters he fights that way and still takes no damage.  Shiroe meanwhile is not a powerhouse, despite the fact he’s a max level player (not accounting for the new level cap anyway) he’s a support mage whose abilities shine through because of Shiroe’s prodigious skill as a tactician, not because of his raw spellpower.  Though both are spellcasters, they are very different kinds of spellcasters, and Ainz has a great deal of flexibility because of the relative weakness of the setting while Shiroe is more tightly constrained by support role and comparatively higher setting difficulty.

Moreover, the two have very different personalities and resultant personal issues.  Ainz’s human self seems like a bit of weak bitch based on his internal thoughts and dialogue at the very start of Overlord before the game shut down.  Also because of the fact he said he would “run away” from one of his early battles if he couldn’t use his favorite heart crushing spell.  He also seems to get over that mindset very quickly because he’s in charge of cadre of loyal followers and seemingly the strongest guy in town.  Shiroe meanwhile is a deeply introspective character who only seems to lack confidence when making decisions of enormous magnitude, like building a thriving and free society out of a might makes right society.  His main issue is his reluctance to trust people and reluctance to take action as he endlessly analyzes the situation.  When he’s with people he can trust and in combat scenarios he displays no lack of confidence whatsoever and he only needs a push when making world-altering decisions.

However because Shiroe is in fact making such big sweeping decisions, we see a lot more of a character struggle from his side and a clear arc where he is forced to overcome his personal flaws.  Ainz has no such arc, at least not in season 1, at most he has to put up a tough front for his subordinates while he struggles a bit more with what to do internally.  Shiroe’s growth as a person is also much more important to the story as he not only starts out with fewer, and less blindly loyal, followers than Ainz, he has persuade other powerful figures that not only does he have the best plan, but that he can be trusted to carry it out.  Ainz has no such difficulties, the Demons of Nazareck are almost fanatically loyal to him and some outright lust for him.  He can command them to do just about anything and they’ll gladly do it.  Based on some clips it looks like Ainz may eventually have some problems with his demons, and theoretically because he can’t be with them all the time or has to spend more time with certain members this could cause problems later down the road, but none of this appears in season 1.  In season 1 the only problem he has on this front is that Shalltear is turned into a hostile creature by some legendary item that we know very little about by season 1’s end.

Speaking of the protagonists’ companions, they also have a strong effect on the overall tone of the two shows.  Ainz has a bunch of followers, Shalltear, Demiurge, Cocytus, Albedo, the twin elves with hetero-chromea, Pandora’s Actor, Sebas, all of the Pleiades battle maids and anyone else I can’t remember off the top of my head.  He also recruits some villagers later in the season 1.  Setting aside the villagers who mostly don’t factor into the story in season 1, all of the Demons of Nazareck are unflinchingly loyal to Ainz and stronger than any monster or NPC we encounter in season 1 to boot.  Shiroe has a much more complicated role in the world of Log Horizon.  He is famous if not infamous, with many powerful guild leaders waiting to see what he’ll do, and he has a number of powerful friends he calls to his banner over the course of the story – but in the beginning he only has 2 companions, Naotsugu and Akatsuki.  While both are happy to follow Shiroe they have different depths of relationship with him as Naotsugu and Shiroe both belonged to a legendary group (not a guild) called the Debauchery Tea Party which conquered the game’s greatest challenges but has since disbanded.

Akatsuki meanwhile is a trusted friend but was not a member of the Debauchery Tea Party, and as she evolves as a character this degree of separation plays an important role in her character arc.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, Akatsuki’s arc, though it begins to form in season 1, is mainly addressed in season 2 – but the fact that she not only develops romantic feelings for Shiroe over the course of their interactions but undergoes her own lengthy, messy character arc is a massive step up from anything the Demons of Nazareck undergo at least in season 1.  I mean Ainz even edits Albedo’s flavor text so she is unbelievably thirsty for his D right from the start.  Based on some plot developments I’ve heard, I believe some of the Demons may eventually develop as characters and may even have interesting arcs – but nothing in season 1 of Overlord suggests such a thing.  The only interesting character concept in Overlord season 1 is that Shalltear retains her memories even while she is hostile and this gives her a persona something akin to a cocky fighter where she respects Ainz’s power but isn’t afraid to trash-talk him during their fight either.  This is instantly erased after Ainz defeats and resurrects her, and she returns to being servile and loyal to Ainz.

