The Elemental Arena
*A Rational-Adjacent litRPG Survival Series.*
The time for the trials has come, pitting the mortal species of the galaxy against one another. By completing challenges, clearing dungeons, and defeating rival species, the players may forge themselves stronger and smarter. But only one species will be declared the winner.
Earth has finally qualified...
...and participation is mandatory.
A twenty-nine year old data entry clerk works together with a group of internationally diverse players to survive. Learning synergistic skills and using teamwork, can humanity achieve an upset? If they don't, their lives are forfeit.
Author's note: Chapters will be anywhere from 6k to 10k in words, varying based on the plot beats instead of specific word counts.
Realistic actions and teamwork will be important aspects of my story. I'm trying something a little different in writing a realism focused litRPG, hoping to capture the essence of how real people would react to their situation. People are complex and don't always get along. I don't recommend starting the series expecting wish fulfillment tropes just because it's tagged litRPG. It's a survival story with the game settings on Hell difficulty. The plot hasn't gotten there yet, but in the future of the series I want to recreate my nostalgia of forty person raids on Ragnaros, but with the high stakes of boss battles in Sword Art Online. I also love puzzle rooms so expect one of those each book.
Warnings: mild PG-rated language, graphic violence and gore, and graphic medical content.
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I picked up The Elemental Arena on lukewarm recommendation, and still ended up being kinda disappointed. Stories like this tend to filter out readers without ceremony, and in all honesty I considered dropping this one at almost every chapter (but didn't, because I was interested in discussing it) and nearly didn't write this review (but did, because I was told the author is an amateur who'd benefit from constructive criticism). I've highballed the scores, because I know RR's rating system is messed up.
Group isekais and arena battles are both premises with a huge amount of potential, and the exact setup of this story - aliens getting a human to run a Warcraft-esque team-based Hunger Games - feels novel. The result, at its best, evokes the likes of LOST and Battle Royale. There's ample opportunity for metatext here - Tygerion-as-the-author, aliens-as-audience - but nothing's really done with it, which makes me wonder what exactly the point was.
The story's most fundamental problems are rooted in its protagonist, Nathan, who I quickly grew to dislike. On a personal level, Nathan seems to have few redeeming qualities; I get the sense this was a deliberate attempt to create a flawed character, but the flaws are never really tackled head-on by the narrative, creating the impression that the author isn't actually aware of them. Nathan's thoughts on his past relationships read very darkly to me, and I struggle to convince myself that they were written with irony: "He considered himself the nice guy to a fault, at least until he became upset and then he wasn’t." He is quick to judge and often patronising with regards to the other players, and his politeness and encouragement often come across as insincere. He demonstrates few leadership qualities beyond an eagerness to boss people around, and it was at first unclear to me why the other characters listen to him.
The answer comes when the rest of the cast is put under scrutiny. Nathan can afford to be patronising because his fellow players exhibit far less in the way of initiative and intelligence than they should, considering they are selected from the top percentile of fifteen-to-fifty-year-olds. The vast majority of the common-sense ideas presented by the cast come from Nathan (followed shortly by Maya), and the other players just follow along - that's not to say that these ideas aren't good, but that they're the kind of thing that pretty much anybody in the cast should be able to intuit. On a narrative level, it seems that they fail to do so solely to give Nathan more opportunities to prove that he is an extraordinarily 'rational' individual, and that 'Gamers' somehow have more common sense than the rest of the population (note the apparently-high intelligence of Kean, which is attributed to his time playing Fortnite). Likewise, many of the characters seem extraordinarily selfish or (in the case of Harrison) cartoonishly awful, presumably to make Nathan more virtuous by comparison. To be charitable, I think this is a product of approaching 'real people' by the proxy of 'flawed people', and maybe I'm just naive, but I like to think that real people will surprise you in good ways. Considering that the story's primary stated goal is to present real people facing unreal challenges, it's a real shame that so much of its cast lacks that spark.
