The Webcomic Overlook #194: Mystic Revolution

No one really talks about RPG/MMORPG webcomics, even though I’ve encountered, literally, a poo-pile of them. 8-Bit Theater. Darths & Droids. Order of the Stick. Erfworld. The Noob. Ding!

Maybe it’s because the source material is not easily categorized. I mean, there’s debate going on whether MMORPGs (or, as Yahtzee Croshaw calls ’em, “muhmorpergers”) are even games, since they’re really more about tedious grinding and chat room socializing. So it feels really weird to call an MMORPG webcomic a “gaming comic.”

Then there’s the whole dual nature of RPGs where characters often are two characters. There’s the character of the person in the game, which is usually a fantasy race like an elf, a dwarf, an orc, or a bard. And then there’s the flipside… the character in real life. Can the writer reconcile the fictional fantasy life with the real world? It’s not impossible. South Park‘s World of Warcraft episode, I think, did a good job portraying the stakes on both sides.

Many comics choose to ignore the duality. Not Jen Brazas’ Mystic Revolution, where the role-playping aspect is called out continually. Does it work as a webcomic? Let’s find out.

Mystic Revolution is set in an anime-themed MMORPG. (It’s called “Mystic Revolution,” but to avoid any confusion between that and the title of the comic, I’m just going to refer to it as “the MMORPG.”) I assume that it’s a feudal setting, what with the swords and the pagodas, but there’s a really annoying character walking around wearing a sailor scout suit so I don’t know. Maybe that was downloadable content to make your character seem as annoying as possible. (In which case: mission accomplished.)

Our main character is a feisty warrior named Lourdes. Like other stereotypical anime redheads, she is nigh indestructible and short-tempered. She is also one of those characters who acts butch all the time, and when she finds a guy she likes, she acts mean to him because she’s too socially arrested to display her affections in any normal means. She’s so butch that she actually says things like: “See, the problem with girls like that is they believe in this myth that some guy is going to com galloping along his White Horse and they’ll live happily ever after. But the world doesn’t work like a girl has to learn to take care of herself.” Man, that’s totally not wordy and cliche.

She also likes to drink. Wait … is there an in-game algorithm that triggers bar dancing after a character reaches a certain alcohol limit? In that case, can we blame the programmers of this MMORPG for not knowing how a drunk acts, and instead had to crib scenes straight out of Slayers?

So, anyway, the object of her affection is a dude named L33t Ninja, who … ugh … talks in leet-speak. Oh, God. Remember when that was a thing that was kinda cute and not, you know, wretched? He’s also a “ninja jedi.” This basically means he grabbed a light-saber, which was a joke weapon introduced in the game, and managed to wield it so well he turned it into an art. Silly moniker aside, I actually liked this character development.

Lourdes and Ninja are supposed to be this kinda shy couple that are too shy to reveal their true feelings for each other, so a lot of the early goings is some back-and-forth will-they-or-won’t-they stuff… and I. Am. Not. Buying. It. One. Bit.

Look, I get young love, etc. etc. etc. but there is nothing in Mystic Revolution that can convince me that there’s any attraction between Loudres and Ninja. It’s so forced. It doesn’t help that neither character has any personality whatsoever beyond “strong and annoying” and “just plain annoying.” And you can’t use the excuse that this is a light-hearted comic aimed at preteen girls as an excuse. I have read manga and watched anime where the bashful love story has worked well. Ranma and Akane. Keitaro and Naru. Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes.

With Ranma and Akane, for example, Rumiko Takahashi sets up a sweet progression where Ranma, while acting aloof and all the time, slowly feels more and more responsible for Akane’s happiness. Akane, though aloof herself, does notice and appreciates Ranma’s efforts. So when the first rival — Tatewaki Kuno, I think — arrives on the scene, Ranma’s jealousy is believable, even if Akane never was going to fall for the guy. This is probably unfair — Ms. Takahashi IS a master of melodrama, after all, and the first part of Mystic Revolution seems to have been written when Ms. Brazas was either in her pre-teens or early teens. However, the success of the first half of Mystic Revolution pretty much depends on the reader buying into the two being a couple that was destined for each other. They feel mismatched more than anything. I’m given no reason why a competent warrior like Loudres would respect Ninja, who is at times useful but hardly as skilled as any of the other characters in the game.