The last major contributor to the tones of each show is their humor and seriousness.  Log Horizon has a bunch of terrible, unfunny repetitive jokes which is mostly uses to break up long chunks of exposition or periods of tension.  This doesn’t make the jokes any better but it does give them an important purpose in breaking up the dense flows of information common in Log Horizon.  One of the hallmarks of Log Horizon is that it does lots and lots of buildup and this is mostly accomplished through careful exploration and investigation of the world, and in serious negotiations.  Log Horizon doesn’t have that much action nor much edginess – and it gets through most of both of these in the first arc where the characters go and fight Demikas.  Overlord on the other hand has a fair amount of action and a lot of edginess.  The main villains of season 1, the Necromancer and the assassin chick are comically evil edgelords who revel in their own wickedness and the pain they inflict on others.  Even the invasive force guy was fairly bombastic and arrogant in his power since he could summon Angels.  And I’ve seen clips of the edgy princess from season 2.  Ainz himself isn’t that edgy though, best clear that up in case anyone wants to complain.  The comedy in Overlord isn’t especially good and primarily revolves around light perversion, like Albedo’s displays of affection for Ainz, the trap-looking elf sorcerer and his weak persona and I’ve seen the clip where Ainz accidentally spies on the lizardman champion having sex with the lizardman princess.  Or it’s total cringe in the case of Pandora’s Actor, enough so that Ainz is embarrassed for creating him.

Visually both shows favor detail-heavy designs over especially fluid and dynamic animation.  Both also use CG for some monsters though this is more prevalent in Overlord than in Log Horizon.  General consensus is that, Overlord generally looks better and I would agree that Ainz looks better than anyone in Log Horizon – overall though I don’t really like designs of most of the Demons of Nazareck so I lean towards Log Horizon as looking better overall.  And I vastly prefer the environments in Log Horizon, Overlord’s backgrounds look fine but generic outside of the Tomb of Nazareck, whereas Log Horizon has many distinct environs and towns which blend fantasy wilderness with post apocalyptic ruins of modern cities.

I have thus far tried to be fair and balanced, describing the various elements of Log Horizon and Overlord (season 1) with as few personal value judgements as possible.  In doing so I hope I have presented my case as to what the two shows’ differences are in a mostly objective sense and prepared anyone reading this for what remains – how I personally feel about each show based on the various elements of their construction as well as discussing some elements which are so strongly colored by my personal feelings that I couldn’t really discuss them above while maintaining even a pretense of fairness.

I fucking hate Overlord.  Like “1/10 – Jesus Fucking Christ, how in the hell does anyone think this show is even remotely good?” hate Overlord.  The nicest way I can express my feelings toward this show is that is a prime example of heavy-handed writing, so hamfisted and unsubtle that it feels like it was written with 12 year olds in mind.  It is embarrassingly bad, I actually skimmed through some of season 1 to confirm a few details and remember how the show looked and felt and holy shit was this way blatantly worse than I remember.  The edgy villains are a fucking joke, and not a funny one either.  At best they are bemusing but in a critical sense they are pure garbage, caricatures of stereotypical bad guys with no nuance or redeeming qualities whatsoever.  The Demons of Nazareck are equally bland and boring, their personalities are almost nonexistent beyond their devotion to Ainz and their declarations of loyalty are obnoxious at best.  Having sat down to re-examine the writing of Overlord as portrayed in the anime has made me facepalm harder than I even thought possible.  I genuinely did not expect it to be so unbearably bad on a re-watch.  The dialogue was utter garbage, the CG was uglier than I remeber it being and holy shit did Overlord take it’s fucking time doing anything.  Like the fact Ainz didn’t even leave the Tomb of Nazareck until episode 3, Christ on a bike how did I sit through those first two episodes the first time?

Ironically episode 3 of Log Horizon one of it’s worst episodes because it functions mostly as a transition as the characters begin their first quest, after 2 episodes full of information about the world and the forming society of players.  It’s the episode you have to sit through to get back to more interesting stuff, in Overlord nothing interesting happens until episode 3 – and even that’s just a big smack down against a bunch of helpless knights and an edgy feudal lord screaming about how he’ll pay for someone, anyone to shield him from the undead monster Ainz summoned before he gets stabbed over and over.  I sincerely can’t believe that even just five years ago I was willing to sit through the early parts of Overlord, if it had come out in the last year or two I’d probably have dropped it right away.

