Just because someone is a professional gamer doesn’t mean they’re good at all games, but Minho was pretty good at most of them. However, if you were to pick out his vulnerability you could could say he had a harder time with the games of the arcade generation than the PC room games.
Combat games that require complex skills and mastery of command, shooting games where you have to avoid barrages that cover the whole screen, and the action game Wing Scroll that can’t be cleared easily without knowing the tricks and shortcuts.
When Minho received an appearance request from the program ‘Clear It While It’s On,’ he sent a text to Wanwook Doh, the main producer and observer.
[It’s an arcade game this time too, right? Please give me an easy one.]
The reply was simple.
[Cheoltu. Major combat 100 wins.]
“…Dammit. He could just have me clear a hidden boss.”
Manager Gong looked at him in the rearview mirror as Minho mumbled to himself.
Minho laughed sheepishly and then opened the strategy book for Cheoltu.
The challenge was to achieve 100 wins against average citizens coming in and out of the arcade. There was a chance that he wouldn’t be able to fulfill the goal even if he stayed there all night. Usually the choice of game was announced on the day of the match, but they were confident enough to reveal it to Minho ahead of time.
‘They’ve probably brought in some secret experts. I’m in for a hard time, and now what’s left is negotiating the number of wins? I hope the other guest that comes is someone good.’
The van stopped at a public parking lot in Hongdae.
It was almost 8:00 when he looked at the time. The broadcast started at 9:00 so Minho decided to concentrate on studying strategy for the remaining hour.
“It’s finally the last appointment for this week.”
Manager Gong turned in the driver’s seat as he spoke.
“I’m feeling more easy about this one since it’s your area of expertise. What time do you think you’ll finish?”
“I’ll have to see by this evening. But is there something that I need to finish early for?”
“It’s nothing special but the president wants to have a meeting. I think they decided on a permanent program for you to go on. She seemed excited about it being a great fit for you.”
Manager Gong seemed encouraged as he said this. Minho wondered if it would be a music program that he had refused before, and asked,
“It’s not Immortal Records or Potential Singer or something like that, is it?”
Manager Gong brightened at this question.
“You want to do a music variety show?”
Manager Gong’s reaction seemed to say, ‘Anytime, just say the word,’ and Minho quickly shook his head.
“What’s the program?”
“They’re still casting under the radar so even the broadcast station didn’t reveal the program name. The president said she’ll explain the premise to you in person.”
A program not about music but veiled in mystery. Minho felt anticipation rather than worry since it was a program that even Sohee was satisfied with.
“It’s quite an achievement to be casted permanently after only one month of official broadcast work. You might be able to put your name up in the celebrity award ceremony if you keep on like this.”
Manager Gong painted a rosy picture of the future. It was overwhelming in itself but Minho wanted it as well.
‘I should at least aim for the rookie award since I debuted in the variety program.’
It would be the icing on the cake if he won the popularity award. As Minho enjoyed this flight of imagination, he noticed his cell phone blinking with the text message signal and picked it up.
[Minho oppa, where are you?]
It was Iseol Yoon. Minho recalled the promise he made last week to meet her at Once and immediately sent a reply.
[I’m in Hongdae. You?]
[I’m preparing for a street performance. You have an appearance today at an arcade near here, right? Broadcast cars are passing by here and stuff.]
Minho felt the anticipation of being near Iseol starting from the morning, with her voice pleasing his ears and boosting his spirit. He got up from his seat.
“Manager Gong, I’m going to head out early.”
“I don’t know when I’ll finish, so go on back to the company. If I think it’ll run late I’ll tell the president we can meet tomorrow.”
Manager Gong shouted “Fighting!” as Minho opened the door and got out.
The alleyway where the arcade was located was narrow. There was barely space for one person to squeeze through with the N Game Net cars parked there.
“Excuse me, passing through.”
