「It’s pretty darn surprisin’ to see that you also played Fairy Tale Chronicle」
「Not really. Nowadays, you don’t have to just be an otaku to play VRMMOs after all. The real shocking thing is the fact that you went all the way to advanced crafting」
「See, I was fed up with all the congestion on the first day of service, so as I was grindin’ and avoidin’ those crowds as a way of escapin’ that reality, I just became absorbed in it and reached an advanced level naturally」
The boy and girl were heartily discussing the unlikely situation as well as how unexpected it was for fellow classmates like them to be meeting each other. The scenery that surrounded them was that of an online game, a VRMMO that, over the years, had thoroughly swept its way to consumers all over. It was nothing that unusual.
The name of the boy who spoke in the Kansai dialect was Azuma Hiroshi. He was a third-year high schooler whose body type could be summed up as a medium build with a height of 171 centimeters, whose looks weren’t anything special other than having thick eyebrows, whose clothing sense wasn’t particularly strange, nor was it worn out, and yet no matter what he wore, he looked lame, and people would still say he was unpolished and was emitting the aura of a loser from his entire being.
Despite being in the middle of entrance exams, he was hooked on games, but you didn’t need that to know that he was the type of person to go with the flow and that his hobby besides games was reading (particularly of the light novel variety) – in other words, he would be classified by society as an otaku.
The girl’s name was Toudou Haruna. She had a higher-than-average stature compared to Japanese girls of 167 centimeters, and characteristic of the fact that foreign blood was partially flowing through her, she had natural long, blonde hair as well as transparent-like blue eyes- a girl whom no one would have any issue with calling beautiful.
Because her mother–a singer–was a Nikkei (non-Japanese of Japanese descent) woman from England carrying one fourth Japanese blood, this girl had three-eighths English blood mixed in, making her lineage rather tough to convey.
As if her English blood were speaking for her, her body line was enough to pick a fight with a full-bodied gravure idol and win, which caused males to have their eyes glued to her. She was seventeen years old and in the same class as Hiroshi, and she had a bright future ahead of her.
「I’m not one to talk, but is really okay for you to be playing games at a time like this？」
「I’m happy that yer worryin’ ’bout me, but despite how it might look, I’m still goin’ to prep school, n’ I did just barely manage to get an A appraisal for my first choice of schools. Plus I was just gonna get one more skill level up n’ then take a break. Probably don’t hafta even ask this, but what about you, Toudou-san？」
「I guess you could call it taking a breather? I hardly ever logged in since the last spring break」
As you can understand from this conversation, it wasn’t like they were both hooked on games and neglecting their entrance exams. Although the school they commuted to was public, the grades in the school were top-class even in their prefecture, so their academic level was certainly not low.
Haruna had inherited superior memory from her parents, she was consistently ranked in the three-digit area even for nationwide mock examinations, holding a firm grip on the A appraisal for getting into her university of choice.
Hiroshi was also trying his best at his studies every day, his grades rivalling Haruna’s in some of the curriculum. In the first place, he was the type who was always fiercely conflicted with difficult courses, feeling uneasy at certain times that he might fail.
There was the amiable and considerate beauty, then there was the light otaku who unleashed a loser aura. Even if they were classmates, other than conversations related to obligatory things, they would have never interacted with each other.
Of all the possibilities, the slightly awkward fact that they had bumped into each other in an online game may have actually been the one saving grace in this particular problem they were wrapped into.
「Still, I didn’t think I’d ever get to properly talk to ya before we graduated, yet here we are talkin’ ’bout games. Life really is mysterious」
「Plus you had this aura like you didn’t want to associate with me」
「I don’t really know ’bout all that. ‘S just been my experience that it ain’t never good to be seen with popular girls, so I just prefer to avoid any girl like yer kind」
「……Wow. What you’re saying about me is supposed to be horrible, and yet I find myself strangely agreeing with you……」
Haruna looked slightly depressed. Hiroshi became slightly concerned about what she had said. They were talking about real life problems, but he didn’t want to get dragged into all that. He moved further away from her.
「Ya sound like you’d happen to know somethin’ ’bout that. Maybe I should just let sleepin’ dogs lie……」
「No, I don’t think you have to worry about that in this situation…」
「True. Guess I’ll stop avoidin’ the real issue and go over the current situation again」
As he said that, he surveyed his surroundings. This was not the weak, anime-esque scenery of your typical VRMMO. The way it looked with its fresh hues, the way it felt, and the smell of the air. The living beings modeled unlike anything in the real world. And most importantly, the extremely sharp, unrestricted, real pain that you would feel when you got attacked.