I mean… damn, Loudres, I may not like you, but you can do a hell of a lot better than a leet-speaking gamer!

Anyway, they get joined by a bunch of other stock adventure characters. There’s some stoic badass guy who’s kind of a jerk but is the sort of guy every gal falls for in anime. There’s the Puritan, bi-curious elf girl. There’s the tempestuous goth girl, who is also a cat. And then there’s the annoying cat girl, who was created to pretty much piss me off all the time. Seriously, all she has to do is say things like “Kawaii desu” all the time, and … oh. There’s probably a bunch more characters, but so many are brought up at the same time that it’s hard to keep track of them.

There was a pretty recent “Half in the Bag” v-log where Mike and Jay go to something called No Brand Con. It’s a convention that revolves around anime. In a running gag, Mike tries to work up enthusiasm for the event, but within seconds of talking it up, he’s on the floor, passed out. Later, there’s a fantastic montage, set to “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life,” where Mike is photographed around the convention, with his face fixed in an emotionless, fifty-yard stare.

What I’m trying to say is that Mike is basically me reading this webcomic. I just wanted to sink down, first to my knees, and then flat with my belly on the floor until I was nothing but a lifeless husk.

Mystic Revolution completely acknowledges that it’s all a game. There’s talk about spawn points and logging off. When player characters die in fights, there’s a little handwringing afterward before rationalizing that the killed character probably respawned somewhere on the map.

And yet, there are flaws to this approach. It’s revealed in one chapter that Lourdes models her character after her appearance in real life. Why? Because her opponent’s attacks are based on crippling her ego by making fun of the size of her chin. That insult wouldn’t work unless the avatar bore some resemblance to the real world appearance. But… why is this even in his arsenal in the first place? Wouldn’t Loudres be the exception to the rule? I mean, who makes an online avatar look like themselves unless you were completely 100% comfortable with his or her own appearance? Don’t most people either construct an online character to be an ideal beauty or intentionally goofy?

Then there’s the relationship drama. Ninja gets all mopey, because, in an unfortunate bit of bad luck, he walks in on Loudres as she’s forcibly kissed by her old ex-boyfriend. OK. I’m not sure that’s possible in an MMORPG. Is there a macro you press to force yourself on someone? Ninja sulks a bit, and can you blame him? To this point, we’ve established that Loudres is a badass, so having her stand limply as she slinkily arches her back on a nearby beam so her ex can get in some hot French action sorta implies that you’re not really resisting. Gothgirl, sensing an opportunity, decides to after the vulnerable young man. One thing leads to another, and, before you know it, they’re in bed together. Ninja feels ashamed, and Loudres, when she finds out, feels betrayed.

OK. Why? I mean, we are dealing with avatars, right, not the real actual people behind them? I understand the concept, but why all these drama over characters who are basically virtual dolls for people back home on their computers? If Ms. Brazas wanted us to get invested in the emotions of her characters, the whole MMORPG aspect probably should’ve been ditched altogether. Otherwise, it seems like every character in Mystic Revolution is mentally diseased … with the exception of Gothgirl, who seems to be reveling in the whole “this is not the real world” aspect of things.

(If I were so pressed, I would admit that, yes, out of all the characters in Mystic Revolution, Gothgirl is probably the best one.)

So, for the majority of the first part of Mystic Revolution (which is Chapters 1-13 and span about two years worth of archives in real time), our characters are, for the most part, just hanging out in this bar and acting like excitable children hopped up on snickerdoodles. Or Pocky, more likely. They flirt, mope, and crack really lame jokes. They also like to out-random each other. Oh look, a penguin in a top hat! Isn’t that cheeky!

Eventually, we’re introduced to our main nemesis: Machiavelli. Like Sherlock Holmes’ villain, Professor Moriarty, she is the one who was responsible for all of Lourdes’ problems to this point. Yes, it was SHE who sent the sexy bishie to seduce Lourdes so she could break up with Ninja! (No, really.)

