First impressions: Sword Art Online

Oh, come on! Which part of this picture is not epic?

I’ve never been a huge fan of MMORPGs. Games like World of Warcraft or Guild Warsjust come over as convoluted and intimidating to me, as the prospect of having to work together with complete strangers entirely more competent then myself in order to advance in an endless, crowded world with no real prospect does not exactly fit my idea of ‘fun’.

Thankfully for the gaming industry, there are millions of other people who seem to disagree. Kirito is one of them, claiming to be so obsessed with online games it makes you wonder why he looks so dashing. The year is 2022 and Kirito is one of the first people in the world to obtain a copy of Sword Art Online, a revolutionary MMORPG that transports the player into its virtual world using the NerveGear gaming system. Having participated in the beta, Kirito quickly finds his way around in the world of SAO, which quickly results in him taking rookie player Klein under his wing. Kirito introduces Klein to the basic mechanics of SAO, but as soon as Klein tries to log out from the game, trouble raises its ugly head. Kirito finds out the full version of Sword Art Online contains some substantial differences from the beta, which will not only shock the world of gaming, but the real world as well!

“You’re not actually a cute girl!” “You’re not actually 17!”

Sword Art Online has all the makings of an epic and tries rather hard to profile itself as the spiritual successor to the anime that previously occupied its timeslot. With its cinematic scope, Yuki Kajiura soundtrack and LiSA opening song, it’s hard not to think of Fate/Zero when watching Sword Art Online. However, its biggest strength is its imaginative setting. HP bars show up from time to time and all characters have a little menu that pops up whenever they need to change their equipment. The jokes about people not always looking like their online avatars and even Klein’s semi-homoerotic words to Kirito all successfully create an “Internet culture” vibe and give the video game element a true purpose within the story.

This story is not perfect, though. There are some gaping holes in logic, such as why SOA designer and obvious villain Akihiko Kayabo does not get arrested immediately after it turns out what his game does to people.  Sword Art Online easily gets away with its narrative concessions, though, as they are employed to create the most dramatic situation for Kirito and his friends. This makes it very similar to Future Diary, and how it made you forget all about its utter nonsense by making up for it for sheer madness. While I would love to see some development for our brave, generic hero, my main concern lies with the villain. Did he honestly develop a video game that kills people when they die in the game because he could? Please no.

The sky looks bright for Sword Art Online. Its imaginative setting, massive scope and high stakes show potential for an action-packed fantasy epic. If it manages to remain outstanding once the female heroine enters the fray remains to be seen, though with doing so much right in its first episode, making a serious slip-up does not seem in Sword Art Online’s future.


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