Re-Start, book 1 of the Level Up Series by Dan Sugralinov takes an unexpected approach to the LitRPG genre, blending everyday life with game elements. Yes, there are plenty of examples of this, but this is more slice-of-life LitRPG than world-ending apocalypse or Isekaied into a game-driven world.
Our protagonist, Phil, finds is gifted an interface into the Universal Information Field two centuries earlier than humanity is supposed to achieve such a thing. Not quite the source code of the universe; more like the metadata for all things in the universe.
Being a good-for-nothing gamer, whose wife has just left him, this comes at an opportune time. A sort-of cheat mode for life, Phil takes the gift and starts overhauling his life – one attribute point at a time.
What struck me most was the author’s ability to make seemingly mundane activities like going to the gym, buying an apartment, and making friends into a gamified experience. I held off buying this book for ages since I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book based on its blurb, but I am so glad I took the plunge. Best yet, the other two book in the series are available in my Audible+ subscription so I can grab those for free to keep going.
The premise, though seemingly mundane, is brilliant, and Sugralinov adeptly balances real-world challenges with game elements, mostly preventing dull moments. Interestingly, because this is more slice-of-life, there’s no real traditional bad guy to defeat or much in the way of conflict beyond his ex-wife and some street thugs. The focus on character development and self-improvement refreshing, and I think if I had the same interface, I’d be doing much the same as Phil.
The narration, delivered by Ramon De Ocampo, was decent. Nothing to write home about, but above average. I found Ocampo’s performance commendable, with effective use of voices and emotion. No production issues that I noticed, so a nice, clean recording.
However, I did notice some… I’d have to imagine them as translation issues. Idioms and turns-of-phrase that I don’t were translated well. While it might be an essentially verbatim translation, reworking these I think may have improved the occasion conversation.
The story’s motivational aspect hit home, prompting me to reflect on my own life and consider how I could adopt a more game-like approach to self-improvement.
The book offers a unique insight into Russian culture, adding an extra layer of interest. Being Australian, Russia is one of those other-side-of-the-world places that I’ve only seen in movies. I guess my mental image of life wasn’t quite ready for just how familiar it would all be.
Phil’s journey showcased a transformation that mirrored real-life struggles rather than fantastical quests, and I think that was quite refreshing. The lack of a typical hero’s journey and not making him a Mary Sue the second he got the ability added authenticity to the narrative.
Although the story had a slow start, I found myself hooked as Phil’s character developed. The fusion of RPG technology, cultural insights, and the universal theme of personal growth made “Re-Start” a standout for me that I wish I had read earlier! I’m eagerly looking forward to the next instalment in the series.