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How ‘Shangri-La Frontier’ Captures The Magic Of MMORPGs

The video game manga of every gamer’s dream

By Jay KobayashiPublished 6 months ago 5 min read

MMORPGs have long occupied a prominent place in the world of digital entertainment. From iconic titles like World of Warcraft to RuneScape, these games have not only provided players with vast, immersive universes to explore, but they have also cultivated rich, global communities that transcend national and cultural boundaries.

Enter Shangri-La Frontier, a 2020 manga series that beautifully encapsulates the essence of MMORPGs, serving as a love letter to the medium while delving deeply into gamer culture. Here’s an exploration of how this series captures the magic of MMORPGs.

*Mild Spoilers for Shangri-La Frontier

What Is ‘Shangri-La Frontier’?

Shangri-La Frontier is a Japanese web novel/manga series written by Katarina and illustrated by Ryosuke Fuji. The series revolves around Sunraku, a hardcore player known for his expertise in “crappy games” — games that are generally regarded as poorly designed or riddled with bugs.

“So this is what the greatest MMORPG looks like.” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

After conquering his latest terrible game, Sunraku is recommended “Shangri-La Frontier,” an MMORPG known for its vast world, intricate mechanics, and the challenges it presents. As Sunraku dives into Shangri-La Frontier, he faces both the wonders and challenges of the greatest MMORPG ever made and sets out to beat a game where the game’s true story has yet to be touched by anybody.

Throughout his journey, Sunraku randomly encounters unique scenarios that allows him to gain opportunities to progress the game’s hidden story, with the help of his friends and several NPC’s. In essence, Shangri-La Frontier offers an in-depth look into the world of MMORPGs through the eyes of a seasoned gamer, capturing both the passion and intricacies of online gaming while highlighting the subtle cultural nuances of gamer culture.

Nobody Is Special

Many stories in the manga world often depict their protagonists as chosen ones or inherently overpowered individuals. Series like Sword Art Online, Overlord, and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime all feature overpowered protagonists who have little to no faults and face little social consequences for their actions.

“Did you think you can show up late to a meeting without any consequences?” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

In stark contrast, Shangri-La Frontier gives us Sunraku and his band of companions who are, refreshingly, not gifted with any special or overpowered abilities and on top of it all, they all hold each other accountable for any terrible and or unwanted behavior. Their strength lies not in any inherent talent but in their relentless dedication and the sheer effort they put into the games they play.

Throughout the series, Sunraku and his friends face numerous challenges, and their growth is a testament to their hard work and perseverance. They grind, strategize, fail, and learn. This portrayal resonates with many gamers who know that true mastery in any game doesn’t come easy but is the result of hours of practice and commitment.

“No matter who you are, you have to grind to use good loot.” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

In fact, their triumphs have been reliant on their previous experiences playing other games, their strategic trolling, and ultimately their self-determination to always come out on top. This representation of “skills earned, not bestowed” is a commendable aspect of the manga, grounding it in a sense of realism amidst its virtual setting.

The Gamer Experience

The series doesn’t just stop at the gameplay; it delves deeply into the subtleties of gamer culture. Shangri-La Frontier weaves intricate details, showcasing everything from player behavior and in-game etiquette to lore exploration and game mechanics.

From the camaraderie and disputes within guilds to the sheer joy of uncovering secrets within the game, the manga beautifully captures the myriad experiences that make MMORPGs such a global phenomenon.

“When you skip the tutorial for something that was important.” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

Moreover, the portrayal of various player archetypes is spot-on. There are the lore enthusiasts, strategic niche guilds, try-hards, player killers, and casual players. The series also delves into in-game economies, guild dynamics, and the subtle jargon and slang that form the very fabric of gamer communication. All of these elements culminate in a narrative that feels genuine and relatable to anyone familiar with MMORPGs.

“For anyone who has ever played an MMORPG.” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

While the world of Shangri-La Frontier is vast and filled with intricacies, the series does a commendable job of keeping the plotline focused. While there are subplots that takes Sunraku to play other games, the manga never loses sight of this central narrative and takes opportunities to furthers the full spectrum of a gamer’s experience.

Readers won’t find themselves lost in a convoluted maze of stories but will appreciate the straight-forwardness of Sunraku’s gaming experience. It’s a series that understands its roots and sticks to them, offering a narrative both relatable and engaging.

The Value Of Real Friendship

At its core, Shangri-La Frontier is not just about a game; it’s about the relationships that form within that virtual realm. The series beautifully highlights the friendships between Sunraku and the players he meets in the game. While they may have started as mere in-game friends/enemies, their bonds deepen over shared challenges, victories, and losses.

“Real friends call each other bums and threaten to kill each other.” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

The manga touches upon the skepticism many have towards online friendships and dispels it by showcasing the genuine connections and emotional support these virtual comrades provide each other. We especially see this with Sunraku’s closest in game friends, Oikatzo and Pencilgon.

“Never be ashamed of playing a video game seriously.” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

Despite their constant teasing and trash talking, both Oikatzo and Pencilgon are Sunraku’s closest friends and the trio are fully able to be themselves in these virtual worlds and momentarily escape their real world responsibilities to have some fun. This is a testament to the fact that friendships forged in the digital realm can be as profound and impactful as those in the real world.

Down To Hop In Shangri-La Frontier?

Shangri-La Frontier is a rare gem in the realm of gaming-centric manga. It manages to strike a delicate balance between celebrating the world of MMORPGs and delving into the human emotions and connections formed within these virtual realms.

“You guys down to play for another 3 hours?” | Credit: Shangri-La Frontier

By offering a protagonist who is the epitome of perseverance and dedication, and by weaving a tale that remains authentic to its core premise, the series stands as a testament to the beauty of the gaming world and the genuine relationships it can foster. Any gamer, whether seasoned or novice, will find a piece of their own journey reflected in Sunraku’s adventures and we can’t wait to see what else is in store.

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About the Creator

Jay Kobayashi

A starving writer from LA who aspires to be plagiarized one day. I like to write about academic pieces that identifies philosophy and psychology in pop culture, and sometimes random fun pieces that interests me or the algorithm!

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