Lourdes gets recruited by an admin to take Machiavelli down. It turns out that Machiavelli isn’t just ticking Lourdes off… she’s pretty much been ticking off the higher-ups as well. Machiavelli is also an admin, and she’s been abusing her power to the point where the game has been not very fun for a lot of gamers. Lourdes is a former admin herself, and not only that, she’s one of the most accomplished players in the game. If anyone can take down Machiavelli, it’s her.

The next stage of Mystic Revolution kicks off with a tournament. The comic basically morphs into YuYu Hakusho… specifically that rather endless season where everyone was in a stadium doing power-ups and pretending they were in an episode of Dragonball Z or something. I mean, there’s even a version of that show’s anthropomorphic announcer gal. The setting has now shifted primarily to a gladiator stadium, with rabid fans and intrusive video coverage. The works.

Is this how MMORPG’s work, by the way? That thousands of online players willing play the monthly fee to sit their avatar’s butts in an event that they can’t really participate in? Doesn’t that somewhat defeat the purpose of an immersive fantasy world where you can go on adventures beyond your imagination? Is the purpose of an MMORPG to be a couch potato role-playing another couch potato?

This, though, is where Mystic Revolution kinda picks up the pace. There’s still a mess of characters. And most of it does boil down to “this guy” fights “random jobber.” However, the comic does settle down into a more cohesive structure. The fights are imaginative and well paced. The character designs of all the new opponents are generally fun. I, for one, did enjoy the battle between Gothgirl and an angelic archer, which involved a lot of high-flying acrobatics and arrow fusillades. Each fight does hove their moments, and they actually do a better job at character development than all the emo hand-wringing from earlier chapters. However, the endless fighting does tend to drag after a while… like it does in YuYu Hakusho, really.

Ms. Brazas’ artwork improves by leaps and bounds during this arc, which is one of the reasons I think she was brought into Keenspot alongside more polished comics like Skullkickers, Wayward Sons, and Avengylene. The characters get new, more attractive outfits that showcase Ms. Brazas’ new artistic proficiency. I was especially happy that the annoying cat girl is finally out of that stupid Sailor Moon cosplay. And Ms. Brazas shows some great talent in some of her random filler, which uses a design flair that I wish were incorporated into the comic proper.

Recent stuff, though, regrettably seem over-stylized: full body figures don’t seem to be correctly proportioned, and the faces have become over-elongated. I appreciate that Ms. Brazas is trying a style beyond those in a standard anime template. However, I think there’s something a little off with her current style.

Ms. Brazas heroically tries to maintain continuity with a comic and characters that she wrote 8 years ago. A comic that is very, very silly… forgivable if you’re a kid, but increasingly clunky to hold on to as a maturing artist. Here’s the thing, though: at the pace this tournament arc is going, Mystic Revolution won’t wrap up for a very long time. And frankly, I’m more interested to see where Ms. Brazas is going next than folowing the adventures of a cast of rather poorly developed characters.

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on February 28, 2012, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, fantasy webcomic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I’ve been a reader of this blog for a while…

    …and… well… I co-founded No Brand Con.

    • Sweet!

      I should clarify that my comments weren’t a slam on the convention — if it were in my backyard, I might consider going there, since the Red Letter Media’s coverage was more complimentary than some of the other cons they’ve covered. I only brought that up to make a key distinguishing trait between me (the reader) and the comic. The comic sorta personifies the boundless, goofy energy at the convention. On the other hand, I’m more of a cynical old man (like Mike in that video). Neither side is better than the other, but there is a clash of perspectives at work… which I thought was perfectly encapsulated in that video those guys did. 🙂

  2. because of your review I want to read it, but its almost ten year worth of comics,

    it is really a big step to make

  3. I’ve had experience with a lot of MMOs, and the plot descriptions are making my head swim.

    My best guess with the forced kissing would be it’s some statement about godmoding, a reviled practice in online roleplaying where inexperienced and inconsiderate players will make an absolute statement about an action their character takes in terms of the effect it has on another player’s character. Since dice rolls interrupt the flow of a scene and a duel won’t be able to resolve interactions that aren’t brutal combat, the general method of playing through interactions is to only announce what your character tries to do and let others determine how it affects their characters.

