Yoshihiko Fujiki, 40, has been unemployed ever since the major securities firm where he worked went bankrupt when Japan’s economic bubble burst. One morning he wakes up in what looks like a wasteland. When he turns on the hand-held game device lying next to him, he learns that he has become a participant in a survival contest to be held in the region where he now finds himself. Following instructions from the device, he heads for the starting point, and on the way there he meets Ai Ootomo, a 29-year-old manga author, who is also to be in the contest. As he talks to her, his hazy memory begins to return. He had been on a train headed to a job interview with a television production company in Japan’s Hokuriku region, and apparently passed out after being drugged. When Ai’s game device becomes damaged, the two decide to team up.
They reach the starting point and find seven other participants arrived ahead of them. The nature of the game is finally revealed, and bizarrely, it is as if the animated world of a video game has been transplanted to a live-action environment. The premise is that they are on Mars. The participants divide up into four teams, each pursuing a different item?food, weapons, survival gear, information. There are checkpoints en route, and at each one they acquire more of the desired items, along with news of the path ahead. The team that clears all checkpoints and arrives safely at the finish line will collect a cash prize.
Fujiki and Ai decide to go for information. They learn that they are in Northwestern Australia, in a national park that is closed to the public during the rainy season. The two contend with labyrinthine terrain, the onslaught of insects, oppressive heat and humidity, and starvation as they move through the checkpoints, and their effectiveness as a team grows as they use the information gained along the way to stay alive. Through it all, Fujiki can’t shake the nagging feeling that someone is watching them. In time, the game develops into a fierce battle for survival. The participants who chose to pursue food are turned into ghouls by something in the food, and begin hunting down the other participants to eat. When they become the only remaining survivors, Fujiki and Ai go head-to-head with the ghouls and emerge victorious, but then Fujiki is bitten by a poisonous snake and passes out. When he comes to, he is in his own home, and the prize money lying beside him tells him that he won the game. His subsequent investigation reveals that the true objective of the game was to film a snuff movie, and also gives him an inkling of Ai’s true identity . . .
Role-playing games were still a relatively new phenomenon when author Yusuke Kishi gave the survival-novel genre a fresh twist by incorporating those elements into his fast-paced story.