One of the most interesting aspects of Our World is Ended is how it explores the idea of virtual reality and other worlds without following the usual isekai format.
Instead, what we have is an interesting tale where it’s initially not altogether clear what is fantasy and what is reality, and over time we find ourselves questioning whether certain aspects of one or the other might be preferable.
It’s a timely tale, too; with the growth in consumer-grade virtual reality hardware and a variety of companies exploring the possibilities of augmented or mixed reality, Our World is Ended offers an intriguing exploration of both the pleasures and pitfalls of such technology.
“How many people understand just how vague and uncertain the world reflected in our eyes actually is?” muses protagonist Reiji in his opening monologue. “Back then, we believed — were certain — that the world was exclusively what we could see and touch for ourselves. All that we perceived, we shared with everyone else, and vice-versa. But when you think about it, there’s just no way to prove that the world I see is exactly the same as the world anyone else sees. After all — the only world I can really perceive is my own.”
The concept Reiji is talking about here is known as solipsism, a philosophical idea that the only sure thing is one’s own mind; anything outside one’s own mind is uncertain and cannot be truly known. Solipsism has been explored and argued to various degrees over the years, with probably its most “extreme” form being metaphysical solipsism, whose proponents argue that nothing exists externally to one’s own mind and that what appears to be “the external world” is actually only one’s own creation; an idea dreamed up by that one mind.
The arguments in favour of solipsism suggest that the only thing any of us truly have access to is the content of our own mind. The things we perceive do not necessarily “exist” because we could be dreaming or hallucinating. Thus, it is impossible to truly conclude that anything exists outside of one’s own mental state, and therefore only that mental state truly exists.
Of course, there are plenty of arguments against solipsism, too — most notably the fact that if its core messages were true there would be no need for the solipsist to preach their beliefs to anyone else because those “anyone elses” wouldn’t actually exist — but it’s an interesting starting point for an exploration of how we perceive the world, and it’s a question that many people ponder without necessarily knowing the origins of the idea. If you’ve ever been in a conversation with someone who wonders whether, say, “the blue they see is the same as the blue you see”, we’re getting into vaguely solipsistic territory.
Reiji recognises that the world around him exists, but he wonders if people parse and understand it in quite the same way as him. This is an understandable thing for him to be considering, since when we join him in the opening of the story, he is in the middle of Asakusa wearing a rather unwieldy augmented reality helmet, testing out its features. And as part of those tests, he sees how easy it is with modern technology to alter and distort that which is typically understood to be “reality”.
During the experiments, Reiji witnesses what appears to be a glitch in the augmented reality program and suddenly finds himself looking at what appears to be the ruins of the locale he was just in. There, he sees the figures of his friends, seemingly crucified, and comes across a young girl who issues him an enigmatic warning: “Be careful… the world is about to start.”
Reiji attributes the strange experience to heatstroke, since he had been performing the experiments in the blistering summer heat, and returns to the offices of game developer Judgement 7 to report his results. It’s here that we see another layer of “distorted” reality of sorts: the fact that several of Judgement 7 (including Reiji) operate under pseudonyms.
The leader of the group calls himself “Sekai Owari”, for example, which can be interpreted to mean “end of the world”. Setting designer and writer Iruka No. 2, meanwhile, seemingly spends the majority of his time in a delusional fantasy world of his own creation where, in his words, “everyone has two names; one is the warrior name written in God’s plan, and the other is the name they had since before they were born — the one etched onto their souls!”
In actual fact, the more likely reason for the team taking pseudonyms is rather more mundane — it’s common practice among Japanese developers, particularly those working on small projects. In fact, it was pretty widespread practice for most games, both Eastern and Western, back in the earlier days of the medium; programming for the original three Final Fantasy games for Famicom, for example, was simply credited to “ＮＡＳＩＲ” rather than “Nasir Gebelli”, while in the US Atari rarely credited its programmers and designers for its games both in the arcades and on home computers and consoles, often leading to said coders incorporating hidden “Easter eggs” simply to get some acknowledgement for their hard work!
Among more modern Japanese developers, though, pseudonyms are most commonly — though not exclusively — seen among doujin circle members. There may be many reasons for this: the developers may wish to be known by a memorable nickname rather than their real name; the developers may be concerned about their reputation in the “real world” if their actual name was associated with, for example, a pornographic work; or the developers may simply wish to remain anonymous for personal reasons.
Whatever the reason, it’s still a minor distortion of reality, and it affects how these people see themselves, and how others perceive them, too. At the more popular, well-known end of the spectrum today, we have developers such as Hidetaka Suehiro, better known as “SWERY”; Goichi Suda, aka “Suda51”; Koji Igarashi, or “IGA”; Naoki Yoshida, or “Yoshi-P”; and plenty more besides.