Getting away from episode specific details though, what I hoped to present with the earlier analysis is that Overlord is really just a basic bitch story and there is literally nothing in season 1 that suggests it will ever get better.  The only noteworthy thing about season 1 of Overlord is that we still have a lot of mystery to solve.  Overlord has nothing to latch onto, unless you like the basics of what it already gives you.  Do you like having a lich for a protagonist?  I think that’s cool, and I’m sure many others love it.  Do you like lots of loyal demon followers, some of whom definitely want to ride your dick?  Not my cup of tea but I can see the appeal.  Like a power fantasy where the protagonist crushes everyone with no effort until he’s forced to fight his own servant?  No.  Like I’m all for the occasional beat down or steamroll but every fight but one?  Maybe if we were talking about a show like One Punch Man or Mob Psycho 100 where the protagonist’s sheer power is causing them problems then maybe, but otherwise nah that sounds boring as shit.

There’s literally nothing else.  There is no character development at fucking all in season 1 of Overlord.  Save for the final battle there is no suggestion that Ainz or any of his Demons are ever in any danger.  Does Ainz ever seem likely to fail?  No, not only does he never fail, he makes everything look easy and he’s given bullshit gatcha items to make his final battle easier.  Put simply, I’m bored.  The mystery of how Ainz got taken to this fantasy world that is nothing more than a downgraded version of his favorite VR game is not appealing enough for me to want to sit through a season of hamfisted writing, terrible dialogue and characters, simple plots and a total lack of challenge.  There is nothing at all appealing beyond the mere idea of a guy getting stuck in a fantasy world as a lich.  The previous sentence is, to me, the entirety of Overlord’s potential appeal.  And that does not make up for it’s appalling execution in every conceivable facet of storytelling.  Overlord is all premise and no execution, and I know that works for some people but I’m not one of them.  Premise means a lot less to me than execution, I’d rather watch a fucking idol show with good execution than watch Overlord – and I fucking hate idol shows and idol culture.

And don’t even get me started on the combat.  Ainz almost never takes any damage because of a passive skill that nullifies damage from low level weapons and spells – and since Overlord’s setting is set on even-babies-could-beat-this easy mode almost everything he fights is too weak to even hurt him.  Ainz’s only noteworthy opponent is Shalltear and once again, not only is she his servant under normal circumstances, he is given gatcha items which allow him to use the best gear from warrior classes regardless of the fact he’s a fucking magician.  It was bad enough that his basic warrior form could kill all of his enemies without any skills, but getting to use the best gear for warrior classes makes me wonder why anyone bothers to play warriors.  If anything Ainz reminds me of a high level multi-class Fighter/Mage from Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale – which can solo the the entire fucking game if you build it right.  The versatility is less of an issue than the sheer power though, I wouldn’t mind if Ainz was versatile if he was also weaker or more vulnerable, it would justify the versatility.  Instead Ainz has it all and that just gives me one less aspect of the story to get invested in.  Ainz never struggles, he faces no adversity and is a weaker character for it.  And when I don’t give a shit about the protagonist, the show is probably fucked.

By comparison not only is Shiroe himself weak in combat due to his support role, his strength comes from his game knowledge and tactical skills – which benefit him most when he’s working with other skilled players.  Shiroe is not a one man army, but he can make a party of 4 or 5 able to take on a small army because he can direct their power and skill to make them that good.  Action is not one of Log Horizon’s particular strong points but it’s a million times better than anything in Overlord, where Ainz kills everything besides Shalltear in one hit.

Because Shiroe has to work with other people, both in combat and in building a society that benefits everyone after their world has been turned upside down, Log Horizon goes to great lengths to feature a ton of characters and to make many of them interesting, with significant arcs in their own right.  Shiroe is obviously no exception and Log Horizon frontloads much of his development into the early arcs so you’re already invested in him as a person before he makes his big powerplays.  Overlord has nothing like this in season 1 and since I actively hate all of Overlord’s characters I don’t care about how they develop.

