I always knew video games had a corrupting influence on our youth. Joe Biden was right about those Silicon Valley creeps.
— Rook says he got this mount by modeling? That’s crazy, isn’t it? The cynical part of me wants to say that the story is just pulling things out of its ass. But hey, it’s possible that the devs added modeling to the game for whatever reason. Infinite Dendrogram apparently means infinite possibilities, I guess.
— As a journalist, Marie Adler provides a passive EXP buff to her party members, but she claims that she can’t fight. Y’know what? I don’t believe her.
— There are, however, actual classes or jobs in MMOs that don’t fight. I think dancers in Star Wars Galaxies could literally AFK in a cantina and still gain EXP. How is this fun? Beats me. I never played that MMO. I think mainstream games these days are hesitant to add these unique classes because they feel like a waste of time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere. They do add a lot of unique flavor — unique flavor that is missing from the super successful MMOs like WoW, FFXIV, etc. You could thus argue that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction. Everything has become rather cookie-cutter. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you didn’t have to fight? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just open up a tavern or whatever? But MMOs are expensive, and it’s hard to justify devoting invaluable development time to these non-essential features. This is why we can only dream about this truly immersive MMO in fiction.
— Ray and friends come across a bunch of people being attacked by goblins. I can’t tell whatsoever if these people are NPCs or actual players. Not that it matters, I guess. Goody-two-shoes Ray wants to help, and Marie gives an approving smile as if she’s his mother.
— The mount tries to help but gets tossed aside rather easily. It’s funny how I don’t really care if Ray or Rook dies, but I sure do hope Marilyn the mount turns out okay! It’s like a pet, and we all love our pets, don’t we? Oddly enough, you could consider Embryos as pets, but I don’t feel any affinity for them.
— Midway through the battle, Rook flies off with Babylon in order to deal with an add. Those tiny wings are doing some serious heavy lifting. Not everyone can get an Embryo that can fly, though. Almost seems unfair from a gameplay perspective, but I guess we just have to ignore this.
— This battle itself isn’t very interesting per se. Ray’s strategy is to take enough damage so that his “Vengeance is Mine” skill can take the boss out in one shot. I feel like most games would put a damage cap on something like that, but we’ve already established early on that the anime is not exactly going for realism.
— On the plus side, I do get to see Ray get knocked around a bit. He’ll win, of course. He’s the hero. But he isn’t steamrolling the boss. There have been so many recent isekai series where the protagonist stomps everyone right from episode one. It’s like, “Shit, your show is already boring enough. Why are you making it even worse with an OP hero?” That slime anime was one of the biggest offenders.
— A UI prompt shows up and asks Ray if he wants to cancel… but it doesn’t tell him what he’s canceling! Fantastic design! Only after the countdown is complete do we find out that Nemesis is about to undergo an “emergency evolution.” So she’s just stronger now. Got it.
— I hate this stupid anime trope where people will stop in the middle of battle to chat. Hey, how come I don’t feel like utter shit anymore? Cue long explanation that disrupts the pacing of the battle. Oh, don’t forget the hero reaffirming to himself that he’s gonna totally win this time. It’s like anime can’t help itself. If it doesn’t pause to provide some inane information to the viewers, it’ll pop a vein or something.
— Then when Ray’s hit fails to defeat the boss, we stop again to have a chat. What’s the solution? I dunno, something as simple as kiting the boss while Ray has a chat with Nemesis would at least look a little more dynamic than simply standing in one goddamn place.
— The ogre is about to counter Ray’s finishing move when this Alien-like thing comes flying out of nowhere and interrupts the boss’s attack. Y’know, the same Alien-like thing that killed Ray in the forest. The only person who isn’t doing anything right now is Marie…
— Marie hands Ray a healing potion after the fight. Couldn’t she have used it on him during the fight? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe she’s testing him for some reason.
— Ray asks Marie about the Superior Killer, and she makes up some lousy lie about how he went off in another direction. Sure, Marie, sure. Either the anime isn’t very expressive, or Ray’s putting up a poker face. Either way, I can’t tell if he believes her or not.
— Rook somehow manages to tame the ogre’s mount. Can’t have too many mounts, I guess.
— So these folks are tians. We even get to see them mourn those who lost their lives in battle. Like SAO, we’re doing that thing where NPCs are as important as humans (at least in Ray’s eyes). I think, however, that Infinite Dendrogram is gonna have to do a little more heavy-lifting to convince me that these bundles of code are as alive as you or me — that their feelings are as valid as ours. An easy way out of this mess is to insist that this isn’t just a game, which is apparently where the story is headed.
— Why can’t it just be a game? ‘Cause video game NPCs are simulacra. And making them more life-like simply serves to pull us away from actual human beings that matter. For instance, we know nothing about Ray in the real world. We know nothing about his family (other than his brother) or his actual friends. As a former hardcore MMO gamer, I know for a fact that we can become too attached to these virtual worlds when they’re ultimately engineered to keep us hooked. The more realistic they seem, the more we feel we need to care about them even though they’re still not real.
Can relationships with NPCs be as important as any other relationship in our lives? Sure. With advanced enough AI, I suppose NPCs can become very human if not just simply human. But should relationships with NPCs be as important? Let’s grant that these tians are utterly life-like. Then the stark reality is that we’re creating these human souls — souls without a corporeal body — to facilitate a video game… a video game where these souls get to suffer and die. Where do we draw the line? If NPCs aren’t advanced enough, then they’re not worth crying over. If NPCs are advanced enough, then why are we wasting this potential on a video game. The only way out of this ethical dilemma is to insist that Infinite Dendrogram isn’t just a game.
— And this is what we get. Ray is forced to ask himself, “Is this really a game?” ‘Cause things that are this important shouldn’t be a game. Then we cut to some dork talking to himself in front of a bunch of screens. He — whoever he is — want to “reach Infinity” — whatever that means. But more importantly, he says, “As far as you’re concerned, this world — from start to finish — is all a game.” So we get another coy suggestion that Infinite Dendrogram is super real and important you guys!!! Whether or not this holds up remains to be seen.
— Anyways, the action is over and we’ve already hit the climax of the episode. The rest of the episode is the denouement. We reach a new city with a bustling marketplace, everyone gets their cut of the spoils, and last but not least, Ray tries out the fancy new equipment that the ogre had dropped. Yes, he ends up torching and poisoning himself.
— Kids, when an eccentric penguin offers you something to drink, don’t chug it without hesitation.
— Great, that was apparently a furry potion.