"Our world is virtual."
The broadcaster's voice sounded through Akasuki's headphones. She gazed out at the passing city buildings, awaiting for the train to arrive at the station.
"The numbers of virtual reality products have skyrocketed in such a short amount of time," the broadcaster continued, his tone as dull as it could possibly be, "Not only has there also been an increase in virtual reality games, but Japan has integrated itself into a virtual world. No matter where you look, someone is within the new virtual world. Be it old people, young people, even businessmen have began the shift from digital to virtual."
Akasuki considered tuning into another station, but the subject the man was talking about intrigued her. Besides, she would be home in the matter of minutes anyway.
The afternoon sun shone over the moving train. Inside the train, everyone looked preoccupied on their smartphones, not a single person paying mind to another.
Akasuki sat by her lonesome in the corner, dressed in a black jacket despite the warm weather and a casual t-shirt and jeans. Her yellow eyes looked intimidating, like she was ready to punch someone, but they tired with dark circles under them.
"It's outrageous!" another loud voice boomed. Akasuki regretted having to recognize it. "There aren't even office meetings anymore, unless you call a chat with your boss and team over the internet a "professional meeting". Japan's old problems have began to get out of hand.
"There's too many elderly, the birthrate continues to decline! Look at all these products that have hindered our recovery! It's gone now!"
"Mr. Ryou Riki is a known democratic politician against virtual reality products," the tedious broadcaster explained. It wasn't necessary since the man has been on the news nearly every single day talking nonstop about the subject.
The politician cleared his throat. "Chromatic World, Boyfriend, and other new virtual reality products have taken hold of our youth. Most aren't even interested in sex anymore with that damn new robot that's going around satisfying sexual needs. We are slowly, if not already, have cut ourselves off from the real world."
"That's an interesting analysis, sir. However, many have refuted by saying such products help expand their view on-"
"I say we kill these products before we are all lost!" the politician bellowed, "Chromatic World's opening numbers are thankfully low and we should keep it that way! It's killing Japan! We need to stop this problem before we end it grows any further!"
Akasuki turned the sound off on her smartphone. She didn't feel like listening to a rant barely into the afternoon.
The train stopped at the station. The passengers boarded off the train as new ones entered. Akasuki glanced at the clear blue sky as rock music blared into her ears.
The world certainly had changed in the past few years. Everywhere Akasuki looked, someone was either on their phone as they walked or had an eyepiece that functioned the same way. She didn't notice any couples locking arms and smiling at one another or children playing outside.
Most of the people who walked around were businessmen or people buying groceries. No one really left their houses to hang out and chat anymore. Stores had reported they have sold less products since nearly everything could be bought online. Festivals have died down since not many attended them anymore.
It wasn't like this years ago. Even the rural parts of Japan had began to close themselves up. Even though that democratic politician was annoying, he did have a point.
Akasuki yawned. Who knew being on college break could be rather boring?
Congratulations on becoming the first player to defeat the secret final boss of Cross X Blade! You have earned 11,000 gold, the Golden Ultima Sword, and 35,566 EXP! You have also gained the title of Number 1 Champ!
"Tch, whatever. This game was boring as hell." Akasuki said to herself as she took off her headphones. The low tone of her voice made it obvious she was incredibly disappointed with the game she had finished just playing.
Without bothering to turn her monitor off, she stood up from her rolling chair and checked the time on her smartphone.
"Took me too darn long to finish that boss. I need to bathe."
The college student stretched her body out, worn out from having to sit for hours. She waltzed into her bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Her shoulder length black hair was rustled and uncombed, making it look like she just got out of bed. The dark circles on her eyelids became more evident.
Akasuki sighed upon gazing at her unattractive features. Her new hobby of completing and venturing through MMOs wasn't good for her slow developing body.
After taking a shower, she dried off and dressed herself in a simple t-shirt and shorts. She then sat back down in her rolling chair to turn off the MMO.
12:22 A.M. Akasuki read the time on her computer. I need to take shorter showers.
Her eyes widened slightly upon noticing something on her screen. It was an email from her childhood friend, Euno Yasahiro, titled 'The Game is out, Akasuki. Where are you?' within her inbox.
"The game?" Akasuki muttered to herself, confused by what the message meant. It was then realization struck her like someone smacked her forehead for not understanding immediately.
Without further delay, she flung from her seat to grab a black ring-shaped VR Headset from her closet and dashed back to open her Gamio! account to download a software flashing green on the homepage.
