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
This is my favorite story on RR. For that reason, I may be a bit biased but I'm going to try to stay objective.
The author is damn good. I've read a thousand novels where the MC goes to a bathhouse in medieval fantasy world and describes it by saying 'yeah I saw a house with a bunch of people wearing towels wandering into it' or 'there was a sign that said bathhouse' which certainly did the job, but in Delve the MC sees a building situated on a river with a waterwheel pumping water into the building and steam billowing out. He described how the building's functionality allowed him to locate the bathhouse. Just the rich, yet simple way the author builds his world with descriptions like these makes this such an enjoyable read.
I've taught grammar at a highschool level and haven't seen a single significant issue in this entire novel. Go look through the rest of the reviews and try to find even one that doesn't give grammar four stars or better.
This is the one that everyone is getting in a tiff about. This story is slow in the RR sense that Rain (the MC) isn't trying to break his bones to get stronger and isn't throwing himself at literal bears to see if he's man enough to wrestle them. Rain doesn't solve that masturbatory wish-fulfillment itch because he's not a god in human skin, he's a normal dude.
That is what I love about this story. The isekai genre always claims that a normal dude is thrust into a new world and becomes something more, but they rarely portray an actually normal person. This does. Let me prove it. If a basketball sized orb of acid was flung at you, what would you do? Would you grab a sword and slice in in two? Would you put your hands into it to train your endurance? Fuck no. You'd avoid that shit. That's everyone's problem with Rain.
I'm getting so angry just reading all the people claiming the story is bad because it's slow so let me explain the style a little bit. The plot progression in this story reads, as compared to most isekai novels, like an open-world game narrative is delivered as compared to a side-scroller. What I mean by that is that the plot isn't linear. We aren't force-fed a plot so much as the major players in the region - and by extension, their conflict - is revealed as Rain happens upon it. Much like Link in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild learns about the devastation of Hyrule by wandering around and discovering the scars, does the larger picture unfold.
Rain is a person. I mean this in that he isn't an individual who makes perfect choices but he has reasons for his choices. Some people on here have called him and thought of him as naiive, and that is ridiculous. Rain was a random gamer just a few scant months ago. Would you have given every officer a personal burial? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter whether you would have cared for every human death or been coldly calculating because this isn't a self-insert story. RAIN is tender around death and that's what matters. He has a personality and his own flaws/ quirks.
AND YA'LL ARE BUTTHURT ABOUT THE BLUE BOXES?? SKIP THEM. The author summarizes every change right after the boxes and does the same with his math. If you don't like it just skip it and move on.
I'll write a real review someday but, for now, I've never seen this update and not been thrilled. Keep it up senescent soul.
The story is brand new so I can't expect much on the story front just yet, but this is exactly the reverse isekai truck comedy you think it is. The characters are very overblown in just the way this kind of story demands and Truck-kun DIDN'T get some ridiculously broken skill like 'skill steal' or other such nonsense. All-in-all, a very satisfying four chapters.
This story is good. The writing is clean, the characters are developed, and the premise is solid. That said, I believe this could be a 5-star novel with only a bit of work so I'm going to be nitpicky.
This story reads like a slice of life novel with no driving conflict behind it, like most slice of life novels tend to be. Normally, that would be fine because the novel would be supported by an idyllic setting of 'growing up' or 'a summer in high school'. This one is set in the middle of an intergalactic war with animal people, giant spiders, and spirit magic. While slice of life in such tense circumstances might sound intriguing, the tension of precisely those circumstances is missing. This can be felt through most of the aspects of the story.
Every character speaks and acts with care for each other's feelings and situations as though they were running into a friend at the grocery store rather than interacting with fellow soldiers in a bloody war. With a few characters, this is great. Soothers whose entire job is to blunt emotion and heal injuries care for mental health? Perfect. So does everyone else when it has been implied that sometimes these positions are forced upon them? Not so. In fact, it might be an easy way to solve this if you had the character's personalities reflect their jobs. The gunner might have a very direct and anticipatory personality for example. The only truly unique personalities we see are Vera and the playboy bunny guy. (The bunny guy that is a playboy, not a guy that is really into Playboy Bunny) Again I'll reiterate that the characters are well developed and kept me interested, they simply are too similar to keep fresh.
Driving conflict. The single easiest way to breathe new flavors into a story is to introduce a villain. In this story that could be done in maybe three sentences plugged into a few different chapters. There was a guy that needed to have his torso reconstructed because of a parasite #spacelife. This is creepy and cool and kept me interested, but at the end of the day, is just part of the danger of cruising through alien space. It is #spacelife. But if he was, perhaps, a late recoveree of the enemy incursion that necessitated Nan's reclamation? Well now half the crew can be recovering from lost loved ones and caring so much about emotional states because they just went through a harrowing life-or-death battle.
To summarize here, you just need to answer the 'why's Nan would likely have. Why is the Vespa understaffed? Why recruit from other dimensions rather than their own? Why are they at war and with who? Why can they so leisurely offer Nan a choice of joining or living her life? Make the war more present or at least give a reason for Nan wanting to join it.
It's fun, it's exciting, and it's just like the classic fantasy adventure odesseys I'm used to. Well, plus or minus a few rifles. space magic, and alien bug-taurs.
The author could stand to footnote what a few of his weapons are, like scutum is a big shield, or kilij is a curvy sword but it won't detract from the story. The grammer is also excellent so that's nice.
I took off half a star because there is room for improvement but it is already worth the 4.5
As of chapter 7, this story is quite enjoyable and an easy read but has a lot of room for imporvement. Before anything else, compared to average works on RRL, this is 5 stars so worth the read.