    Of course, the players in this comic aren’t really roleplaying. Sure, they may be putting on a few affectations that relate to their avatars, but they’re freely discussing game mechanics that aren’t really part of the game’s lore. They refer to their real life selves without marking it as an out of character remark. So that just leaves some kind of /kiss emote that has an animation in which you directly plant a kiss on another player and they automagically kiss back regardless of their intent. The coding to animate something like that assuming every character is not the exact same height and facial structure can vary is troubling to say the least. I’ve had my character kiss an NPC in a Star Wars: The Old Republic cutscene, and it was still an awkward peck. That’s a game designed to be highly cinematic and touting its romance possibilities, and in a context where height differences didn’t matter since the shot was a close-up.

    Also, an ‘admin’ is pissing off everyone, even the other admins, and they’re not taking it up the corporate chain to have it resolved? If a game master is abusing power and you send a regular player to take them down in a real MMO, all you’ve done is gotten that player a ban and done nothing to the GM except maybe force them to make a few extra clicks to restore whatever got broken and this is ludicrouswhydoesn’tanyonewhowritesfictionaboutMMOsunderstandhowtheyworkunlessit’sagagcomicMYBRAIN

    • I personally vote for the, this is the future and MMORPGs are like Virtual Reality games and you can do whatever you want theory. Thus you know, force-kissing and the ability to have sex in a video game and still have the feeling of satisfaction(or unsatisfaction).

      And honestly, I don’t think there’s much you can do with an MMORPG premise without taking some creative liberty and dramatizing somethings. Else we’re just gonna watch people farm and repeatedly attempt raids and fail.

      • Yeah, I considered the virtual reality angle too, but I didn’t want to acknowledge that because it would deflate my rant! Still, the whole admin business is ridiculous no matter when it’s set.

        Anyway, I bet I could write an interesting enough story centred around a realistic MMO. I’ve heard of and experienced plenty of juicy drama to draw on for inspiration. I just, um, have something else I’m working on right now. *cough*

      • Come to think of it, the MMO in the webseries The Guild is pretty realistic. The key to their success is relying on the players themselves and their relationships for the dramatic tension. The game itself doesn’t matter so much as the gamer culture, which is part of why we never see the screens as they’re playing.

    • You’re assuming that kissing is a discreet command and animation, which is not supported by the freedom of action the characters have. It’s more likely that, much like real physics and human action, is a set of individual movements which the game does not interpret, but simply proceeds to faithfully render, with the sensations being calcluated by the texture of the lips in contact with the player. That’s the VR aspect of this fictional game.

      • So the system allows you to sexually harass another player’s character without their permission? Yeah, pretty sure any real future VR game would have safety protocols to prevent that. What with the potential lawsuits.

        I mean, sure, maybe you could voluntarily switch that off entirely, but then that’s pretty clearly implied consent for anyone to do things to you. You only have yourself to blame because you have total control over that situation even being possible. (Real life is totally different since no one has total control over whether others can touch them. Not making any sort of argument excusing any personal violations IRL.)

  4. You know, I just can’t get into this genre, because I’m already highly aware that art is fake. I will suspend my disbelief to care about pretend ninjas. What I can’t do is bring myself to care about pretend pretend ninjas.

    I don’t even think this was a thing when I was a kid, but there’s so much pop art where we’re supposed to care about people pretending to pretend to be something silly, from Inception to Yu-Gi-Oh to a bunch of MMORPG comics to Mega Man Battle Network to Sucker Punch.

    And to me, you only get one layer of pretending before I just absolutely can’t give a shit. Why should I care whether a bunch of strangers are beating a video game? What’s the appeal of this kind of thing?

  5. Hah, this reminds me of the ol’ .hack Sign series, awkward romance and all! I kinda wanna give it a chance just because it looks like silly fun. Alas, onto my countless list of Webcomics I need to read.

    • Ditto on the .hack reference. Eh, this was a webcomic I got into years ago while I was still in high school and new to the webcomic scene. Nowadays I just read it out of habit.