Akasuki then plugged her VR Headset into her monitor and then dialed a number on her smartphone.
"Yo." a soft masculine voice answered seconds later.
"I hate you."
"Were you taking a long shower again? If so, then it's not my fault."
"How far are you into the game?"
"Just started and leveled up a bit. It's pretty sweet."
"Shut up," she scoffed, annoyed by his mocking tone, "I'm gonna stab you for playing ahead of me."
"Yes, blame me for having-"
"Done!" she ended the call upon realizing her download finished and to cut his sentence short, not bothering to hear his criticism. With a toothy grin much like a child opening a box to their new present, she placed her VR Headset on and double clicked the software to open it.
A minute later, green text appeared within her view.
Welcome to... Chromatic World.
As expected, nothing but green and blue zeros and ones showered over Akasuki's display. Akasuki sat in silence as the headset scanned her brain cells. It was a necessary step to test if the user's brain will be able to function within the game's engine.
After what seemed like a minute, she heard a soft ding from the headset speakers and green text appeared.
Scanning Complete. Avatar Creation Complete. Gamio formally thanks you for your purchase of Chromatic World... Akasuki Humiya. Would you care to create a username?
"BoneCrusher69." Akasuki choose the username she used often since she started her new hobby a year ago.
...We apologize, but Chromatic World does not support or endorse sexual or offensive usernames. Please insert username.
...We apologize, but...
"Just call me AkaHumi, okay?" Akasuki sighed in defeat, not bothering to argue with a program. Luckily, the game had an automatic log in feature via the user's brain cells and voice.
Username accepted. We hope you enjoy your experience with Chromatic World.
Having her expectations blown was a common experience for Akasuki. Sometimes it was for the better, others for the worse. However, this is one moment where she couldn't decide on either.
The land of Mundus, the hub area of Chromatic World, was lush with nature. A wide, grassy field went on as far as the eye could see with mountains far off in the horizon. The clear blue sky above and the shining sun gave off a peaceful warm feeling despite players being unable to feel anything in the game.
Virtual wild, yet calm animals roamed about the outskirts of the main town, where the town streets were filled with the excited faces of players and the always lively NPCs.
Yet, that was only from what she had seen from the videos of the beta. The land she was staring at now was the complete opposite.
There was no beautiful grassy field to gaze upon; instead a cracked, dried wasteland laid in its place. Dark clouds painted the sky, not only a hint of sunlight to shine upon the deceased, gloomy landscape.
The medieval designed town itself was just as lifeless. There were few buildings and what buildings were there barely looked stable to live in. Instead of virtual woodland animals, furious, deadly monsters ambled the outskirts of the town.
"W-What the hell?" Akasuki muttered, too shocked for speak. "What happen to Mundus? What is this place?"
"About time you got here, Akasuki."
Akasuki span around, meeting the stoic expression of her childhood friend as if he wasn't at all affected by the depressing scenery.
His short chestnut-brown hair was combed neatly and behind a pair of oval glasses, his sharp, gray eyes gazed at her with an analytical look. His avatar looked exactly like his real-life counterpart, aside from being dressed in a brown mage robe and carrying a crescent moon shaped staff.
"Euno..." Akasuki said.
"Welcome to the hub, Hyalina," Euno said, "Can you believe the developers hid this sudden change from the public? I'm surprised not a single leak got out about this."
"You mean this was on purpose? Why would they do something like this?"
"Who knows," the brown mage shrugged, "But standing around won't do us any good. Let's head to the town's guild."
"Okay." Akasuki nodded.
The two players strolled down the empty streets of the town. Much to Akasuki's surprise, there were only a few players walking about. Some chatted amongst another while others ambled the streets with confused looks on their faces, much like Akasuki's own.
She couldn't believe the developers would create a vast world for a beta of the game only to rid of it upon the Japanese release. The original land wasn't exactly creative by any means, but she could tell they put a lot of effort into creating it.
Having watched the developer videos of Chromatic World, she saw the dedication brimming on the developers' faces as they achieved in shaping a fully functional, virtual reality world in a time where virtual reality video games was beginning to take the world by storm.
Competitors made similar games, but none so far had reached the high technical output of Chromatic World. It was only natural nearly fifty thousand people preordered the game after the success of the beta only two thousand had the chance to experience.