Then there’s world-building, one of my favorite elements of fantasy, and I’m going to have to laugh in every Overlord fan’s face for a second here.  There is almost no world building in all of season 1, or at least no world building I found engaging.  Sure the Tomb of Nazareck is in a different location and yes we are made aware at least 2 political entities.  Does any of that matter?  Fuck no.  In season 1 the main thing to take away by the end was that we still knew fuck all about the world, beyond the general idea that it was downgraded form of Yggdrasil.  Is that enough to make me stick around for a second season?  No it is not.  Log Horizon went way more in-depth, with dungeons that actively degenerated due to monster effects, several distinct adventurer cities, detailed NPC nations with multiple cities and political intrigue directed toward the adventurers and the goblin invasion, and fantasy elements with fantasy explanations which logically correlate with video game mechanics’ to explain how resurrection functions or like the Goblin King.  And of course it had Shiroe go ahead and build a goddamn society from the ground up and shows us what progress that brings over the course of the story.  That alone is 10x more interesting and 100x more complex than anything Ainz does in season 1 of Overlord.

To put it mildly, the biggest difference between Log Horizon and Overlord, is that the latter bet everything on premise and used action, shock value and edginess to keep the viewer from noticing just how bad the writing was – while the former focused on ideas and kept the viewer’s attention by revealing carefully considered details and developing characters to make the most of said ideas.  Overlord is a show for teens first making their forays into fiction, like Elfen Lied or Mirai Nikki.  Log Horizon is a show made to challenge teens and adults who want something with more depth and nuance out of their fiction.  And while everyone has their phase of liking the edgy, simple stories – God knows I used to like Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki once upon a time – Log Horizon is the kind of story you really learn to appreciate once you’ve moved beyond comparatively simple and trashy works like Overlord.

I’m basically done here.  Thanks everyone for reading.  I could go into more depth and bring up more specific examples from both shows, but honestly I think I’ve made my case.  The difference in quality and character between the foundations of Overlord and Log Horizon practically makes my case for me.  Even if Overlord eventually develops a more detailed and interesting world, more intricate plots or makes its central mystery interesting – it will inevitably be chained to the flaws of Overlord season 1.  That’s why I would guess, though I could be wrong, that Ainz never really comes across an opponent who’s a match for him, because part of the core of Overlord’s appeal is the overwhelming power fantasy Ainz presents.  I have no interest in that not as a feature which spans an entire story, and no amount of new plot twists and lore will address this problem.  By the same token, Log Horizon will only get more nuanced and more complex because so much attention was given to the themes the show is going for and carefully planning out the details to make sure those themes hit home.  You can learn a lot about the general quality of a story if you carefully study the early parts.  Log Horizon had my interest by episode 1.  Overlord didn’t get my interest after 12 episodes and after re-watching most of episode 1 of Overlord I’m frankly embarrassed I didn’t see how bad it was on my first viewing.  See you in the next one.

Understanding Limits: How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord vs Overlord

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I really hate Overlord.  When I was watching it weekly I might have given it like a 5-6/10, though the final battle with Shaltear (yes I only watched season 1 though I’ve a smattering of fight clips from later seasons since) was a huge disappointment.  That said every time I even think about the show since then my hatred has built and built to the point when I can say it’s probably a 1 for me personally by now.  And while before this point I could point out what I saw as the flaws just fine I had some trouble connecting with the appeal of a show like Overlord at all, until a I saw How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord (henceforth Demon Lord because that title is a pain in the ass to type over and over).

I would describe Demon Lord as perfectly passable.  It’s like a 5-6/10, and very ok across the board.  If not for the fact this is an abysmal anime season I probably would not have watched it but now that I have I think I can really pick apart how I think Overlord fails at capturing the appeal it ostensibly is going for.  In case you haven’t seen it Demon Lord features a similarly OP demonic main character, who happens to be a spellcaster, stuck in a world resembling a game he played, where everyone else seems severely under-leveled.  On the face of it Demon and Overlord are practically the same show but their minor differences make a world difference in how much I enjoyed one over the other.

Barring the obvious differences in art style between the shows and the appearance of the two leads, the biggest difference is that Ains from Overlord has the Dungeon of Nazareck and Diablo from Demon Lord doesn’t.

