Virtual Reality. It has been half a century since this system ha been implemented. It is a technology that today’s world economy can not do without.
Schooling is done through accessing special terminals at home, and connecting to a virtual reality through the internet to attend lessons. The risk possible during commuting has disappeared, and because of the lack of maintainance costs for a virtual school, in today’s world, schools have become extinct.
With work, greeting clients is also done through virtual reality, and because of electronic programs being used for everything, the cost of paperwork has also disappeared. Even when it comes to buildings for headquarters, the cost of renting and maintaining a private server for the company is overwhelmingly cheaper than the maintainance costs of a company building.
Because all things outside of physical needs could be satisfied with virtual reality, the VR technology continued developing rapidly.
Of course, there was no way this technology wouldn’t be targeted by the game industry. The technology was still a little expensive, but even so it boasted a rate of popularisation that made it common for normal households to buy them to celebrate a child’s coming of age for example.
It happened over different periods, but a number of VR games began being developed.
Sakimori Kagami was also one such normal youth who received a VR machine for his coming of age.
He did his job from home using the VR machine he received for his coming of age. At lunch break he would eat the food prepared by his mother, and then once again went to work using this VR machine.
There was no time spent commuting, and it was a normal small-to-medium firm, and he spent his days without feeling any particular dissatisfaction.
There was an online game called 『Ark Earth Online』.
It began very quietly, and the closed beta started and ended before anybody had noticed.
The reason that Sakimori Kagami knew about this minor game was because of a commercial that had aired late at night. The commercial had neither sound nor video, and was merely the game’s personal VR access code aired for 15 seconds.
When he started up his VR machine to take a look out of curiosity, a white virtual space with the title 『Ark Earth Online』 appeared around him. The only other things were two lines:
Begin Open β
He didn’t hate the fact that they didn’t try to butter him up. Thinking this, he tried downloading it. And after choosing “yes”, he installed it.
The background was textureless, and it only used a normal font, so he had absolutely no idea what kind of graphics or world this game would present.
However, Kagami was somewhat charmed. Coerced by something impossible to really explain, but that was similar to some sort of compulsion, he began.
The installation took roughly fifteen minutes. When he immediately tried to activate it, what appeared was a title screen that was almost like reality.
Thus began Sakimori Kagami’s days of addiction to 『Ark Earth Online』.
Four years had passed since the Open β had finished. News of the game was almost non-existent in gaming magazines or even the internet, with it spreading through word of mouth, and with players pressured by the big hitting online games, it became quite a crowd. On the contrary, it was a strange situation where despite the number of players, information on it wasn’t circulated throughout the internet.
Kagami who had started since Open β was famous as a veteran.
The setting of the game was typical fantasy, but because of its overwhelming degree of freedom, it was hugely popular.
Only, as an online game, it had one extremely mysterious point about it.
That was the management.
In the four years that it had been out, there were only two updates, and because there was no official home page, even the name of the developer was unknown.
But even so, it was an overwhelmingly attractive game, and in the end a number of people even reasoned that their laissez faire attitude made other things possible. What was more important than anything was probably its lack of bugs.
The character that Kagami played was a magician overflowing with dignity. With white hair and a white beard that brought to mind a veteran magician, what Kagami spent a day creating was a character with incredible presence. The name of the character came from a magician school principal that appeared in a certain world-wide hit adventure film about a ring.[tl: apparently harry potter and the lord of the rings were one film in his world]
That name was Dunbalf. His class was a Summoning Expert. In the Open β he had chosen the Sorcery Expert but he had no idea how he was supposed to learn sorcery. No matter how many enemies he defeated he couldn’t learn sorcery, and there was nothing like a tutorial or a manual.
It was a ridiculous game that left you completely on your own after suddenly dropping you into the world, but it was fun searching for your own playstyle, so the players were completely drawn in.
Even so, no matter how he searched, he couldn’t figure out how to learn sorcery.
Because of that, when the official service began, he chose a different magician class.
A Summoning Expert gained summons through defeating sprit-type enemies and forming a contract with them, or through clearing class-specific quests, and though the level of difficulty was high, there was a little bit already on bulletin boards about this so Kagami had an idea of what to do.
Of course, because of the lack of explanation for the game, there was a lot of grumbling amongst players, but it was discovered that the game had a system where if you passed strict conditions you could even create a country, so the players’ passion went in that direction.
Becoming a king, developing a town, and building an army. Invading neighbouring countries, building defensive forts, hiring mercenaries etc.; towards the ability to do things that they had only ever seen in fiction before, the players went mad with enthusiasm.
Ambitious players who founded nations, players who looked up to those founders and followed them, adventurers who loved freedom, people who established secret societies, as well as merchants, and mercenaries, and on top of that, even assassins; because of these many playstyles to enjoy, the dissatisfaction eventually died down.
Moreover, the degree of freedom was not limited to that extent. Though there were weapons, armours, potions etc. that existed in great numbers, up to legendary class items, depending on the efforts players put in, even totally new items could be created. They could create legendary items, or even items that went beyond that.
It was enough that it was said that there was nothing you could do in reality that you couldn’t do in the game.
Some players who delved deeply into enjoying blacksmithing became known by all players, and one of their swords could go for millions.
There were also players who raised smithing to the maximum and then developed building construction techniques to build castles.
Players obsessed with digging holes found hot springs, and were now managers of massive onsen resorts.
One of Kagami’s friends had thought up his own sword techniques and opened a dojo.
What kind of skills were there? How far could they bring things?
People who used skills to develop new sports, people who realised their dreams of becoming pirates, people who collected information from around the continent and crossed a dangerous bridge in becoming information brokers.
