The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Sword Art Online: Arc One Reflection

Sword Art Online is probably one of the more polarising anime of 2012, initially starting strong with the Aincrad arc set in and depicting Kirito’s quest to clear all 100 floors of the game to free himself and other players from the game. The Aincrad arc set up great promise for the series, cleverly depicting various MMORPG elements, such as questing, levelling and interplayer dynamics, most notably, with Asuna, a female player that Kirito meets during the course of his journeys. Together, Asuna and Kirito present a side of MMORPGs that most hardcore players do not see: that the world a game is set in is sufficiently complex and detailed such that it may resemble the real world. Indeed, we see that this is indeed the case to some extent, with several characters taking on various occupations to assist other players without risking death on the front lines, including a fisherman who derives great joy from being able to enjoy the scenery. Similarly, Kirito himself opts to capitalise on nice weather in between quests and meets Asuna properly for the first time during one such break, reflecting on how in a sufficiently complex virtual world, there is worth in stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.

  • Readers who’ve been around since this post was published back on December 31, 2012 will have noticed that this post has been given an upgrade so it’s more consistent with the other Sword Art Online posts here. Instead of a shorter discussion, twenty images (and accompanying figure captions, to be added gradually) transforms this into a full-length post.

  • Sachi was a member of the first guild Kirito had joined, and he’d become attached to her. A failed quest left the most of the guild’s members dead, and in spite of a message she leaves him prior to her death, Kirito would not join another guild again until he reluctantly parties with Asuna.

  • While it may have been a short arc and little-mentioned in later instalments of Sword Art Online, there is no doubting that Kirito’s impressions of life and death were impacted by Sachi: he goes on a quest to try and revive her after learning of an in-game item that allows that, but ultimately fails.

  • Silica is one of the first secondary characters to be introduced who survives SAO: as a beast tamer, she’s gained a bit of fame despite being a mid-level player, and Kirito decides to help her revive Pina, her pet, after it is injured during a quest.

  • In aiding Silica, Kirito manages to draw out members of an orange-guild (a guild that commits crimes against other players) and effortlessly mops the ground with them later on. It’s not particularly subtle in Sword Art Online, but the colouring of an environment is a particularly quick way of assessing the mood for a particular section of the story.

However, the Aincrad arc also delves into the complex mechanics in an MMORPG, including job and skill systems, as well as its most distinct element: that players running out of HP will die in reality. This technique would never make it past the development cycles in reality, but does force players in-universe to consider their actions carefully. The overall details placed towards designing a fictional game grant the story a degree of credibility: as a former MMORPG player, I am sufficiently familiar with the essential mechanics, and in this regard, Sword Art Online delivers nicely.

The first arc is broken up into smaller, self-contained stories, and through its 14-episode run, depicts the nature surrounding an MMORPG very well, ranging from player interactions (ranging from guilds to griefers) to the game engine itself. From a personal standpoint, the Aincrad arc is the strongest arc of Sword Art Online, being able to reasonably tell the original story with little unnecessary materials. I am currently on the Alfheim arc, and my initial thoughts are that it is similar to playing a new game, albeit a game that I may not warm up to all that well and quickly find myself uninstalling to free up previous hard drive space. Whereas the first arc was concerned with the game itself (and the corresponding human interactions), the second arc seems to use the game as a catalyst for a story concerning unrequited love. As such, I find that Sword Art Online could have probably been written into a shorter, 12-episode anime and would have lost none of its impact.

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