      Pacing and story lines are a real drag though. The comic is set up as some sort of quest/hero’s journey narrative, but I have very little feel for the overarching journey they’re supposed to be undertaking. In the way of villains, Machiavelli does very little to establish herself as a looming threat. Sure, there’s that one scene with Lourdes’ ex and the exposition Ms. Ninja Queen had been feeding them, but beyond that we see very little of that evilness. This may be the the fault of the slow pacing of the comic, but she could at least stare at them through a monitor and shake her fist at them while screaming vengeance a la Dr. Claw. And once you realize that since this is all a game and you could just as easily defeat her by reporting her to corporate or logging out of the game she ceases to be a threat altogether.

      This could all be overlooked if the characters were interesting enough and I could get invested in them, but… well, there’s only so much you can do with anime archetypes. They could be enlivened if they delved into their own personal lives more and we could get a sense of their trials and tribulations (or at the very least role played more so we could get a sense of their character’s character). Ironically enough, by steadfastly refusing to role-play while in game, they instead seem to be role-playing as characters who don’t role-play. They openly talk out of character and about the game’s mechanics as well regularly get embroiled in chat room drama, but they hardly ever discuss anything outside the game or on a deeper, personal note. As it stands I just can’t get invested in the avatar of a character I don’t know, especially one that acknowledges that they don’t portray their player accurately and refuses to develop an identity of their own.

      What this comic is screaming for are scenes outside of the game that focuses entirely on the characters’ everyday lives. Scenes with more gravity to them that were less cartoonish due to the characters being out of the game and allowed the artist to show off (if you’ve seen the filler art she’s posted from her school project, you’ll know what I mean). Scenes that show character development and how what they do in real life effects and parallels their own interactions in game. Maybe if the webcomic showed that IRL the ninja’s player was an introspective social pariah who’s own parents ignored him while at home, I’d feel more sympathetic towards him. If the webcomic established that his outspokenness and buffoonish actions in the game was in actuality a desperate cry for attention and approval, maybe I’d be more likely to root for him when he’s in trouble and excuse the artist’s use of deus ex machina to get him out of it (I mean, really? He won through the power of love and friendship?). If the webcomic established that his relationship with Lourdes was the closest thing he’s had to female companionship and romantic interactions, maybe I’d be more understanding of his subsequent feelings of betrayal and guilt over the Lourde’s ex/Gothgirl fiasco in an ONLINE FANTASY WORLD. He’d still be an annoying character to be sure, but he’d be a sympathetic one that was relatable to. As just an avatar, he’s just an annoying character.

  6. On your list of xRPG comics, you forgot Looking for Group.

  7. I don’t get what your problem seems to be with this comic. Every webcomic I have ever read, from Avengelyne to xkcd, keeps its core cast as its art evolves. And long arcs are not unusual either.

    I get a sense this reviewer doesn’t quite get MMORPGs either. Regarding the “mentally diseased” remark, I suggest you read about Second Life, where divorce proceedings and even lawsuits ( ) have been started over virtual activities. With such an immersive VR as seen in MR, is it any wonder people get emotionally invested? Someone said it early in the comic: “The avatars are virtual, but the emotions are real.” For a very long time, futurists have considered the social implications of virtual worlds. Snow Crash also comes to mind as art exploring this arena.

    Regarding the suggestion that issues pertaining Macchiavelli could just be “appealed up the corporate ladder,” I don’t know about you, but in my experience the executives that run virtual worlds and MMORPGs are incredibly dense. The admins are almost certain to have their ears more than individual users. Earlier it was said that the admins carefully make sure each banned player appears to be a simple troll. The only point of that for most cases would be to keep the executives from questioning the actions of the administrators and their council. I’ve seen this enough times in countless places to know that happens

    The revolution that is being discussed is a simple case of collective action. Individuals quitting is unlikely to have an effect, but if they can spread the word about what’s going on, they might be able to force the executives to act by threatening a mass walkout of players along with their usage fees. The Montgomery Bus Boycott worked much the same way.

    Regarding the spectators, why do countless people each year pay substantial sums to get seats at sports arenas for just one game? There’s a gladiatorial parallel here. On top of that, players might be interested in seeing the tactics of the elite players to put to their own use. Not to mention some of the audience may be AIs or virtual interfaces for in-game and online media.