Ains arrives amongst allies and servants who he can order to do things on his behalf while he investigates the world or gets into fights.  In and of itself this is not a problem and a story written from such a scenario is totally workable.  The problem is that all the demons of Nazareck are themselves overpowered in the world of Overlord.  In season 1 and in most of the clips I’ve seen of later seasons the demons of Nazareck are curb stomping all of their opponents, with the only notable exception being the bug maid vs Evil Eye (if memory serves).  This is not to say I’m not missing a battle or two where they fight more difficult opponents but ultimately the issue is that not only is Ains op all of his allies are op too so there is never any tension in any of the battles.  Moreover it seems like an incredibly hamfisted level of overkill in the writing department.  What’s the point of having an OP protagonist trying to unravel the mystery of his situation if he could just command his 15-20 servants to do it all for him?  It’s like making a team of 15-20 Madara Uchiha’s from Naruto and saying “yeah people will like that!” – like wtf?  It’s fucking BORING because none of the main characters are ever in any danger and world itself is not challenging.

Even more annoying there is no reason given at all (in season 1 at least please correct me if they explain later) as to why the world of Overlord is so weak in comparison to Ains.  Here’s a completely inconsequential example that encapsulates my issues perfectly.  Early in season 1 Ains (in disguise) has to give away one of his potions.  As far as I know this is not a potion he made, it’s just a basic potion from the game.  However it’s considered pure and is better than the potions everyone else is using.  Can you believe it? Even a basic potion in Ains’ possession, which he never even has to use, is better than the potions of the world he inhabits.  That’s the unbelievable level of overkill the writer goes to in making sure Ains is the top dog, even his potions are better than everyone else’s and he doesn’t even use them.  I know this is such a minor thing but it speaks to my main issue with Overlord.  It doesn’t know when to stop.  It doesn’t know how to set any kind of limit for itself, any restrictions which might inject ANY tension into it whatsoever.  It just makes Ains and his goons the best in every way possible and shows you how they steamroll this world set on baby levels of easy mode.  And somehow it works for people, I sincerely don’t get it, but then again I don’t get why anyone would like Superman and this has most of the same problems as Superman.

By comparison Diablo is brought into a world where he seems all but invincible but he doesn’t have a gang of overpowered buddies.  He has a pair of girls who fit into the normal range of characters levels for the vast majority of adventurers in the world Demon Lord takes place in.  His companions can and do get beaten in fights and struggle against superior foes anytime Diablo is unable to confront the threat himself.  There is actual tension because Diablo really only has like 4 or 5 people he can count on in this world and all of them have a very real chance of dying in the event he isn’t there to protect them, and he can’t be with all of them 24/7.  Moreover there are a few opponents who are more of a threat to Diablo than anyone in Overlord was a threat to one of Ains’ battle maids.  The Force Hydra, the Governor of Faltra, Krebskulm and even the Paladin are foes of a high enough level that they can at least damage Diablo, and a few even give them a run for his money or force him to the point exhaustion.

Which brings me to another point, not only do none of the native creatures or characters of Overlords world ever damage Ains, (again not that I’ve seen do correct me if I’m wrong) but even when he has to get serious to fight Shaltear there’s no negative effects at all.  Diablo meanwhile not only can be seen taking damage on rare occasions but he can exhaust himself, which leaves him practically bedridden the next day.  And while by most show’s standards this is barely a limit at all it is at least a limit – Ains not only doesn’t seem to have limits he actively is granted the means to ignore any limits he might otherwise have.  He can become a warrior good enough to steamroll this world despite the fact he’s a sorcerer.  And he has fucking gatcha items which allow him to equip the best melee weapons and armors without penalty and he doesn’t appear to suffer from using most or all of his mana if he ever even does.

Jumping back to the world being too weak, unlike Overlord, Demon Lord has an actual explanation as to why the world is so weak.  Namely that the lack of respawns has caused all the adventurers to be much more conservative so not only are their levels lower, they have far less experience with the skills they have.  Whereas Diablo played aggressively because it was a game, so he is high leveled and experienced with his skills.  But even with this explanation in place Demon Lord still makes room for a few major enemies who are high leveled.  And unlike Overlord Diablo’s potions aren’t inherently better than the potions of this world.