The story's 'most eligible bachelorette', Maya, is (by design) the story's most likeable character, and the only one beside Nathan whose backstory is explored with more than a cursory amount of detail. Paradoxically, this produces the exact opposite effect: you end up disliking her, because Nathan (or, perhaps more accurately, the story) constantly beats you over the head with her virtues, and the relationship that develops between the two feels like wish fulfillment in its most egregious form. Nathan is, apparently, the only person who understands her, yet the narration offers only surface-level insights into who she is, and thanks to his myriad character flaws it's unclear what she sees in him at all. She laughs at his bad jokes (if Nathan was funnier, his narration would be less off-putting), and assumes he's read Descartes after he uses a very common saying (he hasn't; this is just one case amongst many where the narrative rewards Nathan for no reason). It's frustrating to see the way Nathan disparages the Emma/Harrison/Iliya dynamic as having no place in the arena, considering his behaviour around Maya. The way the story handles gender and relationships in general is simultaneously heavy-handed and somehow misguided, but I don't wanna linger on this further.
Like a great many isekais, The Elemental Arena makes the mistake of downplaying the pre-story lives of the characters. For many readers, this is certainly preferable, but considering this story's stated goal is to focus on real people it provides oddly little in the way of characterising detail. I'd say it could stand to learn from the likes of LOST or Worth the Candle (the latter being, in my opinion, the gold standard for webfiction) by incorporating flashbacks, but this would result in a vastly different story with a reduced pace. The obvious alternative, however - having characters exposit about their old lives - is provably unappealling. The solution is probably just to have more three-dimensional characters whose decisions are more explicitly the product of their experiences. Alternatively - and this would be a huge breath of fresh air for the story - it'd be nice to spend some time in the head of someone other than Nathan.
Here is a laundry list of more minor things which I didn't like about this story, each singly forgiveable but damning in aggregate:
- The prose style isn't great; I can't describe the specific problems with it, but it gives the commmon impression of a style mostly learned from other webfiction.
- People apparently disagree with me on this one, but I really didn't like the running jokes in the narration. I understand the intent behind having Nathan jump between angsting over Kean (who seems largely forgotten in the back half of the story) and fawning over 'Mister Rock', but the execution left a lot to be desired. The beaver/rat confusion is the other obvious example.
- Written forms of distinctive accents end up becoming grating when characters have little in the way of standout features aside from those linked to their nationality.
- Lilly and Iliya have very similar-looking names and appear in almost all the same scenes, and for the life of me I cannot keep it straight in my head which is which. Other people apparently share this complaint.
- Harrison, again.
- For completeness' sake, though this is a very subjective opinion, I don't find the worldbuilding in this story to be evocative, whatever that means. Considering the arena was itself designed by a human, I wish it had more character. The alien tech (and aliens in general) do not feel sufficiently alien, and if this is deliberate then the narration could do more to make it clear that it's an intentional choice with in-universe justification that'll be explored down the line.
Here is a list of things I genuinely like:
- The fights are good. I always struggle to describe why I like/dislike someone's way of writing them, but take my word for it.
- The game is pretty good too, although ironically I tend not to be fussed over the systems used by stories like these one way or another. A lot of readers are here for hard numbers, and this story delivers.
- On an atomic level, pains seem to have been taken to correct bad writing (looking at you, chapter 18).
- I like Asahi a lot, despite the fact that he mostly seems like a grab-bag collection of Japanese stereotypes. I wish he did more, and had more unique characterisation.
- Dammit, I think Maya's pretty good too, I just wish the rest of the story supported her existence better.
- There's this one scene where Nathan and Maya are trying to cook crawdads using different methods, and Maya's attempt to use a skewer fails in increasingly ridiculous ways. I thought that this was (in abstract) a pretty good scene, leaving aside the fact that narratively it's mostly another excuse for Nathan to feel smug about himself. There are other minor beats like this which do feel very human; I just wish they were far more common.
- Who's this Angelo bloke? I want to know more about him. I don't know why, he just seems like a bit of an odd one out.
- The cast is pleasantly diverse in terms of race, nationality, age, builds, dispositions, and (to some extent) gender, especially in comparison to lots of other stories like this. Insofar as portraying real people is a stated goal of the story, this is commendable, although I think the excess of stereotyping is unfortunate (I also found myself raising an eyebrow at the selection process accounting for mental disabilities, though that's a can of worms). I'd like to see even more of this.
- There are lots of sparks of narrative originality here, and I think the general plot has a lot of potential.
The Elemental Arena is neither clever enough to provide the competence porn of good rational fiction, nor human enough to provide the character exploration of good regular fiction. It is most successful as a fun series of action-driven skirmishes, and were its stated goals less ambitious, this would be perfectly fine. Certainly, it's a promising debut - I'll be sticking around to see out the first book, then might check back for more chapters in the future. I can't recommend this story in good faith, but would like to one day, and when it comes to amateur webfiction I think that's what counts.