    The beauty of this design from a narrative perspective is that it allows for a fantasy world that still shares our universe and the reference points that come with it. This keeps it both exotic and familiar.

    I wonder if the real reason you and some of the other commentators don’t like this is because it was authored by a female. You don’t like the emotional depth of the interpersonal relationships with the relative lack of all but mild fanservice. Or is it even more basic? Do you not like the idea of a woman writing a commentary on the patriarchical world of online gaming?

    • Oh, FFS. Decrying sexism just because some people don’t like something written by a woman, even though they haven’t made any sexist remarks? I’m guessing you spend way too much time on Tumblr.

      For the record, most of the people I’ve developed friendships with in MMOs are female IRL. I don’t mean ‘could be guys faking for attention’, I mean serious, intelligent, grounded women who hate undue attention for their gender. I never even ask, I just treat people like people and they in turn aren’t afraid to open up to me.

      And that’s how it is here. I have problems with the concepts presented, so I express my frustration with them as I would no matter who was responsible for them.

      Anyway, your argument about the corporate ladder falls completely flat when there’s other admins complaining about the issue. Or even when the volume of complaints is about a specific admin and the accusations against said admin are all about breaking the rules the admins are supposed to follow.

      Also, in any rational world the whole development team would be peeved by any mere admin running roughshod over the precious balance of THEIR game, and would insist on said admin being fired and blacklisted from the industry to the executives in charge of such things. There’s no way they wouldn’t know about it, either.

      I don’t know of any company that won’t fire a GM for a minor infraction. It’s not hard to find people willing to fill the position, and doing so is nothing but good PR as far as customers go.

      Anyway, I don’t hate that this exists. It’s no worse than, say, the movie Swordfish romanticisng the idea of hackers with a load of nonsense. I just wish there was something like this that didn’t resort to pure BS to create its drama. There’s plenty to be had already just between players in real games for inspiration.

      • Robert Montrose

        Well, it’s been awhile since my last comment, but better late than never I suppose.

        First thing, in the last two years, we’ve seen the rise of a mini-industry based entirely on watching other people play video games ( ), so if there were any lingering doubts that people would sit around watching other players battle, I think they can soundly be put to rest.

        Second, the whole “GamerGate” affair has demonstrated quite clearly that the whole sphere of video gaming is still male-dominated, and that a lot of male gamers get very defensive about the inclusion of females into that world. This I already knew long before Zoe Quinn found out the hard way. So, my comment about sexism was not the sort of tumblr-style reactive, “OMG you’re disagreeing with a woman! You must be sexist!” No, my concern was based on pre-existing (and as it turns out, quite well-founded) concerns that Jen, one of the few female webcomic creators, was being looked down upon for involving herself in what a lot of young men see as their kingdom.

        Lastly, I think the Ellen Pao saga has perhaps shed some light on the very real disconnect between the frequently unpaid moderation apparatus of many online communities from both the users below them and the paid staff above them. The staff at most companies consists of buisinesspeople, not netizens or gamers. They frequently grasp surprisingly little of what’s actually going on down on the ground, so to speak, and they tend not to care much so long as the profits keep rolling in. Meanwhile for the mods, the only thing they personally get out of the time they put into the project is some satisfaction of “taking out the trash”, but also a bit of power, and power can be very dangerous.

        We’ve seen the same issue with police officers. Here, where the stakes are literally life and death, we *still* find it hard to, “watch the watchmen” so to speak. Even good cops find it incredibly difficult to get their concerns about fellow officers taken seriously by the higher-ups. They are pressured into silence, and the corruption, brutality, and violation of the rights of the citizenry goes unchecked. Ony after full-blown riots has abus of power by police even begun to be taken seriously. If we can, as an entire nation, barely muster a response when the stakes are life and liberty, what makes you think a bunch of Silicon Valley suits will do any better over some account terminations? Only when the mass of the people rise up to threaten the system’s very existance does the status quo change for the better.

        MR by analogy addresses very real flaws in our real-world society that many people have for a long time been quite reluctant to acknowledge. That is what makes it an excellent piece of fiction: it encourages us all to think about things without coming off as preachy, dry, or obnoxious. All good fiction does the same, and it is what separates art from mere entertainment. At this, Jen very much excels.

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