Where this difference in the relative power levels becomes most important is in Diablo’s companions.  Whereas Ains almost never has to worry about his servants because personality-wise they all praise him to high heaven and want to suck his dick, Diablo’s companions are total strangers to him and only bound to him by a slave collar that he won’t use on them.  These fragile bonds are important because Diablo’s human self has been betrayed in the past and struggles with connecting to people.  And of equal importance is that Ains’ companions are rarely in any danger, whereas Diablo’s are in danger all the time – or would be in the event he isn’t there.  This goes double for Rem who is the vessel sealing Krebskulm and is targeted by some humans and monsters because of this, and Shera who is a runaway princess being pursued by her countrymen and brother.  Between this combination of legitimate vulnerability, character backstories that imply significant struggles and the trials which arise in the present because of their pasts, I found the supporting cast much more likable in Demon Lord.  They were people I could sympathize with and in turn it made me like Diable more as he fought past his strong mistrust of people to support the few companions he has as much as he was able.  The demons of Nazareck meanwhile were all totally insufferable because of their boners for Ains coupled with their borderline invincibility.  There was nothing there to invest me in them and so they all fall flat.

Put simply where I think Overlord fails is in setting limits for itself.  I can understand the appeal of wanting to watch an OP hero crushing powerful enemies with ease and being an all around badass.  But where I think Demon Lord manages to strike this target with ease I feel Overlord overcompensates and goes too far.  When everyone and everything thing associated with Ains, even his basic potions for fuck’s sake, are better than the everything in the world around them it’s a clear case of overdoing it.  Fuck, just laying it out like that makes Overlord sound like a Mel Brooks-esque parody of shows like Demon Lord, but Overlord lacks the self-awareness and humor to be such a parody.  Instead it’s just a basic power fantasy taken to such an extreme degree in every detail that’s it unbearably frustrating just to think about, let alone watch.

All that said I do want to say sorry to Overlord fans if they feel like I’m attacking them.  That’s not my intent, I believe anyone can like anything and it doesn’t reflect badly on them.  This is just one more case where a popular show emerges and I can’t stand it.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Understanding the MMO Revisited: Log Horizon VS Overlord

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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 into 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 they 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.

Understanding the MMO: SAO, Log Horizon & Overlord

With the massive success of Sword Art Online a few years ago, it’s hardly surprising that other creative individuals saw promise in the “trapped in an MMO” setting.  However as several shows with MMO settings have come out, long after the .Hack franchise kicked it all off, there is a clear divide between them.  There are many ways to separate the three titular series but the one which I find most useful is how well the creators appear to understand and use the MMO setting in their stories.  So let’s compare starting with SAO.

Even if I limit my analysis of Sword Art Online’s understanding of MMOs to just Aincrad, the world of the most popular and well received arc of the show thus far, there are plenty of problems to go around.  Perhaps most blatant, the game lacks mechanics.  The only mechanics that are ever mentioned is the basic use of skills, Sword Skills, shared inventory for married couples and Switching.  The basic skill usage in Aincrad resembles that of an Elder Scrolls game as opposed to an MMO, there are no classes and you level up whatever skills and weapons you use.  The fact that there are no classes might seem like no big deal, but think about how raids and boss fights work.  Group combat in MMOs is centered around knowing the strengths and weaknesses of all the classes in your party and understanding how well the classes interplay with each other.  But if there are no classes everyone just charges ahead swords swinging and the fight devolves into a confused mess.  Switching also seems like less of a mechanic and more just a simple tactic.  All we ever see it do is have one teammate knock aside an enemy’s weapon  so their friend can hit said enemy.  If there was some kind of clear targeting system then Switching makes sense as a mechanic but because there are no classes and no aggro as far as I can tell, the Switching just plays out as a simple 2v1 fighting strategy not a real mechanic.  Even though the other 2 mechanics are fine, the fact that the game has so few mechanics already counts against it for a number of reasons.  It’s hard to believe in an MMO setting if the MMO has no mechanics to mark it out as such.  Another issue in a similar vein is how there are so few competent players in Aincrad.  MMOs are not my cup of tea when it comes to gaming but even I learned my way around pretty quickly.  In Aincrad, people are dying in droves throughout the series, when if you think about it, they should only be dying in isolated events such as traps, instances of poor decision making and boss fights.  I simply don’t buy into an MMO where everyone outside of 3-4 guilds and Kirito are totally incompetent at a game when their lives are on the line.  I’m not saying nobody should die, but the staggering number of deaths and the regularity with which they occur is nothing short of absurd.  The final issue that really proves to me SAO doesn’t get MMOs is Kirito himself.  Kirito out-levels everyone in the game and is able to overpower everyone in the game.  Why?  He spends a lot of time on floors well below his level, fights almost exclusively solo and by his own admission he is leveling inefficiently.  So why is he better than everyone?  Well because he’s the main character obviously.  But in the logic of the story’s universe there is no reason why he should be as strong as he is, in fact he should by rights be weaker than dedicated front-liners like Asuna.  But he isn’t because the story is so Kirito-centric, and frankly the fact that the story is heavily focused on a single player in a big MMO sort of reflects the author’s lack of understanding as to what an MMO’s strength’s are.  Which is where Log Horizon comes in.