This story is one of the well-thought ones, since here you can find a system that allows for a lot of potential implementations, well-behaviored MC and steady flow of the story. There weren't any grammar mistakes that I could spot and characters feel pretty real.In my opinion, there's nothing obviously wrong with this story and you would probably enjoy it.
Smart implementation of a traditionally cliched and trite genre. Still fairly early in the story, but shows promise so far. The difficulty the players experience is very refreshing, in particular the interpersonal issues, though for now those are mostly just promises of future strife.
This story has many similarities to other novels such as having a ‘death game’ or ‘level system’ type part to it. What is different is that every common aspect (or new creation by the author) is so seamlessly put together that it becomes a joy to read. I must say that if the quality stays the same this will most likely be within my top 5 favourite novels.
I usually don't writte reviews, mostly because this site has a strange way of using them... But here goes nothing.
This is a very interesting story that I was accompanying since... Well, I think it was before chapter 8, and the whole concept added to the way the story is written has captivated me all along. The premise is rather simple, and could even be describled as cliched, but there is a reason why those become common, and it shows in this kind of novel where tehy're done right: it works wonderfully.
The grammar is not something I'm entirely worried about, unless it's jarring or immersion breaking, and none of that has happenned here, so I won't even remember if there was a small mistake.
The characters... This, I would say, is the true jewel of this story. Although there is a clear path being followed, and a plot happening, it feels absolutely natural, going by as the characters do, instead of despite them or around them, like in so many stories, it just feels like they're really in that situation, struggling with survival, but also trying to make the most of it, they discuss what they know of the system and of the "npcs", because those are things that, for some, are interesting, and for all, are important for their survival. I've seen people dislike the main character, and it's a important distinction on why only him, and not the other flawed people there: we see the story through his eyes, and as such we can't help but compare to Nathan. And some people don't like to see the flaws or mistakes of him, especially when it hits close to home. But I'll say this, he felt the entire way like a true person, and I rather prefer that than some idealistic MC, made to be liked or to win the challenges before him.
All in all, this is a very good and interesting read, and I hope it doesn't stop or change, the author is doing a good job from the start, so let us let him writte his own vision.
I love the world the author is creating. The story draws you in and I simultaneously want to take part in the competition and but also horrified by how poorly I would perform if I had been selected. The characters are developing nicely with distinctive voices and personalities. There is enough description to imagine them without having to wade through long paragraphs of description so it makes a good balance. I appreciate the lack of typos and the careful grammar. All in all I am excited to keep reading.
Very interesting, definitely enjoying it. At first, I was hesitant because of the simplified stats and the ol’ faithful “abducted for a tournament”, but the author really made me feel for Nathan and how shitty his situation is. He just barely scrapes by at like every challenge in ver believable ways. Much respect, author.
(as of chapter 14)
Nathan and a few thousand other people are transported to an 'arena' tournament. First they'll have to survive in RPG scenarios against impersonal trials and monsters before they'll even have a chance to compete last-species-standing-like against the seven other participant groups for humanity's survival. While there is a system that gives stats and skills, it is a brutal fight for survival at every turn. And 'brutal' really means that, it's very easy to die here.
Style/Grammar: The story is told in third-person style from Nathan's point of view. The descriptions both of the action and those of the surroundings are good, the amount is sufficient but not very detailed, fitting the pacing of the story. Word choice is good with excellent grammar, everything is easy to understand without being too simple. The LitRPG elements are enough to let the readers follow the characters' progress and know their abilities but without cluttering the story. There are only a few typos, nothing jarring.
Story: So far most of the story has been one long fight for survival without major breaks, keeping the characters always on edge. Nonetheless, a good amount about how the world/system works has been discovered and the people have had opportunities to show their personalities. The pacing is good.
Characters: The MC and some of the other characters behave believable for people thrust into a life and death situation, barely coping emotionally but still keeping enough of a mind to use the resources available to them. They do make some errors but that is expectable. Some others still feel a bit too stereotypical but let's see how they develop. Interesting is the diverse origin of the cast, compared to the homogeneity in other stories. The interpersonal dynamics are done very well.
All in all, this is a good LitRPG group survival story with a realistic (for a fantasy story) take on events.
So far at chap 11 wonderful start the romantic character interaction does feel slightly cheesy and forced but everything else is pretty damn good is a bit dark and gorey too as a fair warning and so far seems like an intresting and somewhat unique litrpg concept