He Who Fights With Monsters
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Jason wakes up in a mysterious world of magic and monsters. He’ll face off against cannibals, cultists, wizards, monsters, and that’s just the first day. He’s going to need courage, he’s going to need wit and he’s going to need some magic powers of his own. But first, he’s going to need pants.
Follow Jason as he makes a place for himself in a world that is strange, yet sometimes strangely familiar. He’ll meet crime lords and aristocrats, gods and monsters on his path from would-be victim to heroic adventurer. At least, he tries to be heroic. It’s hard to be good when all your powers are evil.
Release schedule is 5 chapters per week, Monday-Friday USA time.
Please note: I am Australian and this story is written in Australian English, so there will be less of the letter Z and more of the letter U.
This web novel is also available at scribblehub.com
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Others have talked at length about the shortcomings of this story, so mine will be merely a ranty update of sorts.
I slogged through this story's Greenstone arc and the ensuing Reaper Trial because I thought there was a silver lining. Surely enough, the fight against the Builder gave this story an overarching narrative and measurable progression. Some of the side characters also seemed to finally stop being muppets. That's when the break came [Spoiler Alert] and Jason reached Earth, which basically reset this story.
'Fair enough' I thought. Maybe shirtaloon will now put to use the experience and feedback he has gathered. Fat chance. What has ensued is essentially Greenstone 2.0, where Jason again engages factions vastly beyond his power and they either start bending over backwards or become stereotypical villains, who will be dispatched without tension. The family side plot also becomes boring real quick and usually involves either 2-4 people snarking at each other or Jason mouthing off about his emotional butthurt and being an indignant prick. If anything he became even more immature and obnoxious, which is, on the few occasions this story shows self-awareness, explained away by the magic words 'psychological trauma'. It's ok if he's an ass because he has a trauma. It's ok if he lashes out at neutral parties, because trauma. I detest how that term is used for justification inside the story, as well as a meta tool to explain character stagnation (or even degenaration).
For me, shirtaloon once again has squandered a wonderful opportunity to evolve this story and it's protagonist and I'm tired of waiting for pay-off. I regret not heeding the early signs.
Edit: I haven't had the time to update this review so it is still as of Ch. 222. Editing as I forgot to give spoiler warnings and spoiled other RR stories. My bad.
For Shirtaloon, this story started incredibly and has managed to garner and maintain a lot of attention becuase it can be so incredible at times. I write this both as a review, and because it's difficult to step back and look at your own work objectively so I'd like to point out some easy areas to improve.
Overall this is a very fun story. It has been on the front page of Popular This Week for months now for good reason. That said, there are a few things keeping it from being a great story or, at times, good. Those things are, in order: the lack of character development, the lack of a believable villain/ plot, and the static nature of the main character. Many reviews get caught up in the minutia of these failings and fail to reinforce the fact that this story is still worth a read especially if the author shores them up.
The MC's character development will be covered last. Here, I want to focus on the side characters. In few words, the side characters are not developed.
The beating heart of every story is its characters. Gintama is a comedy with the barest hint of a plot for hundreds of chapters and it's listed as the greatest comedic manga because its characters are full of such life, depth, and diversity. The first Pirates of the Carribean was such a hit not because of its rather cliche love story, but because Jack Sparrow was such a compelling supporting character. Also note later installments in that series were worse because Jack became the main character and the driving force of the series was lost.
Readers invest themselves into the lives of the supporting cast in order to be dragged along with the author's script. The emotional investment in stories - on Royal Road especially - come from our investment in characters that are actually at risk. The MC in most stories is protected by plot armor so it's the plights of the side characters that tend to draw us in.
Now that we know why it's important, what do the people in this story want? Elspeth Arella wants the power to leave Greenstone, but why? What are her goals? Why is leaving Greenstone going to facilitate those goals? Rufus wants to be a powerful and successful adventurer and has been traveling with his buds the lion man and the flame witch to do so. WHY? Just because his family are good adventurers? What's the end game? Why did Gary and Farah get with Rufus to begin with? Why are the two staying together after Farah's death? What motivates these people? What are their long term goals? Hell everyone but MC is supposed to be religious but we never see any of them pray, we never see tender moments of them alone. All we see is vengeance and when they talk about MC.
How do I FIX this?