Akasuki looked at her stat screen, able to bring it up by thought alone. A holographic message appeared in front of her, showing her username, current level, and class. Level 1/Freelancer/No subclass.
She then noticed her clothing, a plain brown tunic and pants. She was glad there wasn't an automatic design players were forced to wear and customized clothing was allowed.
"Excuse me, young player," an elderly voice interrupted Akasuki's thoughts. She and Euno stopped to see a bald old man in a dark red robe sitting behind a wooden box.
The old man placed a small sword with a silver and blue hilt on top of the box and smiled, showing off a toothless grin, "It's dangerous to go alone. Take this."
Before Akasuki could say anything, Euno nudged her with his staff, promoting her to take the weapon. Reluctant, the freelancer walked up to the box and took the sword. From a quick examination, she could tell it was a one-handed sword.
"Um, I'm not alone, but thank you, I guess." Akasuki bowed in thanks. The old man simply remained still with the same grin on his face, not responding.
A long awkward silence remained, neither person moving in the slightest. Akasuki slowly stepped back as she and Euno begun walking again.
"To think they could make a virtual world yet they couldn't upgrade the NPCs*." Euno commented.
"I feel like I've been in a situation like that before." Akasuki said.
"Well, that NPC gives out free equipment once to every new player. I was going to suggest we head to the item shop after meeting with Moriko at the guild."
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea..."
Akasuki halted abruptly, realizing what he had just said. Euno stopped as well and looked at her with a confused expression on his face.
"What?" he asked.
"Moriko's here?" the freelancer cocked her head sideways in question.
"Yeah, I thought you knew this already."
"I... did not..."
"Oh... I see..."
The two players stood in silence for a moment and then begun walking again. Throughout the way upon reaching the guild, neither said a word to another.
The guild was in slightly better shape than the other residents in town, but still looked rather run down. It looked like a wooden cottage with giant number one branded on the front. From Akasuki's information screen, the guild was called First Guild.
"Very creative." Akasuki remarked as the two entered the building. Upon walking in, the two were greeted with loud random chatter from guild members and players alike.
The first floor comprised of a medieval tavern like atmoshpere, complete with a bar and information desk. The room was full with players as many surrounded a podium where a single player stood on a table over them.
Outside of the crowd, a young teenager stood back near the entrance with her arms crossed and eyes closed. Akasuki and Euno approached her.
"Hey." the teen simply waved to them, staring at them with cold yet beautiful red eyes.
Unlike them, she wore clothing that revealed more of her skin. A red shoulderless top, yellow cargo shorts, green boots, and purple fingerless gloves.
Her hair was purple with green highlights on the end and two pigtails rested on her shoulders. Claw like makeup were painted on her cheeks.
Inwardly, Akasuki associated her appearance with a bag of skittles.
"Hello, Moriko," Euno greeted her with a slight wave of his own.
"Hey," Akasuki gave a simple, half-hearted greeting, "Didn't know you play MMOs, Moriko."
"I'm just going with the flow." Moriko said, turning her gaze to the crowd. Akasuki sighed to herself as she and Euno watched the crowd alongside her.
Akasuki didn't hate Moriko, but she wasn't fond of her either. She wouldn't exactly call her a friend since she only knew her for a few short years and the two barely talked since they've meet.
"Everyone, please calm down," a man in his late twenties spoke. He had long auburn hair tied into a ponytail and brown eyes. He wore blue armor and from the information screen he was a level ten Knight class. "I am the guild leader of First Guild and received personal information from the developers on the situation of Mundus."
Upon hearing him, the crowd quieted down to listen to his words. Clearing his throat, the knight begun to speak once again.
"As the first players to enter Chromatic World, we of the development team would like to thank you for purchase of the game," the man read from a letter on his holographic screen, "We know all of you are shocked to see Mundus, a once lush green land, transformed into Hyalina, a deceased land. Upon careful analysis collected from the beta, we decided to alter the game in a major way.
"First off, the land of Mundus has been corrupted by darkness. Life seeped from its very soil and the NPCs in distress. The cause and the source of this darkness are quite simple. The seven Maluses have taken home in various locations across the land, their very presence alone caused this.
"To restore Mundus to its rightful beauty, you Players must defeat all seven Maluses, the bosses of this game, and the darkness shall cease. A very simple quest, is it not?"
The Players discussed the new information brought to them. It seemed to be a massive quest within the game the developers decided to add in for fun and shock value. Nobody objected against the news, somewhat thrilled to encounter the bosses.
