The conclusion of the Liar Game Kdrama left me searching for another story like it, another world with a psychologically intense plot and interesting characters. That’s when I stumbled upon DICE: The Cube that Changes Everything. The written summary for this manhwa speaks of a game that can change a player’s life and a bottom-of-the-social-ladder main character who is given the opportunity to play this game. While DICE isn’t as intellectually intense as Liar’s Game, it does have some strong story elements that make it a good series in its own right.
Dongtae, the unfortunate protagonist of DICE, was born with no redeeming qualities. He is unattractive, unintelligent, unlucky, and not athletic. If this were an RPG, he is someone who was able to roll only ones during character creation. He has a crush on Eunju, the prettiest girl in the entire school, and can only admire her from afar. One day, a guy by the name of Taebin transfers into his class. Taebin is everything that Dongtae is not. He is extremely attractive and excels in both academics and sports. Almost immediately, Taebin and Eunju hit it off and start going out with each other, leaving Dongtae jealous and bitter.
Yes, I know that so far this story sounds like a romance drama, but just bear with me here. A couple of chapters into the manhwa, we find out that Taebin’s looks, smarts, and athleticism came from playing a magical dice game. Dongtae enters the game when he discovers a die while secretly following Taebin back to his house and accidentally rolls it. A mysterious entity called “X” then begins communicating with Dongtae via text message, giving him “quests” which, when completed, results in the appearance of more dice. Upon rolling the dice, a player gets points which allows them to improve their own “stats”. Putting dice points in the appropriate stats can make the player stronger, faster, smarter, luckier, more attractive, etc.
The Quests that Make the Game Interesting
What makes the dice game a compelling plot device are the quests that “X” assigns to the players. Like an actual RPG, the quests start out easy and simple. The player gets asked to go to a location or pick up an item. Soon, however, the quests become more and more… complicated. And here, “complicated” doesn’t mean the quests get more difficult. Instead, they get morally and ethically complicated. One quest has Dongtae lying to a girl, and others require the player to do something violent. Early on, we discover that dating Eunju was one of Taebin’s quests.
The series captivates readers not by having clearly defined protagonists and antagonists, but by exploring how seemingly ordinary people would behave if granted the opportunity to change themselves. As a whole, DICE seems to ask the reader, “What would you do if you could change yourself? What lengths would you go to in order to make yourself taller, smarter, or more attractive? Would you go so far as to lie, cheat, or even harm others?” The protagonists, antagonists, and conflicts all manifest naturally as a result of this “What if?” situation.
A Slow Start
Like Log Horizon, DICE takes a while to build up momentum. A significant conflict doesn’t develop until more than 20 chapters into the story, and we don’t see hints of a larger threat until more than a dozen chapters after that. Part of the reason for this is that there’s no real antagonist in the beginning of the manhwa. Dongtae’s bullies stop bullying him after he improves himself using the magical dice, and Taebin doesn’t really do anything to Dongtae after he becomes a dice player.
Some might argue that “X” is the main antagonist of the story, and while I would agree that “X” is the closest entity resembling a villain, it is not immediately apparent what threat “X” poses to the players. Players can improve themselves by completing quests and rolling dice but they can also decline quests any time they want without consequence. It even seems like anyone can stop playing the game once they feel they’ve adequately improved themselves to a point where accomplishing more quests is no longer necessary.
An Exploration of the Mind
For me, the best part about this manhwa is not the actual quests that “X” gives out or whether Dongtae can accomplish them. What’s much more interesting is how Dongtae and everyone else develop personality-wise as they play the game. We not only see what players have been spending their dice points on but also how they have changed as a person from the moment they chose to become a dicer.
Dongtae and the other players react very differently when they are given the opportunity to roll the dice and enter the game. Each person is motivated by something different, and the author of this manhwa takes the time to flesh out the backstories that explain their motivations.
Great, Colorful Artwork
Usually, I don’t have much to say about how a manga or manhwa is drawn unless it’s really good or really bad. This manhwa falls into the “really good” category. The first thing that stood out to me was that the pages were in full color (a la Noblesse), which, although characteristic of Naver web comics, is still very refreshing to see as most Japanese manga are black-and-white only.
Also, I’m extremely glad that characters are drawn to accurately reflect how they are perceived. What I mean is that ugly characters look ugly, plain characters look plain, and attractive characters look attractive. In a lot of anime or manga, I usually can’t tell the difference between an attractive character or a plain character unless I’m told directly. After all, how am I supposed to tell when everyone has flawless skin and perfect hair?
In DICE, it’s extremely clear that Dongtae starts out unattractive. It’s obvious when he goes from ugly to plain even if the manhwa hadn’t commented on that point, and later on, most readers should notice that Dongtae has been spending more dice points on his looks purely from the artwork.
DICE is an exciting and suspense-filled manhwa. The art is pleasing to the eye, and all the major characters have an interesting amount of depth. The series is slow to build up momentum, but it’s worth the wait.