Easy. Just ask youself what the characters want and then make them talk about it, or act with THAT GOAL in mind. Have a scene with Rufus talking with his parents about why they're still in Greenstone so long after Farah's funeral and about what his future plans are. MC is too weak to fill the spot in his team at the moment so have him discuss going back home and rebuilding his team with some new characters that MC can join later at an opportune time. Have Arella do something that doesn't involve the MC. Have Gary discuss with Rufus whether they should remain a team and WHY. If there's some hidden backstory component then hint at it. (oh Rufus you know I CANT go since youre secretly a prince and Im your roAYAL retainer) He had a life before now, it should be calling him back by this point.
Lack of a Villain/ Plot
If main and side characters are the heart of a story, the villain is the lungs. The villain is the one who breathes life into the little interactions between characters and creates the urgency that drives a story forward. It can't be something as intangible as monsters or the big evil cult because those aren't problems that can be directly addressed by the MC.
Immediate - The villain creates urgency by doing something that needs to be addressed NOW. The cult is going to the end the world, but it's a big world and we have time for a few rooftop barbies before then.
Close to Home - If a villain isn't somewhere that the MC can challenge directly, then he's the villain of someone else's story. The big bad is, suffice to say, difficult to reach.
Just as good as the MC - This is the kicker. The villain needs to win. If the villain never wins there's no sense of risk, of danger. Even if it's something small, a villain has to prove themselves by triumphing over the MC in some way. Cyclostomata and Chad never do.
A good example is the Joker from the Dark Knight Rises. He is immediate: from placing timed bombs next to loved ones or running to ferrys filled with explosives at each other, he isn't a problem that can be solved later without massive consequences. He is close to home: Batman can reach him with his two orphan fists. He is better than the Batman: Batman loses to him. When the Joker creates Two-Face Batman loses to the Joker so completely that he needed to do something completely outside of the Joker's expectations to win. He had to sacrifice his own image of a hero to be a hero.
THAT is a villain. A character that can challenge and inspire the MC. Every hero needs his demon lord.
Luckily, adding one also fixes the other half of this issue, plot. What are the MC's goals right now? Get stronger? Who is he trying to beat? Oh he's trying to protect? Do some pushups every morning. No I want to know what he's working towards. I see a lot of rising action but not even the foggy outline of a climax. What will be the apex of this story arc? He gets so strong he can endure the monster flood? Why should we care? The plot so far hasn't been imporant because the MC has been in the 'adjusting to a new reality' phase. But he's almost bronze rank, it's time for Thanos to come knocking at the door.
How to fix?
Make a villain. I wish I could offer more actionable advice, but the flavor of the villain is heavily tied to how you want your story to develop, so it's all on you. Have some fun with it!
The Main Character
I saved the best for last because it is the easiest to fix. A lot of your readers have been getting frustrated (based on the other hundred reviews here) by the fact that your MC has stagnated. Let me explain, and this has two sides to it. Your MC started as a snarky, quippish guy who was just adjusting to his circumstances and it was done beautifully. I probably got past the first page of his character before recommending this novel to everyone I know. The issue now is that he hasn't changed. As I mentioned earlier, he has passed the adjusting phase of his tenure in this world and he still acts like the snarky, quippish guy who was using confusion and witticism as a defense mechanism. The other side of this, and likely the one everyone has issue with, is that your side characters don't react to this realistically. All of them are either awed by his gibberish, or don't react at all.
Gods are a prime example of both of these. On the MC's side, being a little flippant as he usually is, perhaps with a snarky comment under his breath or some such is what I would expect. That, or being actually speechless. 'Jason hit his knees, the absolute presence of the being in front of him pressing down on his body with more force than he could handle. He gaped, shocked by the sheer force one entity could possess.' I liken it to a waterfall, or loud thunder. No matter how ironclad your morals, or stiff, your spine, when you hear thunder loud enough to shake your bones and vibrate deep in your chest you pause for a second just to admire the force of it. Waterfalls the world over are a tourist attraction because they allow you to feel that raw energy at proximty and when you're there you stop for a moment and admire. Snarky charaters still pipe up with that 'man that would clean my dishes way better than my wife' kind of vapid nonsense but they still pause for that all-important moment where they're human before they're snark.