Log Horizon does understand MMOs, and it makes this fact apparent at every turn.  The game has clear-cut classes and sub-classes.  Respawns, experience and other major gameplay elements are central to the story.  The entire narrative is inextricably linked to the MMO mechanics that the world is built on and functions around.  But even more impressive is the series’ understanding of the gaming population.  We have characters like Akatsuki and Tetra who played against their gender, hardcore role-players like Nyanta and players who take advantage of the situation to be dicks like Demikas and the Hamelin guild.  But in direct opposition to SAO, Log Horizon is a show where basically everyone matters in one way or another.  The cast of important characters is staggering in its size.  Likewise, even though Shiroe is Log Horizon’s most important character he is only ever more important/powerful than any given individual, not everybody combined.  Kirito on the other hand does far more by himself than literally everyone else in the game, which isn’t how MMOs work, its much more reflective of an Elder Scrolls game where our lone hero becomes Archmage, Grand Champion, and Hero of Kvatch, and so.  Another thing we see in Log Horizon that is mostly absent from SAO is gamers and their attitudes towards gear.  In SAO all guild members dressed the same and rarely did anyone get new gear.  In Log Horizon you have new players cheering over their first raid drops and veteran players who keep special raid gear stored away for the only toughest fights while they move about everyday in solid but worse gear.  These sort of things are what actual gamers do and the fact that SAO had almost none of this does it no favors.  I could go on and on about all the things Log Horizon gets right but I think you guys get the idea.  This is a series that truly understands all aspects of MMOs and had the fortune to be created by someone who knew how to use that understanding to its fullest potential.

So now we look to the future with Overlord and perhaps surprisingly I think it is a bright one.  At the time of this writing, post episode 4, the series leans much more on the Log Horizon side of spectrum.  True it focuses on a single player but in this case it actually makes sense to do so, because this is a game whose servers went down at the beginning, not a major hit everyone wanted to play.  It makes sense for almost no one to be playing a game that is shutting down.  Also if the Opening is anything to go by I think we will meet other human players soon.  As for the MMO mechanics, they are in abundance.  For example in episode 2 Momonga, our titular overlord, can’t equip swords because he is a sorcerer.  He has to summon special armor to wield weapons effectively.  The NPCs’ behavior is dictated by the text of the people who created them back when the world was just a game, though it seems as though our characters have been transported to world that is actually different from the game but clearly related in some way.  Perhaps most interesting, Momonga still retains his human mind and conscience but his perception of the world is twisted because he has taken on the traits of his undead avatar.  It may be too early to tell but based on the information we have so far there is a clear and consistent understanding of MMO mechanics at work in the storytelling.  Now there are some more distinctly SAO type traits to the show like a focus on a single character, a bunch of chicks all going for the same guy and a MC that leans toward overpowered.  But in each case there are at least plausible reasons as to why, which is why I can buy into the world and story that Overlord is presenting me.  I’m also a pretty big fan of having a Lich and a bunch of demons as our main characters, that’s a nice little touch.  I have pretty high hopes for Overlord and based on what it’s done so far I feel reasonably confident that my hopes are not misplaced.  Overlord may not be the next Log Horizon, but at least it is looking to be a solid showing for the up and coming “trapped in an MMO” sub-genre.

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it and that you will enjoy further posts to come.