Amongst these players were also people who formed skill lists by organising the massive number of known skills. They would go to each player and ask about the techniques they developed.
The skill list book was published and became a massive best seller, earning them a fortune.
And in fact, Dunbalf was also a famous person who developed a number of unique techniques. One of them was a technique he developed through trial and error, designed to make up for the magician classes’ weak points.
It was the second class. Kagami’s main class was a Summoning Expert, and his other class was the close-quarters specialist of the magician classes, the Xian Expert. By sitting under waterfalls, hanging upside down from trees, walking against the wind and other such things, a Xian Expert could learn their skills.
Incidentally, the way for a Sorcery Expert to obtain their skills was discovered little by little in the month since official service began; they were to place a catalyst on a piece of paper with a magic circle drawn on it, and then use the only skill that Sorcery Experts started with, the [Sorcery: Flame], to burn it up. The problem was that you needed multiple catalysts, and to begin with the paper with the magic circles hardly appeared on the market, and it was a method that could lead to you just burning everything up if you made a mistake, so it wasn’t something that you could try out immediately. It wasn’t a problem you could easily fix just because you knew how to do it.
One day, Kagami had gone off to suppress monsters that had appeared near the border of the nation that he belonged to. This type of subjugation mission was common, and other members of his nation took turns to do this.
This time was Kagami’s turn.
He left his tower, and languidly headed towards the national borders, when suddenly, he heard a call from the real world and his sister’s shrill voice, signifying dinner time.
He logged out for dinner, and once that was done, dived back into virtual reality.
Just as he was about log into the game from the home space, he noticed that a message had come.
When he read it, the contents stated that the cash he had bought for Ark Earth Online was about to expire.
He had bought ¥1000 when the game first started, and then ¥2000 more a month later.
Just like other online games, Ark Earth Online also had a cash shop. Having said that though, there was nothing like useable equipment in game, and were just minor support items.
Amongst these cash items was a 『Vanity Case』 that allowed one to change their appearances, and it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that every player bought it. Of course, Kagami had bought it.
One 『Vanity Case』 cost ¥500 and had the function of resetting the appearance of one’s avatar, but the reason it sold so well was because of the abundance of changeable options.
The number of parts you could choose from when the official service began numbered in the thousands, but with the 『Vanity Case』 it numbered in the tens of thousands. It was basically already common sense that a player would log in with any random character appearance, and then immediately use a 『Vanity Case』. That it would take one or two days could also be said to be common sense.
Besides the Vanity Case, Kagami had also bought the cash item 『Floating Continent』. It was roughly the size of a 100 metre circumference courtyard, and was a convenient item because you could do most activities on it. On top of that, it could travel by flying through the air, so you could ignore terrain and use it as a vehicle. Kagami built a house from the cheapest wood, and used it for storage.
This 『Floating Continent』cost ¥2000. Kagami could only purchase cash in ¥1000s, so after buying this initial Vanity Case, this left him with ¥500 left. It was after all, just ¥500 from four years ago, so as you’d expect he didn’t have much lingering attachment to it. Perhaps out of stinginess, or perhaps bceause he felt it would be a waste, he opened up the cash shop menu.
A personal room with high class production equipment, ¥1000.
Including a Floating Continent, items for constructing buildings on it, or terraforming items for placing ponds on it or the like, ¥2000.
The only other thing was the 『Vanity Case』.
In the end, there was no option but the Vanity Case. If you didn’t buy the Vanity Case, then the minimum spending was ¥1000. This is the world of adults.
Since it would just be a waste at this rate, Kagami bought a 『Vanity Case』. His VR money balance was now 0.
Kagami then logged into the game to finish his subjugation mission. Using his bracelet-type terminal, he activated the item menu. There he found a lacquered box, the Vanity Case he had just purchased.
It had already been four years since he had last used it.
In those days he was completely obsessed about whether or not he could create his ideal male avatar, and so he remembered nothing about the other parts.
He was a little curious about them now. Kagami used the Vanity Case, and was brought to the avatar creation page that he hadn’t seen in four years.
The parts you could choose from were things like various impression categories like “lively”, “mild”, “strong-willed”, “cowardly” or various atmosphere categories like “mysterious”, “solemn”, “gloomy”, “bright” that you could use to navigate. Because there were tens of thousands of parts, if you went through them one by one, it would take you all day.
What Kagami felt from having a skim through the parts was that as expected, his current avatar Dunbalf was the greatest.
There was probably nothing greater than this avatar. It was because at the end of the day, it was an avatar drawn to his ideals of a man after all.
Whilst gazing on in satisfaction at the work of art that he had once created, a word in the corner of his eye caught his attention.
It was the word that stated the avatar’s sex.
And suddenly, a thought rushed through Kagami’s mind. It was that the ideal male image had already been perfectly created.
Then, what about the ideal female image?
He changed the sex from male to female, and Dunbalf became a girl.
A slight feeling of embarassment appeared. Even though it was a game, staring straight at a girl’s figure gave him this difficult to describe sense of shame.
Whilst suppressing his shame… or rather, with a slight feeling of arousal, he chose the parts.
He went into the “strong-willed” category and scrutinised the parts one by one.
Just how long had passed since he began creating his ideal female? By the time he had made it to his satisfaction, and gazed at it with smirk, his younger sister was already calling him for breakfast.
Before he knew it, it was already 9 in the morning.
Immediately afterwards, he was assaulted by an intense feeling of sleepiness. The moment he tried to touch the log out button, the world went dark, and his consciousness promptly left him.