As for possible improvements, I would recommend taking a look at #Amused by SOSADHSCATH as he touches on the biggest issue in the first 7 chapters and that is that everything is stream of consciouness. Stream of consciousness is fine and the author does a very good job of working with that style but it can be monotonous for less avid readers, so I would recommend inserting a chapter or two from another person's viewpoint.
Worldbuilding: As of Ch. 7, all we really know about this world is that it has goblins, robots, adventurers, slimes, and somehow forking mindflayer meat at a roadside food stand. While this is a bit of a slow build, it isn't done poorly and suits the style well.
Power Balance: The fork is a fork. He got telepathy rather quickly relative to the story, but spent months training in order to use it. He has herculean strength but can't use it. He's a dam* fork. It's excellent. That said, sosadhscath mentioned the fork absorbing through an enemy and I would parrot his warning: growing too fast RELATIVE to the story is clunky and should usually be avoided. What I mean by this is that generally, if a character is slowly growing stronger before the narrator suddenly says "Then he trained for ten years" and the MC comes back as a god in the same page then it makes the story seem choppy. Nothing wrong with taking it slow. Being unable to absorb things with willpower is a tested and balanced foil to absorbtion abilities and will help balance the ability if it gets too out of hand.
Grammar: Some run-ons (what doesn't?) but overall a well written piece.
Characters: There is one. He's a fork. I love him but gimme side characters.
Will update when I'm current
First off, the intent of this review is primarily to analyse what I did not like about the story as I enjoyed a good deal of it and would like to see the author improve. Also understand that my only credentials are a healthy addiction to books and my own views. I am on chapter 40. This review contains spoilers.
That said, what truly kills this story is character development and world balance.
By 'WORLD BALANCE' I mean the degree that the rules of the story's world affect everyone else compared to the degree they affect the main character. I.e. How much plot armor the m.c. has. Mostly, this imbalance is displayed through the distribution of merit points. For example, the mc constantly attracts the attention of gods which nets him about 50k merit points every time. This is fine by itself, but he usually catches interest of said gods by doing very little. The god of madness, for example, is interested in him because he talks to a clearly intelligent and actively communicative golem. This is a problem because, as of ch.40 no one else has caught the attention of gods. One dude stabbed a wooden dummy until exhaustion and uses a syringe as his main weapon not to mention his fanatical loyalty and the god of madness doesn't care.
Another issue along the same vein is that the 40 survivors lead by the red haired lady "just barely" had enough merit points to buy the zombie cure at a cost of 1500. As evidenced by Ger's merit screen, simply surviving for 12 hours is a reward of 3000. Not only had those survivors lasted 24 hours, but they had done so under constant strain and even successfully killed several of the monsters. The red haired lady alone should have had thousands of points simply from extended resistance of the zombie virus while fighting zombies AND leading survivors the entire time.
The issue is that Dez's returns indicate that the system is incredibly generous with merit point and rewards basically everything, so it SHOULD be giving a lot of points to a lot of survivors. In a world where you can buy a permanent summon with enough strength to tear a bank vault door off its hinges for a paltry 7k, that means almost every survivor should be basically at Dez's level or at least close and have their own unique powers. They are not, and do not.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT is the other major failing of this story. It has many tie-ins with the issue of balance, but many characters have little to no depth. I think this is perfectly demonstrated by our main man Rimmy because he is actually VERY WELL DEVELOPED at this point in the story. RImmy is a huge crystal golem with a couple of slits for a face. Despite being completely unable to speak, Rimmy demonstrates through casual actions like giving the mic a thumbs up not only how he feels about complicated issues like murder, but also reveals that he both emphasizes with the mc's pain AND is familiar with social norms on how to cheer up a friend. It's brilliant. Add to that the novel idea of using identification to give characters a quick backstory and we basically know everything about a seven foot mute statue. If every side character was like that it'd be perfect.
Unfortunately, many of the other side characters feel forced. Ger, for example, at one point looks at his daughters interacting and says something along the lines of 'she likes to tease others but can't handle being teased herself'. This is a violation of that old adage 'show don't tell'. We'd already seen the daughter blushing at being teased so the information was useless. It would be like if Ger had seen Rimmy give Daz a thumbs up and monologued 'he is supportive of his friend'.
As a quick last example of the issue with character depth is the scene with Daz throwing the red haired woman into a door. The woman later forgives Daz immediately after he apologizes with some line like who couldn't forgive you in this situation? I apologize for being blunt but that makes absolutely no sense. Imagine if you were thrown into a door hard enough to take half your health. In the real world that might be equivalent to being grabbed by the hair and thrown hard enough to break ribs and perhaps cause internal bleeding. Would you just hop up and say 'oh no worries it happens every Sunday can we all go stay at your place?' Of course not. This woman is in charge of not only her own saftey but also 40 other people. She wouldn't risk those lives for some clearly violent stranger simply because he killed some mons. Daz had shown his strength so maybe she wouldn't demand compensation but she would be far more likely to simply thank Daz for his help then attempt to find he own base with the other survivors, especially since they apparently had someone with a skill to reinforce barricades. Why risk their lives with some apparently insane, violent stranger? On top of that, why would 40 other people want to follow someone who introduced himself by nearly killing their leader? These aren't a bunch of goblins who only follow the strongest but a scared group of day to day citizens who already had some semblance of confidence they could defend themselves?
overall I did like your story and especially in how thorough and creative you were with the system I was pleased, but I need more depth to my side characters yo.
EDIT:: I've read past chapter 40 a bit and was pleased to see that my review was somewhat premature. The author does much better on world balance than I thought.