「Definitely not possible in a game, right?」
「It’s clearly Fairy Tale Chronicle, or a world that closely resembles it, I’d say」
In such a ruthless situation, they sighed and faced each other while saying the same thing:
「What do we do……？」
「Whadda we do……？」
And just like that, while sorting through the realistic remains of a bear in front of them as the game had taught them to, they were reminded again that this was reality. The loser and the talented girl discussed this with each other with no idea as to what they should do.
From Hiroshi’s perspective, it all began approximately four hours earlier.
『Oh, Hiro-san, ‘evening〜』
Faithfully following his promise to his parents, Hiroshi had finished an hour of his study for the mock entrance exam, finally leaving some time for him to cheerfully put on his headgear, logging into the usual VRMMO, “Fairy Tale Chronicle”. When he sent a greeting into the group chat, the various members of the formed party began greeting him back.
The game called “Fairy Tale Chronicle” that they were playing was a VRMMO that had officially began service when he was in middle school, with slogans like “Hunting? Farming? ‘Tis all up to You!”, “From Survival to Slow Life”, “Items Within this Game are all Craftable”, filled with a kind of volume that defied common sense from the day it was released and becoming a popular topic for its degree of freedom that was just as advertised, utilizing a promotion system that was a hybrid of character level and skill proficiency in a world that did not define occupations in the traditional sense of an RPG.
This game had already accomplished a grand, unfathomable feat by cramming in maps and elements packaged from day one that would normally require three or four large-scale updates, with even the field information taking a year to gather, and with only two large-scale updates, it had achieved evolution into a gargantuan title that no one other than the producers themselves could fully grasp all the elements of.
However, the biggest shock of all was probably that despite having all that capacity, no real bugs or server outages had occurred even once. Undoubtedly, the greatest reason as to why it was accumulating user support was that despite undergoing hardly any balance regulations, in exchange for giving a portion of one’s skills to the automatic training system while logging out, it would contain all varieties of outer tools and macros in order to implement a firm administration security that had never once allowed any breaches by hackers, no matter what methods they were using.
Despite having already begun service five years ago, this game was still running along at top class in regards to both user numbers and player satisfaction. This was what “Fairy Tale Chronicle” was.
『Got any healing potions and mana potions in your inventory?』
「Let’s see. At the moment I got a stack of level 6s in storage. That alright？」
『Good enough. Heck, there wasn’t anything higher than level 4 appearing in the marketplace』
Hiroshi had no choice but to agree, seeing as he hadn’t used street stands or auctions for a long time, thinking that the goods that appeared were low leveled. Level 4 potions in the first place were often dropped by humanoid small fries monster. It would be great if all they did was drop them, but there were also those who, despite being monsters, had no issue with using said potions and heal themselves. So those who hunted them would complain about it being the most annoying thing ever.
Due to certain circumstances, the craftsmen in this game did not release the items they made into the marketplace. As a result, the only things that appeared in booths or auctions were drop items or quest rewards. Additionally, because advanced raw materials could only be obtained by advanced craftsmen disassembling monsters, not even those raw materials made it into the marketplace.
Once you got to a certain level, networks between fellow craftsmen were firmly set up. So, it was normal to exchange the remaining raw materials with them directly. Consequently, craftsmen like Hiroshi almost never made use of booths or auctions, causing them not to comprehend the rare value of their products.
「That right? Well, ya need to have intermediate level proficiency maxed out if ya wanna make Level 5 potions」
『Yeesh, didn’t know it was that difficult……』
Friend A groaned at Hiroshi’s words. Incidentally, being maxed out, in online game terminology, indicates that one has reached the upper limit. In this case, it was the same as saying that you need to have mastered intermediate level.
「Well, craftin’ does require adaptation, resignation, and patience after all. So how much ya need？」
『For now I’d a hundred of both. You have that much？』
「In plenty, in plenty. If ya want a hundred then I don’t mind givin’ ya Level 8 ones too」
He pointed at the highest level items that could be made with the Potion-Making skill, which he had made a mountain of in order to raise his skill over winter break. He would honestly prefer that someone take them off his hands, since they were taking up a third of his entire storehouse.
『No no, 6 is plenty. And the day I use something like Level 8, I’ll stick out like a sore thumb. So how much？』
Hiroshi didn’t know about this, since he only ever delved into dungeons to gather raw materials, but his Level 8 potions currently boasted a higher healing rate than top-player healing magic.
