Video games are a fast-growing industry. So fast that the Japanese government wants to capitalize on the economic growth by stipulating that high school students should found and join game development clubs. Kai Shiraseki is one such student, or was, because after committing a scandal, he washes his hands of game development and transfers to a new school to start anew. However, after meeting Nanaka Aoi, the president of the Maikun High School Social Game Club, and learning of its imminent disbandment, he joins as the necessary fourth member and busts his butt to bring the club back to life in Our Crappy Social Game Club Is Gonna Make the Most Epic Game.
Here's some backstory on me: I used to be in on the indie dev scene. My resume's hardly worth half a mention, but I get the ins and the outs on how a team or auteur builds a game from scratch. This series's attention on game development wasn't my cause to buy it, but I was intrigued to see how it handled the planning, designing, building, and eventual release of a full-fledged game, and came to be disappointed at how poorly it explored game development and how little it understood it.
Call me a neanderthal, but before picking up this volume, I'd never heard of a “social game” before, and the story uses the label like I might tell a perfect stranger on the street what a delicacy a sponoinkoink is. I had to look up that social game is actually an umbrella term encompassing literally any sort of game which requires or allows two or more people to play. Charades? That's a social game. Monopoly, too. The definition is still broad even when you narrow it down to video games. Halo, League of Legends, Starcraft, Among Us, Minecraft, Genshin Impact, Hearthstone, Clash of Clans, Runescape, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Words With Friends, Riptide GP: Renegade, Animal Crossing: New Horizon, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Overcooked! 2, Overwatch, Rocket League, Tetris Effect: Connected, and World Championship Poker 2: Featuring Howard Lederer—All social games. And what do they have in common besides multiplayer modes and start menus?
This is Our Crappy MMORPG Club Is Gonna Make the Most Wild Game's primary problem when it comes to describing its fictional games, that details are at a premium. The club made this game called MiTs before Kai joined, but it provides no information on how it plays or what the player's objective is. We know it features cute girls. It also has a gacha system. One line late into the page count mentions the cute girls being on stage, so I can extrapolate from that that it might be an idol game. But beyond those tidbits, how in the world am I supposed to know what this game looks like? I wouldn't care that much, except the book also wants to dedicate a segment to Kai and Nanaka fixing design flaws, but since I don't have the faintest clue how this game is designed, it feels like I'm listening to someone try and describe the color pumpywhaul by repeatedly telling me that it's a color.
When it does it feel like explaining something, it reads like a college textbook. I get that game analytics isn't the sexiest thing in the world, but if you want to make it appealing to an audience, you're gonna have to sex it up, like what Bakuman does for manga creation. Our Crappy MOBA Club Is Gonna Make the Most Swinging Game does achieve this toward the end, when it, like Bakuman, integrates a design solution into the narrative, but before this, it's just Kai and Nanaka thumbing through a game dev glossary, which is funny, because it feels like that's all the research the series did on game development before writing about it.
Take a look at the club's roster. Before Kai joined, membership included Nanaka as a planner, which I guess can be thought of as a designer, and a programmer and an illustrator. All important roles. But seeing that this is the full setup, I have to ask: Who's making the sound effects? If MiTs has a story, who wrote it? Did they play-test the game before releasing it to the public? Are they aware they need to enact a marketing strategy if they want their game to attract any sort of attention? It's extremely common, even mandatory, for indie developers to wear different hats when building a game, so it's not impossible that the club members are pulling double-duty, but there's no mention of it. In fact, a minor point of conflict in the middle of the story is that the programmer doesn't have time to work for the club because of the thousand job offers she's receiving, so she definitely doesn't have the time for recording pause menu music.
For all the mangling Our Crappy FPS Club Is Gonna Make the Most Killer Game does with game development, it makes marginal improvements with its character writing. Marginal. Most of the supporting characters speak with perplexing vocal ticks. The club illustrator has the habit of forcing dear into literally almost every line out her mouth, which is in normal conversation annoying, and when she's PO'd, it's hard to take her seriously.
The worst character by far is Kai's sister. The series invented her because it needed someone to provide advice to Kai whenever he hits a wall, but then it looked at her outside of those moments, thought to itself, “She isn't interesting enough,” and made her the embodiment of every anime sexual fantasy imaginable to man. In which universe would a mentally sound woman wear a naked apron for her little brother? In trying to flare up its cast members' personalities, Our Crappy Platformer Club Is Gonna Make the Most Hopping Game makes up a bunch of cartoon characters, which doesn't mesh well with the intra- and interpersonal drama it wants to ignite.
Drama is the one area the volume doesn't handle like a man with clammy hands, to my fine surprise. Kai's got his problems, and Nanaka's got hers, and the series approaches them with a mature, even thoughtful, attitude. My favorite moment in the whole book is probably when Nanaka takes Kai to the ocean to scream at it and then remarks that it wasn't the stress relief she had believed it was. It's such a human moment as to be poetic. With the respect it shows for Nanaka and Kai when resolving their dramas, it's a shame to think there could've been more moments like the ocean scream if the book had shared that same respect for its other characters.
Stepping away from the story, the formatting of the English translation is backwards. It's hard to call a light novel a light novel if the very first thing you don't see when flipping aside the cover is a pinup of a teenage girl in a state of undress, but Our Crappy Puzzle Club Is Gonna Make the Most Dazzling Game disappoints by not having this sexy tease. Matter of fact, it didn't have any preface illustrations. Not even any copyright information or pages intentionally left blank. “Odd,” I thought, but I sidelined that concern and got on with the story, and lo and behold, what do I find after finishing the entire book but my sexy tease? For reasons my mortal mind cannot fathom, all of the stuff that's normally at the front of a book is at the back of this one. The answer behind this decision is as escapable to me as J-Novel Club's beef with justified alignment.
Our Crappy Visual Novel Club Is Gonna Make the Most Sweet Game is like an indie game constructed by a dev team with only one competent member who couldn't get along with his clueless teammates. It's unique in the light novel world in how it ties up all its loose plot threads so that the volume stands on its own rather than baiting the reader with a sequel hook through seven rapidly introduced and unresolved subplots, but sequel or no, something standing on its own doesn't equal something standing very well.