Sword Art Online – Introductory Post and Genre Review
As for someone who really likes the experience of playing MMORPGs, the idea of Sword Art Online was very fascinating because every now and then, I’m still missing the experience I had during the times that I have played several titles. Actually, I try to relive those days from time to time whenever I miss them during the holidays.
Sword Art Online possesses the basic characteristics of a virtual reality game, which other existing anime(s) also have as a setting (or a sub-setting, primarily as a mini arc involving MMO gaming). It’s very much dependent on the idea of battling monsters, power leveling, setting exploration, character and role creation, and lastly, online community interaction. The first four factors would likely simply produce a battle shounen – unlike the last one, making it my favorite discerning factor.
I honestly didn’t read the synopsis of the light novel when I initially found it but I was very certain by the time that I saw it that it’ll be about MMOs — I just had to pick it up for reading.
It’s probably cliche already for a certain game to suddenly become a reality in anime, either via magic of some sort etc., but as for this case, a preposterous game developer simply wants to witness an all new world experience through the virtual game setting he created. He decided to remove the log out button for all the players (isn’t that nice)! And, of course, he pretty much made sure that no one will be able to stop his plan.
The game is made in a way that disruption of the game from the real world during the duration, ie. turning off the console, will lead to some automatic death of the player because it will release some electromagnetic wave thingymajig to fry the player’s brain. So yeah, to make it short, the players were all in some sort of coma with their heads equipped with a helm-like headgear called NervGame which is the console. It was explained in the novel why the players won’t be able to wake up themselves on their own and it involves some brain signal redirection function of NervGame, which I think is borderline sci-fi so… never mind that.
The most disturbing thing is that the players are all force-fed while in hospital care. Their bodies in the real world, of course, still take its natural course, which dictates how long their bodies would last given this kind of nutrient intake. This serves as the secondary death flag as to how long the players could last in the game, in which the big bad boss Mr. Game Developer promised to log them all out once they get to clear the game. Also, it’s almost expected in this type of story– but I guess I still have to say it. Dying in the game means truly dying in real life.
Despite the seemingly cliche premise of the story, I was actually a bit surprised on the way that the story is presented. I was expecting that the existence of the real player outside the computer would be deemed insignificant to be known by the reader – just as how .hack handles it because it’s assumed that the avatar that he controls in the game is very much the same entity as him, and for everyone. Despite this, it was made clear during the early narrations that the author recognizes and freely includes and discusses the events in the “real world” or the world of the player, aside from the online game world itself. This was very much different to the few titles that have virtual reality gaming as a theme since they almost disregard the existence and the condition of the player controlling the game and simply focus on the avatar during the gaming process. I was just appalled when I read about someone ordering a pizza for dinner, and thus he has to “log out” for a moment.
I think that it’s very refreshing to see a story that unfolds focusing simultaneously both on the online world and real world contrary to .hack’s format which focuses solely on the online world. Thanks to this concept, there is a good bunch of things to ponder upon regarding the duality of the two worlds, and everyone’s “online” persona. I was actually worried as well that it would seem so .hack~ish which I won’t like at all. .hack tends to be overly bizarre and at the same time, vague, when it comes to plot execution, and in trying to complicate the system of MMOs.
Meanwhile, SAO definitely gave me what I was trying to look for in an anime that’s about MMOs, and it’s the extent at which it tries to recreate the experience in playing MMOs. The skill leveling, in-game quests, item crafting, treasure hunting, boss hunting, guild formations, party leveling, and role-playing. Although these things are most likely present as well on other anime(s) that deal with MMOs, SAO’s characters act/react more genuinely due to the death factor of the game.
I’m definitely not spoiling the contents of volume 1 yet since I’ll do a proper review of it. I just can’t seem to write a post about it without trying to deliberately blurt things about MMOs in general. Imagine reading all of the texts above before I actually discuss the first volume. I bet it’ll be tl;dr.
image credits: (official artwork)