These developers have specifically chosen to represent themselves in a certain way through their names; others take things a little further. Nier creator Taro Yoko is rarely seen without his Emil mask and his flamboyant, exuberant personality, for example, while PlatinumGames’ Hideki Kamiya has very much made “intolerant, miserable old bastard” his own distinctive thing on social media for several years at this point.
This is entirely what Judgement 7 is doing: they’re making their office (or “base”, as Owari calls it) their own little world — something they’ve created, and a place in which they feel comfortable. It’s a place where they feel like they can be themselves — perhaps a strange thing to say, considering the fact that several of them deliberately obscure their own true identities, but it’s all a form of self-expression, and choosing to be the people they want to be rather than the people they feel like they’ve ended up being.
An interesting other layer is added to this when the group collectively encounters what they come to refer to as the “New World Experience” — a similar glitch in the system to that which Reiji encountered during his initial experiments, but one with much more serious consequences. During the New World Experience, they find themselves in a virtual world that recreates Asakusa down to the finest detail, but it’s just “off” in a few ways.
The group initially doesn’t recognise it as a virtual world at all, so convincing is the illusion. Their suspicions are aroused by a few things, however: there are no people in this mysterious “other” Asakusa, and there appears to be a peculiar boundary around the area that means if you go too far in one direction, you reappear on the opposite side of the region. The group comes to refer to this as the “RP Map Phenomenon” due to the fact that the easiest way to explain it is in terms of how two-dimensional world maps in 8- and 16-bit roleplaying games used to work with their “wraparound” settings. Keep walking in any direction and you’ll eventually end up back where you started.
The other thing that seems rather peculiar is the fact that characters and monsters from Judgement 7’s previous games appear to be showing up in this “other” Asakusa. The first of these to appear are the huge-breasted female NPC Erorie NyuNyu, who acts exactly how you’d expect her to based on that name, and the slobbering tentacle monster Velovelos, who likewise does exactly what you’d think.
The latter presents an interesting situation for the team; Velovelos was eventually cut from the game he was originally supposed to appear in, so he was never appropriately balanced for players to be able to defeat, meaning he’s literally undefeatable in the virtual world, too. However, uncovering this fact helps the Judgement 7 team figure out some things about what might actually be going on.
Once they manage to return from their first “New World Experience”, Owari becomes obsessed with wanting to deliberately trigger it again to explore the phenomenon further. The second time around, they run into another NPC from a previous Judgement 7 game; this time, it’s a young devil named Nichol, who challenges them to “The Normie Game”, in which the group has seven days to score a hundred “Normie Points” by acting as much like normal people as possible.
As you might be able to imagine by this point, this is something of a struggle for most of Judgement 7’s staff, but the shared hardship of the task — coupled with the threat of being “Zigzagged” by Nichol if they fail — ultimately brings them closer together, and even gives Reiji the opportunity to learn some intriguing things about several of his colleagues.
It’s initially unclear whether or not the “New World” Asakusa follows the isekai convention of “if you die in the game, you die for real”, but Nichol strongly implies this to be the case, and the group isn’t in any hurry to determine this one way or the other for themselves. It’s probably the group’s sound designer Asano who takes the most from the experience as a whole; as someone with no real friends outside of Judgement 7, someone who is a shotacon and, as Reiji discovers, someone with pretty severe androphobia for entirely justifiable reasons, she begins the “game” with the lowest total of points, though she attempts to keep this fact hidden from everyone until the last minute because she’s ashamed of it.
The thing is, despite Asano often being the butt of jokes thanks to her “saddening” nature, it’s abundantly clear throughout the narrative that Judgement 7 is a place she can truly call “home”. She’s with her sister, who we can clearly tell is very precious to her, and despite the insults that come flying her way from her colleagues, she’s more than capable of giving as good as she gets, and some friendships are just like that.
In other words, Asano had no reason to be ashamed of herself; her friends accept her the way she is, even if they can’t resist a bit of mockery at her expense. She learns from the experience that she doesn’t necessarily have to hide her true nature or pretend to be someone else — she doesn’t need to distort her own reality for the benefit of others — and comes out of the whole thing ultimately a better person with a closer relationship to her friends and colleagues.
As the narrative progresses, we start to see the group coming to understand exactly what their “existence” in a virtual world truly means. Once genius child programmer Tatiana enters the picture, she and Owari set about developing a tool to debug the augmented reality software that apparently sent them to the “New World” in the first place, and in doing so discover that it’s possible for them to manipulate this reality in very unusual ways — whether it’s turning off their own “hitboxes” so they are able to pass through obstacles, or changing their own “appearance data” so that they can resemble someone else.
The core mystery at the heart of it all, though, is why? Why does this world exist? Why does Owari’s “W.O.R.L.D. Program” trigger this “New World Experience”? Why is the virtual world an incredibly detailed recreation of Asakusa rather than something more fantastic or otherworldly?
The answers to those questions don’t become clear for quite some time… but the journey to get there is certainly a very interesting one, and there’s lots more to explore yet!
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