Even with the most serious games, there will be all sorts of memes and jokes surrounding them. They can involve absurdity of situations, play with the disconnect between an exceptionally silly kind of joke and serious situation, and highlight unintended implications that can arise from certain sorts of characters. What’s wonderful about the Elden Ring: The Road to the Erdtree gag manga is that it keeps this loving tribute to the game and maintains a similar sort of dramatic artistic direction, while being completely bonkers and playing with what we know about characters. It hits these notes perfectly, without being too over-the-top.
For example, the Elden Ring manga stars a Tarnished named Aseo who would either be picked by an extremely skilled player or someone just going into the game for a laugh: The Wretch. Given the person’s intelligence is quite low, even after Melina dumps points into the stat, it seems like the latter is the case. For almost the entire first volume, he’s running around in a loincloth. Which means there’s a running gag about where he even keeps his potion vials. As some reactions involve dashing in headfirst into danger or just dropping and preparing to die, we’re definitely presented with one of the silliest protagonists who is failing upwards in the funniest ways.
What helps make his portrayal even better is that Melina and Ranni are portrayed far more seriously. This isn’t to say these characters can’t also be funny. Both make some very good quips in the first volume. They aren’t above stooping to the Tarnished’s level either, though their instances are handled in a way that almost comes across as a more classy or “smarter” version of goofy responses. But their portrayals always look very refined and darkly elegant, with intelligent, reasonable dialogue. So often they react exactly the way you expect they would based on context from the game and their appearances.
However, I liked the manga best when we’d see one of its interpretations of a serious events. During these segments the characters may look as you expect, and sometimes even behave with the same sense of gravity. But then something happens to twist it all. In one chapter, Kale sends the Tarnished off to help Blaidd on a quest to find the Bloodhound Knight Darriwil. We get to see this encounter from another perspective. While it still follows some of the same beats, there are certain personality traits and motives inserted to add more levity to the situation. I really appreciated the way it all ended up handled.
Especially since while that’s going on, the depictions of Blaidd and Darriwil are so good. But then, that isn’t isolated to just these characters. The same care is lent to everyone who appears in this first volume. Even though the Tarnished is generally the biggest “joke” here, when he isn’t talking or engaging in idiocy, he can look just as refined.
In a way, reading the first volume of the Elden Ring: The Road to the Erdtree manga feels like watching someone play the game without being too serious about it. You’ll see the Tarnished “die” a lot! You’ll wonder about the nature of characters and think, “Yeah, I would be really suspicious about asking for their help too.” You’ll question people’s decisions in-world and their attitude about things. You can feel the love for the source material while reading, and it makes the whole experience more enjoyable.
Elden Ring: The Road to the Erdtree volume one is now available to buy via Yen Press. You can also read it via the Famitsu special site. The game is available on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.