On the other side, Gods shouldn't care about Jason. I'm sorry but nothing he has done should have earned him more than a passing glance by now. Greenstone is a backwater with nothing going on. Divine presence there at all borders on the improbable. Imagine being an entity strong enough to be tasked with overseeing a philisophical portion of sentient beings' reality and you have cosmic beings even stronger than you trying to blow your house up. So basically you're a dude and someone started burning your house down. Well in your living room you have a bunch of cats fighting the - let's say - rats that work for the cosmic being. These are you gold and silver rankers in big cities. And in your backyard you see one sickly rat with a couple ants on it, and one of those ants is standing on its hind legs while the rest don't. 'Neat' you think, obviously too busy defending reality to really care about one ant. Do you go over to that ant and thank it personally for all the hard work it did fighting a rat that looked like it was already dead? No, your damn house is on fire who has that kind of free time? That ant was Jason. Gods dont care.
Lastly, you don't need to tell us that something is having an effect on Jason. We've read enough of his character to be able to see it when it happens. So rather than "Jason was, for once, silent. He had no words to say and Sophie was shocked when a bit of that mask fell away." you can just describe what happens like "Jason stood, quietly, admiring the simple beauty of the fireworks. Sophie spared him a quick glance, her worried frown giving way to a small smile as she saw rare sight of his unblinking eyes and open mouth."
How to fix?
This is the easiest one. A villain is a foil to the MC and will change him naturally as you write them both. Honestly exactly like your title implies. Hell, name your villain Abyss, that'd be fun. Also as you grow your sidecharacters you'll naturally flesh out your MC too so this one will literally fix itself once you address the other two.
FINALLY, AS THIS IS A REVIEW
Many stories aren't well written enough to have their issues wrapped up in a neat little bun with three little bullet points. Not many stories truly are cultured enough to include an appropriate Nietzsche quote. It is a rare story that has both of these and updates practically daily. Just know, prospective reader, that if you pick this one up, the story does suffer from the little issues that any story would if its author was required to output material as quickly as this one, pending edits. I say it is worth it. And, if you're an elitist that only touches stories from out of golden geese and dusted with diamonds, read the beginning.
UPDATE: My BOY the LION MAN has been given motivation, goals, and depth. Im so happy
Read the story up to 350 chapters and dropped it for few reasons. But let me preface that story managed to keep my attention up to this point so it did some things well.
So lets start few "issues":
1. Dialogues - they are either snarky/witty or some kind of serious discussion about meaning of life or some other inconsequential thing. You will not see every day dialogue or any kind of dialogue normal humans might have. Which brings me to second issue.
2. Everyone is Jason - and if they are not you will not remember them. Honestly it weirds me out, Jason was supposed to be unique kind of character but he "infects" people with his personality just after few interactions. One of the side characters (Emyr) suddenly become more powerful copy of Jason with no prior indication that might be the case. And you will probably find difficult to describe any character that is not Jason or Jason-like, they either do not have enough screen time and/or their personalities are not distinctive enough.
3. Jason himself - I loved his character during first arc, he was perfect example why the Isekai genre exist. The utter confusion and choas when faced with utterly alien world meshed so well with his character. It gave a reason for his character of behaving nonsensically when faced with nonsense world. But then it kept going, Jason actually never changed even though story keeps "stating" that he did. Every event that he faced and the way he reasoned about them screamed kind of teen angst even though it was supposed to be a serious and adult. It was further diminished because no 10 chapters would pass without Jason pondering about his ego.
4. Apathy - I could not find myself to care about characters or events. Story failed to establish a bond between a reader and the characters.
5. Lack of catharsis - simple, for the whole 350 chapters we have not seen any kind of major payoff, not a happy one, not a depressing one. Events that were supposed to be that payoff were undermined by the reasons above.
6. Show not tell - this one is probably my most subjective point. I always felt that story told to how are you supposed to feel and from time to time spewed exposition.
A lot of this novels comes down to an MC that, rather than earning their accolades, walks into them.
This is not to say that the MC doesn't go through some stuff, just that a lot of what he does gets too outsized a positive reaction.
He shouldn't have the fealty of high level nobles and adventurerd for what little he does. He shouldn't successfully socially manipulate anyone given his inexperience and background. This compounds with the standard 'anointed one' MC powers and abilities.
The grammar is good and the powers are creative, but the issues above make the rest of it unpalatable.