Minho squeezed through the space and discovered a young lady with a baby face standing at the entrance to the arcade. She was the Hongdae goddess, Iseol Yoon, with her petite figure and soft fair skin. She drew glances and admiration.
‘It’s definitely a good thing to see her.’
Being pretty was one thing, but she also showed her presence as a musician with the guitar on her back. She was different from what he had seen in the dim light at the playground last night.
Iseol hurried over, rushing even though it was a short distance. Then she timidly spoke.
“Have you been well?”
She looked glad to see him as she greeted him and Minho beamed a smile as well.
“Have you been well too?”
“Of course! The company’s practice room is very good so it’s really nice to play music there. I also started working on my first album. It’s all thanks to you, oppa.”
“What do mean, thanks to me. People just began to recognize your outstanding skills.”
“You’re saying that again. That’s not it.”
Minho grinned as Iseol vehemently shook her head back and forth saying it wasn’t.
“You said you’re street performing?”
“Yes. The company is having an event and I get to participate in it with one song. So….”
Iseol glanced at Minho as she carefully asked.
“Can you help me with a session if you have time later? I want to sing the song I sang for you before.”
“What time is the performance?”
“I’m on at 6:00.”
“I should have plenty of time then.”
The nature of ‘CWIO’ was filming leisurely the whole day so it wouldn’t be hard to take some time in between.
“I’ll meet you in the back room of Once. I’ll probably have time after eating lunch.”
Iseol’s face brightened as if he had lifted a burden.
“Whew, what a relief. I was worried.”
“Worried about what?”
“That I might not be able to see you because you’re so busy. The company assigned me a professional producer but I don’t think we’re a good match so I desperately needed your help.”
Minho felt inwardly heartwarmed by her gratitude. He could help anytime if it was for Iseol with her pretty face, voice and her lovely heart. And Minho’s producing skill would increase if he kept helping her at Once.
“But oppa, what challenge are you doing here? I’ve seen that program too and they play the game for 20 hours or something.”
Iseol pointed to the arcade.
“I have to win 100 times against average citizens.”
“For 100 wins?”
Iseol was surprised and opened her eyes wide. Minho asked just in case,
“Want to come and play against me for one round?”
“Can I do that?”
“You can make a special appearance as an acquaintance. My gaming team members came out when I did it before.”
‘But they got kicked out because they were bad at it.’
Minho thought he wouldn’t kick her out no matter how bad she was.
“I’d be glad to! I’ll stop by before going to Once.”
He easily confirmed Iseol’s special appearance.
You never know. Maybe the producer would cut down the number of wins if Iseol made a surprise visit to the filming of ‘CWIO’ and sent him some of her smiles. It was only natural that all the staff including the producer would fall for Iseol’s cute and fresh charms.
“Iseol. Do you know the major combat game called Cheoltu?”
“That’s the one they came out with a video game too, right? I tried it a little.”
Iseol’s answer was not what Minho had expected.
She nodded and laughed at Minho’s surprised question.
‘Shall I practice a bit before the filming starts?’
In front of the game machine labeled [Cheoltu Ⅶ].
Minho concentrated his focus on the heavily muscled man on the screen and made his attack. It was the character with the fancy Taekwondo skills that he had seen in the strategy book.
The opponent Iseol had chosen was a Chinese girl character with flowing martial arts hand movements.
Minho approached laughing because she looked obviously weak.
‘Turn the lever and right foot, left foot, left hand, left foot, was it?’
When he was about to try out the combo that he remembered, the Chinese girl on the screen lowered her body and spread her arms out like a crane. As Minho’s attack missed, she swung around and hit his chest with a palm blast.
Minho’s character flew into the air with a ‘Bang!’ sound effect.
The Chinese girl ran towards Minho’s character while he tried to counter attack, frantically pressing buttons. She continued into an extravagant combo attack in mid-air. His life shrank down to half after being repeatedly pummeled in the air. As soon as he got up the attack continued, and immediately the letters [K.O.] popped up on the screen.
