In the VRMMORPG, Veritas Online, things are getting a little stale. Since the game launched, only one world- wide event has occurred, and that was a year ago.. The players are still having fun, but everyone agrees it’s about time for something big to happen. Everybody tends to forget that big things grow from small things, and little things are always changing in Veritas.
The human country of Quarternell is at peace for the first time in… ever. Aspen, a former war hero, feels like he’s earned a quiet life together with his animal companions. They’re tired of fighting, and other people in general. They plan to live peacefully, far away from the city. As soon as Aspen figures this farming thing out, he’s never going to go anywhere again. Unfortunately for Aspen, his country and his goddess aren’t quite done with him yet.
Rouge the Rogue is a casual gamer in Veritas Online. She’s just a kid, and her focus is supposed to be on school and hanging out with friends. Emphasis on ‘supposed to’. She’s already pretty good at the school thing, and she doesn’t actually have that many friends. What she really loves is exploring all the cool ways the developers of Veritas found to make their game unique and realistic. Then she’s offered a very special quest, and an opportunity to go beyond the average player. She’s never been that much of a rule follower anyway….
Clearing alternates chapters between the two main characters’s perspectives. Zoey is a fourteen-year-old girl who plays Rouge the Rogue in Veritas Online. Her single English professor dad helps her out when he can, but his character Motte is level 95 and hers is only level 19. They have a very realistic and healthy parent-child relationship, which is a delight to see. Rouge gets a Secret Quest that takes her out of the low level safe zones she’s used to and she can’t even tell her dad without auto-failing.
Aspen is an NPC, a sickly human who lost all his levels prior to the story starting. He is middle aged but that isn’t spelled out clearly until halfway through the book. He is accompanied by a very big goat, Khal, a very big spider, Sumi, and a normal sized fruit bat, Silus. They are all intelligent and can communicate telepathically amongst the group. I had trouble keeping Silus and Sumi’s names straight because they’re visually so similar. Aspen is in hiding, far north from the closest human settlement, and has to start a farm and build up shelter before winter.
There are a lot of very good animals in this book. Khor is the grumpy team dad, Sumi is the team mom, and Silus is generally sleepy and hungry and cute. They collect more cute critters among the local wildlife and Khor gets stuck babysitting. Rouge has a horse in the city but it gets left behind and she has to find a new mount. The new mount is truly excellent.
Unlike a lot of VRMMORPG LitRPGs, Clearing includes a good amount of Zoey’s real world life. She can play, at most, four hours per day and has a bedtime in addition. She goes to school, talks with her friend during lunch, does homework, talks to her dad, and even has a dog. It’s so healthy!
Clearing is a great middle grade LitRPG.
Players and NPC both have the system but to different degrees. Everyone gets quests but only players can decline quests. Rewards are usually experience and stat boosts. Players can look at their status screen but NPCs just glow briefly when they gain a level or stat boost.
Players can identify creatures and objects to learn more about them. They also see damage messages with numbers when fighting things. NPCs don’t get any of that. So Aspen’s chapters have fewer system messages than Rouge’s.
When players log off, their avatar stays in the world. They either stay in place, staring blankly at nothing, until they return, or can be given a series of idle commands. They can also be harmed or robbed if they’re not in a safe zone.