The Elemental Arena

by Gilgilad7

Original HIATUS Action Adventure Fantasy Sci-fi Dungeon GameLit Grimdark LitRPG Magic Male Lead Portal Fantasy / Isekai
Warning This fiction contains:
  • Gore

*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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Gilgilad7

Gilgilad7

Aspiring Author

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David Musk
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Since there are only 12 chapters here at the time of the review, I’ll focus on details rather than big picture
 
The premise is elegantly simple: the earth is forced into a tournament with RPG-like machinacs. Not much more to say there. To anyone familiar with sci-fi or LitRPG tropes, this won’t require much more explanation. Whether this succeeds or fails all comes down to the execution.
 
The beginning starts out strong, blending the seemingly mundane with the fantastical. An accountant is riding the elevator on the way to work, but the door opens to a forest. In my opinion, I think this was the perfect place to start the story. Five minutes earlier, and I might have been bored. After all, what’s less exciting than going through an accountant’s morning routine? (No offense to the accountants out there.) Five minutes later, and I might have been confused. (Wait, who is this character and why is he in a forest?) Major props for that. Other writers mess up their beginnings, and those effects can easily carry over into the entire story.
 
We’re also not bombarded with game elements right away. The MC’s first reaction is denial about the whole thing, which i think felt realistic. Far too often, I see authors on here too eager to jump into the premise of their story, and their characters suffer for it. In most portal fantasies, the characters are too quick to accept their fate and dive into the “system”. It’s like the authors get too excited in their own premise, and skim over the rest. But if the MC reacts to his own situation with apathy, then why should the reader care?
 
These characters react realistically. I would expect that having your life suddenly “gamified” would be uncomfortable, and that’s exactly what we get here. It works well, and it makes it far easier to care about the characters. Leveling up in this world is downright painful, which makes sense because that’s how it feels to become stronger or smarter in real life.
 
Style
 
The prose is simple and straight-forward for the most part, which makes sense considering where the author draws his inspirations. (Progression fantasy like Mother of Learning, and litRPGs in general.) Things are easy to understand, I could visualize the environments, I rarely felt confused.
 
However, some parts could be tightened up. I’ll give an example here, because it’s the quickest:
 
“No, no, no!” he cried out, terrified of his escape route suddenly vanishing. He waved his hands where the doors should’ve been but felt nothing but air.
 
This is one example where we’re given dialog (“No, no, no!”) and action (hand waving). These two things clearly communicate what the character is feeling without this additional emotion tell: "terrified of his escape route suddenly vanishing”
 
To me, the emotion and reasoning is perfectly clear already. We already see that he’s terrified, and we know why. The fact that we’re being told what he’s feeling is redundant. This sort of thing clutters the prose and puts distance between the reader and character. 
 
To be fair, you’re going to find a lot of emotion tells in the majority of RR stories, even the better written ones. You’ll even see emotion tells in best-sellers. However, I think these are best saved for scenes that would otherwise be confusing or ambiguous. Otherwise, trust the readers to read between the lines and figure out what a character is feeling.
 
With that said, this is still better than your typical Royal Road litRPG. The issues I mentioned above are prevalent in most stories here, so it’s not I’ll be deducting stars. I only bring it up because this was the stories biggest weakness in regards to style, and also thing that’s fairly easy to improve.
 
Grammar
 
All good here. I noticed a few typos, but that’s to be expected in any story that isn’t professionally edited. The author even fixed those as I pointed them out, so no complaints.
 
Characters
 
From the first chapter, we’re immediately introduced to a diverse cast. Our main character is American, then we get an Irish teenager, a middle-aged woman from Sweden, and a older Japanese man in the military.  These characters start out with genuine conflict between them. As if the language barriers and the stress of being thrown into a giant arena isn’t enough. They have clear disagreements about how to handle things. Overall, the diversity felt fresh for this sort of book and it brought to mind TV shows like Lost. Major points for this since it automatically requires more research to write characters from a broad array of countries and cultures.
 
Other than those initial observations though, it’s simply too soon to give an in-depth character review. If this story ends up having 100+ chapters, then 12 is nothing in the grand scheme of things. I’m tempted to call certain characters more likable than others, but that’s mostly do to with attitude and competency. It’s also implied that the mental stats will change characters quickly so it will be interesting to see how the author develops everyone. 
 
Plot / World-Building
 
When I first started this, I was skeptical about one thing: how/why did aliens create a game that was inspired by Earth RPGs? I’m happy to say this question was answered early on, and there was a good explanation
 
Otherwise, plot really has the same problem as with characters. Without knowing how long this story will be, it’s impossible to cast judgement.
 
I did appreciate several things about the setting though, which I’ll mention here. The characters are transported to this game world with only the clothes on their backs, and what they’re wearing has real consequences. One character starts with military combat fatigues, and this gives him a huge advantage over everyone else. Two more characters start in their pajamas. One woman even has barefeet and she has to wrap them with someone’s shirt sleeves. This was great attention to detail, and it shows what a difference one piece of clothing can make. As readers, I’m sure we’ll share their relief when they finally get proper boots, armor, etc.
 
That leads me to setting. The magic system is enjoyable so far. I’ll admit that anything with elements (fire, water, earth) makes me skeptical because it’s been done so many times, but the trope isn’t inherently bad, and I felt this one was handled and explained well. The world also gives me a WoW vibe with its level zones, elemental resistance, and the way raids were described. 
 
One thing I’d like to see more of is fantasy elements to help define the world. Most of the elements we’re shown are more sci-fi in nature (bracelets, collars, floating drones, AI, and holographic scenes.) By contrast, many of the skills and equipment we’ve shown are more traditional fantasy in nature. I’m assuming we’re slowly start to see more fantasy elements, and if that’s the case, I think the story could benefit from showing me at the very beginning. For example, the characters start one of the early chapters in a cave. A lot of fantasy readers will subconsciously use setting as a determining factor if they want to keep reading a book, or drop it. They ask themselves, does this feel like a world they would have fun exploring? Is there a sense of wonder? It’s like when you first enter an RPG, the starting area plays a big role in determining whether you want to continue.
 
Since I’m 99% sure the author has played WoW: Try to remember the sense of wonder you felt when you first steped into Azeroth. I do appreciate the realistic/gritty aspect of the setting, but the other fantasy aspects can go a long way toward getting readers excited about your world, and making them want to stay.
 
Overall
 
As the summary promises, this is a realistic take on the litRPG genre. The progression feels rewarding, and the magic system feels well explained. 
 
And despite the game mechanics, there's no “virtual reality” or reincarnation here. These characters are transported here with their real bodies, and there are real consequences if they die.
 
It's been entertaining so far and I'm sure it will only get better as the world expands!
 
 
The Wadapan
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A Promising Premise With Frustrating Execution

Reviewed at: Chapter Twenty-One - Runner

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.

Metrux32
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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.

Greyko
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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.

speenza
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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. 

Destroyuw
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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.

Rhino8000
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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.

KoboldPatrol
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Interesting and realistic LitRPG group survival story

Reviewed at: Chapter Fourteen - Sidequest

(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.

Tommyjl7
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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

Bookgirl
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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.