Minho, who had lost without even having a chance to do anything, stood up from his seat and looked at Iseol sitting behind the machine.
“You’re pretty good at this.”
Iseol giggled. Minho firmly prepared for round two thinking he couldn’t just lose like this.
The basis of a combat game is operation. No matter how well you can enter the combos, it means nothing if you can’t hit the target. Cheoltu was the game that led that format.
Rather than attacking forcefully, Minho focused on defense as he watched for openings. With only two seconds left in the match, he landed a kick and turned the tables. He narrowly won the second round.
He lost round three because he couldn’t block the combo. And barely won round four due to the time running out.
In the final fifth round, Minho grasped Iseol’s halting attack pattern and countered to win with a close call. It was truly a victory by a desperate margin.
“Hey, You’re good at this.”
“It’s my dad’s hobby. We bet on doing the dishes. Although my dad uses only two buttons and I use four.”
Where does this person who has the instincts of a gamer live?
“You’re here early.”
Minho was absorbed in getting used to the combo. Then Producer Doh’s voice reached his ears.
Minho turned his head. A t-shirt with a large drawing of a girl character caught his eyes first. The man wearing it, a bachelor with disheveled hair, waved his hands.
“What’s with the shirt?”
Producer Doh was undaunted by Minho’s gaze judging his shirt as childish. He got into the same pose as the character.
“Niko niko ni~”
“What are you saying?”
Minho got something of a sense of Producer Doh, who was chanting an incomprehensible spell.
This guy was in the same category as Garam, who slept with his beautiful girl character pillow in his arms. One big difference was that he was an expert who was widely proficient in games. If Minho specialized in Pentastorm then Wanook Doh was able to play at a master level almost all the games that gamers enjoy.
Producer Doh spoke as he put a coin in the machine on the other side.
“It’s a bit overwhelming? You’re even practicing.”
“I should at least get to sleep at home.”
A buxom female character appeared on the other side as a new challenger. The combat started and Minho asked a question as he attempted the combo he had practiced with the Taekwondo character.
“Honestly, how many experts did you call?”
“I didn’t call any experts. Just face the ordinary citizens like me.”
Producer Dho answered simply, tried a counter attack, and K.O.ed Minho’s character.
“This is an ordinary citizen?”
“Ordinary citizen who plays a little.”
Minho lost a second round in a row. Producer Doh lifted his glasses up and said drily,
“No need to hide your skills.”
“I’m actually trying my best here.”
The filming crew entered in a line to set up the camera equipment while round three started.
Minho avoided the lady character’s leg movements by sitting and broke the attack. The lady character was pushed into the corner by an elaborate Taekwondo roundabout kick.
“Nnngg~ Nina chan~”
“You’re doing that on purpose, right?”
Minho won the third round in the close game but lost round four. Minho got up from his seat.
“I’m definitely leaving before evening.”
“I like your drive. Heh heh.”
Producer Doh replied with a sly smile and began the combat with the AI. From behind, Minho closely watched the combo timing and wing step skills.
“It’s no use watching me play. This character is doing this out of love, not because it’s strong. It’ll be good for you to concentrate on blast type characters. That’s the kingcraft of Cheoltu. Learn from the master expert of blast type characters later.”
“You said there aren’t any experts though.”
“There aren’t any ordinary experts. Just a master expert. Let’s film a legendary episode.”
Minho was slightly flustered. He felt overwhelmed thinking he wouldn’t win even 50 games let alone 100. He was relieved by the thought of Iseol. He believed she was going to take a big part in lowering the producer’s clearing standard.
“I’m going to ask a friend to come later.”
“Do whatever you wish. You’re doing this alone anyway.”
Producer Doh turned his head as he easily won the first round and went on to the second.
“Your recognition increased a bunch, Minho. I was going to cast a few Pentastrom gamers but they said it would be better if you appear alone. You’re even on public television. Either way you’re awesome.”
