In the year 2043, <Infinite Dendrogram>, the world's first successful full-dive VRMMO was released. In addition to its ability to perfectly simulate the five senses, along with its many other amazing features, the game promised to offer players a world full of infinite possibilities. Nearly two years later, soon-to-be college freshman, Reiji Mukudori, is finally able to buy a copy of the game and start playing. With some help from his experienced older brother, Shuu, and his partner Embryo, Reiji embarks on an adventure into the world of <Infinite Dendrogram>. Just what will he discover and encounter in this game world known for its incredible realism and infinite possibilities?
While many stories in the VRMMO/Game genre seem like they are made by people who barely know what a game is, this is not the case with Infinite Dendrogram(or Dendro for short). As a long time MMO player the game world of Dendro feels like an actual MMO with actual players managing to get down everything from MMO fashion sense to how players act.
The main storyline never resorts to the story cliche of the death game or not being able to log off. That does not mean the series has low stakes however, as while it
is okay for the MC or other players to die, the same does not hold true for the NPCs. NPCs will die when they are killed. A main theme of the story is whether or not these incredibly life-like NPCs should be treated as human beings or not. While the general flow of the story is typical battle shounen, it is incredibly well executed, with all the battle systems being well defined and the stakes being done well.
My one complaint with the series would be the art, which while good looking, makes it hard to discern what is going on a lot of the time.
Overall, the series is incredibly well executed and a must read for anyone who is interested in VRMMO series.
As much as I don't like writing reviews of unfinished source material, I have enough blind faith in this particular light novel's author to feel like that my final stance on this shouldn't change. Plus, the anime was announced, so I'm writing this review to celebrate. I have read eight full volumes of Infinite Dendrogram at the time of writing this review.
Story: SAO Done Right
You've seen this premise before. VRMMORPG comes out, main charatcer plays it. However, this one is done much better than SAO and perhaps most of the other LNs with a similar premise. It all revolves around the titular videogame, Infinite Dendrogram.
game is programmed to be sort of a living videogame. Through some unexplained scientific phenomenon that the author thankfully hasn't tried to explain yet (unlike how Mr. SAO himself, Kawahara tried), the world and its people are "real". The NPCs, known as tians, think they are real people, and the lore of the game even explains the existence of Players, known in-game as Masters. Out of all the attempts at asking the question "Is VR just plain old 'R'?", this one succeeds with much more finesse than most of its contemporaries. I never found VR to be that fascinating of a story theme, but Dendro made me fascinated despite that.
And what makes it fascinating is the tians. Players can come back when they die- although they are first suspended for an IRL day- but tians DON'T. Dendro has an entire history built into it, where millions of tians have lived and died. The Player's ability to commit something with the same weight as real life murder in the game (as well as- through enough dedication- can theoretically wed and bed tians) can bring up some thought provoking discussions about videogame ethics vs. real life ethics. Heck, there's even a player who runs a cult IRL, and USES Dendro to spread their influence! Thinking about something like that happening in real life legitimately SCARED me, for once.
When it comes to gameplay, the players have their usual RPG stuff that you know and love, but they also have Embryos. These are basically Stands from Jojo, except with a few differences. The thing with them is that they are like fingerprints and snowflakes- NO two identical ones exist. Embryos come in several types and learn different abilities- all of which are based on their player's personality and actions. These can break the game. As much as the game has an in-depth rule system that the author actually UNDERSTANDS (unlike Kawahara), it is intentionally broken by Embryos. Although giving people powers that are entirely unique to them could be construed as bad game design, it's arguably better than all the times that someone found an exploit in a real world MMO that EVERYONE ended up exploiting and which made that game become crap to play.
The variety of Embryos makes fights about as memorable and varied as actual Stand fights from Jojo (plus, the author's excellent prose helps emphasize the scale of some fights). However, the fact that you never know the evolve conditions for Embryos means that the author does have six justifiable ass-pulls to use if there is no way for the MC to win with actual knowledge of in-game mechanics or figuring out enemies' strengths and weaknesses.
Characters: NOT Cardboard?!
I was surprised by how much I liked the characters. As much as they all seem like walking tropes, everyone has some kind of quirk. The MC, Ray Starling, seems like a Kirito clone, with how the story starts out with him being able to cheat the job system and him getting cool stuff thrown in his lap. However, every one of these Kirito-like powerups he gets tend to come with a catch. Furthermore, his Kirito-like disposition of "I have to save everyone!" is actually a flaw with his character, instead of a strength.
Dendro also takes advantage of it being about an MMO and actually develops people's IRL backgrounds and gives them context for their reasons to be playing in the first place (and they DON'T go to a screeching halt like Sinon from SAO). It also makes for some interesting plot developments at certain points.
I could go on and on about the other characters, but I think I should let you read and see them for yourself. However, I will mention the great way that the story introduces new charatcers. Due to the series being in book form, the author is able to a lot of worldbuilding in a way that feels natural and not stilted. The author alludes to a lot of characters numerous times, and does so in a way to incite curiousity from the reader. Most of the times when a new character was actually brought into the story proper, I would react with a "Oh! Finally, THIS person!" isntead of "Who the hell's THIS?" I love that about the story. It makes Dendro feel lifelike enough to put Tensei Slime and Overlord to shame.
Art: Not Applicable
I only glanced at most of the art, since I personally don't use the canon designs to visualize the characters or environments. It's definitely very well-drawn, but I can't afford to actually LOOK at it. I'll at least concede that the in-book illustrations aren't as good as the hand-painted-like cover art.
Verdict: Hidden Gem
I highly recommend this light novel to anyone- even those who hate SAO and others of its ilk. As skeptical as I was at the beginning, my love for Infinite Dendrogram has grown exponentially and is now perhaps in my top five favorite light novels of all time. Keep in mind that I haven't seen Log Horizon when I'm saying this- but this is the best VRMMO-themed series I've ever experienced. You will have a 'beary' good time reading it.
First if you're looking for a VRMMO LN this one is probably the best.
However while it has a lot of qualities, it also come with some issue, mainly on one part: the characters, the problem isn't really with they're devlopement or personality because aside from Rook most of them are quite good and even if the main characters can be a little too similar to shounen protagoniste at time he is overall quite interesting, the problem is with the power system link to those characters. To put it bluntly it make little sense a lot of the time, the system in itself is fantastic (on
of the force of the serie) but it's use isn't, with vilain wich tend to either have powerfull but balance power or no power at all while the good guy power have little weakness and are quite op at time, that plus some characters being op outside of the power system and you get the true biggest problem of the serie the MC allway won.
But on the other hand a part where the serie is great is with the NPC, wich in that game are like real persons, the way they view the world, the players, the eventual fear of the player ( wich for them are imortal and op transdimentional being) or for those who are aware of the game nature of the world how to live with it, is the best part of the serie and it's what make Nemesis one of the best character, because many of the questions it raise are really interesting and for some of them kind of unique to the serie.
To conclude the serie may have a problem with its power system/ MC allway winning, but it's definitly worth your time with some great characters and world building.