Generally a very well executed story. If I'd written this 25 chapters ago I would have scored it much higher. However, since then I've really soured on certain parts of the story, especially the MC. Did you know that he's a brilliant social manipulator? Well if you didn't, don't fret! The other characters will tell you how smart he is, over and over and over! Everybody loves him, you see, except the people who don't, and that's how you know they're the bad guys. If I could find somebody to love me even a quarter as much as these people love Jason, I'd have the best wife in the world.
Update: Couldn't take it anymore and dropped it a few weeks ago. Updated with my final ratings.
Each arc gets gradually less interesting. The first one, with the blood cult, was great; there was an element of mystery before we understood the power system and how Jason got to isekai'd, and there was enough comedy to keep things entertaining.
Then things started to degrade, and by the later arcs (as of this review, fighting the Builder cult inside the Reaper's pocket dimention) the fight scenes become incredibly dry. It starts boiling down to "character uses their power, but the enemy countered with their power, then character healed with their healing power." The main characters never seem to lose or be set back in any way. Very boring.
None of the characters are particularly interesting either. Jason starts as a sarcastic, irreverant man with a penchant to get in over his head, which works well with the early story.
But he then stays that way for the entire story as his circumstances change, which is less and less interesting.
The other characters are either bland or unlikable. The villains seem to only exist to make life hard for the good guys, with little motivation. Then they get unceremoniously defeated, with no build up or payoff.
The power system is really loose; I have no idea where the limits are or what powers a character can or can't have.
I've been reading this story for a few months, but I really feel no investment to continue at this point. The story was at its best when Jason was running around naked trying to complete a quest to obtain pants.
I want to like this story, but I really dislike the MC. The action is written well, the skills are awesome, and the world building is superb.
I don't mind that the MC has a snarky attitude. I mind when he just won't shut up. Not even to progress the plot. Then I found that his sister and his niece are becoming just like him. I can't enjoy 3 Jason's in the novel.
Read up till chapter 335ish on Patreon.
I mean I get his personal problems, but after all the shit he's been through you'd think he'd see how small other matters were. Well, no. Dude is still immature, just wished there were less of it.
It's not that he's unlikable and it diminishes the story, it's that I'm an adult and had been over the shit he went through, not the physically bad ones, but then again he's not crying about that which is JUST WEIRD.
And I'm not saying that since I'm over my issues this dude should be over his, it's more like, there's so much of it. Over and over and over and over. So yeah, it's not pleasant. And again, it's strange that more importance is given to his mundane issues, heartache and family problems and such, over all the shit he went through in the other world. WTF?!
between getting tortured and your brother fucking your girlfriend, like holy shit. Yeah your brother and ex sucks, literally too, but god fucking christ you were kidnapped and tortured but so much of the story is devoted to the mc's cheating brother and now sister in law. Holy crap just don't talk to them, like a proper adult. You're rich, just hire someone to take care of contact with them. Dude's got the fortitude of a hundred year old veteran and a 13 year old butthurt teen. Which is it?
Well, MC will do as he pleases even if it goes against commonsense.
This story is better than a lot here on RR, so that's definitely something.
Just meh in all departments. MC is aggravating, story crawls like a glacier. At the start it's interesting and really gets you hooked, it even shows signs of an overarching plot line, the magic system is interesting. Then you realize that the MC won't ever stop being obnoxious and stupidly confrontational (basically suicidal) followed by the realisation that the aforementioned overarching plot went and silently killed itself.
Started out as something with passion behind it, while it's now just a soulless product to milk the juicy patreon money.
When I was a teenager, I was a bit of a smug, self-righteous atheist, over impressed with my own intelligence. The protagonist of this story is something I could shamefully picture myself writing back then.
His every half baked, awful plan at "social manipulation" of the local nobility and other elite is a success, and what should result in him getting punched or socially ostrasized instead results of some more politically savvy character cooing over how smart he is.
He's openly insulting and heretical towards members of the clergy and actual gods, despite having pretty good evidence they could smear him across the pavement. Besides intentionally getting himself beat up by two priests, he suffers no consequences for this, and in fact the gods like him for some unfathomable reason.
This is a world with cultivation tiers, where each level is vastly above the one before, and might makes right--none of the above makes sense, even with his connection earned by saving the lives of a few powerful people in the beginning. He should be dead or crippled, and I found myself rooting for his opponents.
The initial monster hunting, progression, and joking interactions were good, and it's a shame the character turns into a black hole, as everything revolves further and further around him.