Producer Doh won the second round as well and got into a pose matching the lady character on screen. Minho made a face as if it was preposterous. Then his gaze fell on Producer Doh’s pocket.
‘Can it be?’
It was the character keychain on his cell phone. The smiling character with a bandage on her right eye was glowing crisply.
“Producer, what’s that character?”
Producer Doh pulled out his cellphone.
“My love Ray chan.”
It was a cherished item for certain. Whether it contained the skill of being widely proficient in all games or an emotional connection that would make him fall head-over-heels for anime girls remained to be seen.
It felt like it would be the latter but it wouldn’t hurt to find out. Minho carefully asked,
“Can I look at it?”
“Don’t stare too much.”
He held back the groan as he put his hands on it. The faint glow faded away.
“Producer, let’s do one more round.”
With the keychain in his hand, Minho put another coin in. The character selection window opened with a ringing sound.
He was going to choose the Taekwondo character that he had practiced with just moments ago. But his hands automatically chose the blonde foreign girl and clicked confirm.
Minho’s eyes grew wide.
“Oh oh, Lily! She is the truth of Cheoltu.”
Producer Doh continued to compliment the character Minho chose from the other side.
Minho, staring motionlessly at the screen, came to understand that his second prediction about the key chain was correct. Even though he hadn’t wanted this character, he felt like he was seeing a lover he had sorrowfully longed for, and her movements were lovely.
He was about to stand up thinking he couldn’t use this key chain. At that moment he automatically thought of the skill commands of the girl character he had just chosen. It wasn’t that he had memorized them by looking at the strategy book, so Minho was certain that it was Producer Doh’s skill.
‘Shall I play a round?’
Round one began with a fierce struggle back and forth as they both went for the air combo. Minho caught Producer Doh’s attack coming in from the top and moved to grab him but his opponent cut him off.
It was a short clash between experts.
The light in Producer Doh’s eyes changed. It was because he couldn’t watch the lady character that he was controlling lose.
That was the same for Minho with the blonde character who fluttered rose petals around her every time she performed a move. He couldn’t just sit and watch her fall down.
The lady character rolled on the ground at the end of five rounds of fierce combat.
‘I won! Yes, my Lily’s victory pose is pretty. Ooh chu chu~’
Minho flinched and stood up as he discovered himself having an imaginary conversation with the character on screen.
This power seemed a bit dubious.
He could be unwittingly misunderstood if he kept choosing voluptuous older ladies or fluttering beautiful girls for the 100 win challenge, even if he would finish quickly.
“You really were hiding your skills. It’s worth inviting master experts.”
Producer Doh walked over and gave him a thumbs up.
“Umm~ they’re Cheoltu competition winners or something?”
Producer Doh admitted he had used a trick and Minho faced a difficult situation.
‘I can’t help it. I just hope I don’t say the imaginary conversation with the character out loud.’
This cherished object didn’t shake his emotions as much compared to the space where he felt a strong emotional kinship with Miranda. And there wasn’t any reason he would stand out, since Producer Doh was there with his extreme anime mania. He could just say it was Producer Doh’s character selection.
Compared to his contemplation, his decision was bold.
“Producer. Can you lend me this key chain for a day?”
“It’s my first time seeing the first limited edition of First Children. This is something very rare. I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see it in my lifetime. Just for one day, please? Then I think I can make a legendary episode with the energy I receive from it.”
A mania recognizes another mania.
Minho nodded to Producer’s Doh Japanese and replied.
Minho showed that he understood the value of this item at once. So Producer Doh gladly took the keychain off and handed it to him.
“Then I’m going to go set up a bit. See you later.”
Producer Doh left and Minho purposely lost against the AI and put a coin in. He moved to the character selection window and tried to choose a character but his hand always moved to the girl character next to it.
‘This is dangerous.’
It was like swallowing sophora root tea because it was good for him, even knowing it was bitter.
Hontouni? – Really?
Hontou – Really.