"Excited, aren't you all?" the knight continued. "However, with this challenge comes brand new rule. This rule is solely meant for the most hardcore of gamers. Today, along with this being shared with you, it shall take effect immediately.
"The new rule is: If you die twice in the game, all of your progress will be deleted from the system and you will be forced to restart from the beginning."
Silence. Every Player in the guild stood in utter silence over what the end of the letter reported. They knew, they all knew what a gamer most hold dear despite new technology, their save file.
Every gamer would fall into a pit of despair if they suddenly lost it. Copying the save file in this game was impossible even via the cloud. There was no way to restore hours upon hours of hard work if they died twice.
Amazingly, there was no sudden uproar of anger. Every Player simply took the news in their own way. Some stood in thought, others departed from the guild, and few logged out without saying a word.
However, there was one player in the guild that had a different reaction to the news from the others. A glimmering smirk of delight formed on Akasuki's face, her eyes shining in newfound anticipation.
A challenge... a real challenge... Akasuki thought of it over and over in her head, the idea of a harsh adventure unlike before dancing around in her head.
"Oh boy," Euno sighed, knowing her all too well, "I know what you're thinking."
"Hell yeah," Akasuki said, "I'm more than pumped to play this game now."
With a wide smile, Akasuki dashed out of the guild. Euno and Moriko traded worried glances and then followed after her.
Upon reaching outside, the freelancer brandished her sword and headed towards the outskirts of town.
"Whoa, whoa!" Euno called out, "Shouldn't you read over the battle tutorial before charging headfirst into danger?!"
"In a game like this, there's no need to do so!" Akasuki responded as she approached a boar with red fur.
"Well, at least we know who our Tank is going to be." Moriko said, sighing at Akasuki's headstrong nature.
Before the boar could respond, Akasuki sliced at the beast's neck, dealing a critical digital wound. A large portion of its health depleted, a holographic bar appeared overhead blinking red. The boar squealed in the pain and glared its attacker.
With a roar, it charged, but Akasuki simply sidestepped to the left to evade. The freelancer stabbed at the boar's side, killing it, and the beast erupted in a flash of zeroes and ones.
Upon victory, Akasuki gained 25 experience points and 10 gold as a reward. She still needed 125 more points to level up.
"See? Melee combat is easy." Akasuki smirked at Euno. Combat in the game was just like reality with The FMR Battle System (Free Movement Reaction Battle System).
"Guess you know what you're doing at least," Euno said, not amused, "Just saying it's good to check your equipment and ready supplies before heading off."
"Do I look like a newbie to you?" Akasuki questioned. "I just wanted to test out the combat a bit."
"That sword," Moriko stared at it, curious, "Where did you get it?"
"The old man NPC gave it to me. I honestly prefer a one-handed sword like this for swift combat."
"Check the weapon info." Euno said. "There might be something special about it."
"Huh? Oh, okay." Akasuki scanned the sword. The information bar showed her the weapon was named Lucis Gladio and it contained a unique attribute about it. Whenever Light based skills are used, the sword's striking power would increase.
"Hmm, pretty neat sword I admit," Akasuki said, sheathing her sword, "But the effect doesn't matter to me in the end of things. I'm selling it later on."
"Why?" Euno asked.
"Cause, I'm planning on becoming a Dark Knight. Light based skills are useless to me," Akasuki announced. "Now if you two will excuse me, I have some level grinding to get to. I'm going to need as much experience as I can get when we face the first Malus tomorrow."
"Tomorrow, we face the first Malus!" Akasuki repeated, raising her sword high with a confident smile.
"Ma'am, the midnight launch went successfully in Japan." a woman wearing a black suit said, pushing her glasses up as she continued, "However, we are discovering that a few stores have been receiving a few calls about returning copies."
"It was to be expected." an older woman spoke, gazing out the window of the large office to stare at the Tokyo night below. "In any case, it'll be easier to smoke them out."
"The security and mods are prepared for any infiltration onto the system or any abnormal changes in the game, ma'am." the black suited woman smiled, "Kn0wned won't know what hit 'em."
The elderly woman turned to nod at her, a lock of her wavy, white hair dangling over her tired, yellow eyes. "Yes, those shitty hackers will finally come to light and the Spectrum Knight will be the one to slay them."
NPCs: Non Player Characters. Any character not controlled by a player.