Having only one of those didn’t make much of a difference in this harsh game, but as long as you were to partner with a skilled attacker, it was good enough to win against an intermediate dungeon boss without using healing magic.
Most of all, in this game where for a certain reason players training their crafting skills were extremely few, Level 5 potions and above were quite valuable, as they could not be obtained without crafting or stealing them from rare humanoid monsters.
Level 6 potions were viewed as the highest level by the majority of people, and no matter the variety of potion, the advanced groups in the marketplace would buy them up the moment they came in. In addition, Hiroshi’s friends were among the majority of players, so none of them were likely to know the market price. Not only that, but for some reason, NPCs wouldn’t buy any potions over Level 5.
「Lessee…eh, I only made ’em to level up my skill, so I’ll say five hundred per bottle」
「Well uhh, to be honest, if they ain’t appearin’ on the market, ya can’t determine the official prices. Since the NPC won’t have access to them, then there may as well be no such thing. Everyone’s campaignin’ for the drop-related materials anyway」
『Well, I’m not particularly well-off, so I’m happy that I can even get it this cheap』
「Then I’ll have it delivered right now with payment on delivery」
『Understood. Thanks as always』
He sent the potions he had taken out of storage, specifying that they go via express home payment delivery. Incidentally, the price he had set of five hundred for one bottle was the maximum amount that one could normally buy from NPCs – for the price of a Level 2 potion.
It was a recovery agent that would be essential for initial-game medium-game hunting, but at a particularly hefty price. Nevertheless, that would merely lead people to think that it was better to save up with hunting and quests and then craft them yourself. However, it must be pointed out that the circumstances at the beginning of the game were quite unfortunate for crafters.
『Hiro, my cousin says she wants to start playing this game now that she has access to VR. Got any equipment that’d be good for beginners？』
「Lemme think. Outta the top of my head, I have a knife and a set of clothing that’re a bit better than small-fry drops. That good with ya？」
『Let me see the specs』
「This is what I mean」
He transcripted the data of the clothing and knife that he had fished out of storage, sending it via mail.
『I dunno about this one…』
「Didja want somethin’ better？」
『Quite the contrary. Might be a little too advanced for a beginner to handle』
「If it’s anythin’ worse than this, ya might as well buy it from an NPC」
『Yeah? Got it. Then, I’ll just buy the cheap stuff initially, but then give these to her at the right time. How much?』
「Lemme think. Normally it’s 1,500 to sell to NPCs, so I’d say 3,000?」
『That’s still really cheap, yeesh』
「All it’s doin’ is eatin’ up space in storage, so don’t mind ’bout it. Heck, I’ll even give ya stacks of leftover practice potions and Level 0 potions」
He said, pushing out the lowest level potions that had hardly any recovery capabilities to be useful. They were the type of potions that truly demonstrated how unfortunate crafting skill was at the beginning.
At the start, it was essential in the initial stage of the game to complete the tutorial and beginner quests. But in order to complete those quests successfully, it was necessary to have Level 2 potions handy. Thus the merchandise became high in demand.
Not to mention that the potions had a so-called “poison” system, with mana potions and stamina potions in particular having a high poison rate. So, there are lots of these low level potions left over from tutorials or beginning-game quests.
Selling these left over potions to NPCs didn’t work, as the contents weren’t useful enough. You also couldn’t re-use the containers after using the potions. Hiroshi and the other craftsmen had similar complaints that for a game that praised freedom, in other ways it felt more like it was trying to shoo away beginner players with how you had to use another skill to craft containers.
The main reason as to why the majority of players kept away from crafting was something simple: Gathering the materials necessary to make anything was extremely difficult.
After all, at the beginning stage, even if you got your hands on a blade of grass, you have to check it properly and correctly take from it whatever was useable. This process took a lot of stamina. Even with one’s stamina being full at the start, once you did enough of those operations it would run out, and you could not continue working until you rested for five minutes.
The expenditure of MP or stamina was particularly harsh for manufacturing raw materials, but as you couldn’t progress in the first place without materials, the overall process is just very difficult to maintain.
Not to mention that it was a masochistic procedure, since one of the features of this VRMMO made players actually feel tired and unable to move. On top of that, the more the stamina decrease, the efficiency or success rate for manufacturing would fall right before your eyes.
So without resting a good five minutes, it wouldn’t even end up being a very productive manufacturing. Once your proficiency went past a certain point, those sorts of problems would get more and more scarce, but until that point, it was truly agonizing.