“Behind every gun sight is a human being. We are those people.” –Battlefield 1 Prologue
Teaming up with Miyu, Karen introduces her to Gun Gale Online, where she decides to roll with a pair of Milkor MGLs. They participate in the next Squad Jam tournament; shortly after the game starts, Karen and Miyu spawn in at the opposite end of the map to Pitohui and Gōshi. Karen is immobilised after falling into a trap at the start, but manages to ambush an enemy team and push their way into a dome, where they defeat pursuing enemies, and Karen relinquishes supplies from another player in exchange for a kiss. Meanwhile, several teams have formed an alliance with the goal of taking out Pitohui and her team, but are promptly slaughtered. When Karen and Miyu run into the rhythm athletics club players, they agree to properly duel another day and work together. Pushing towards Pitohui’s position, Miyu and Karen capitalise on a distraction the rhythm athletics club players provide with their anti-tank rifle. While Karen is immobilised, Miyu draws fire from Gōshi, and manages to draw out the pair. A vehicle pursuit follows, ending with a brutal final fight where Karen severs Pitohui’s carotid artery, before another team finishes them off to claim victory in the tournament. In the real world, Karen receives a birthday gift from the rhythm athletics club, and Gōshi explains his relationship with Pitohui. He takes them to visit her – it turns out that Pitohui is none other than Karen’s idol, Elsa Kanzaki. Elsa is surprised that Karen’s deduced her identity, and kisses her. Later, Karen and Elsa return to Gun Gale Online in pursuit of the rush that can only come from hunting things down and killing them. This brings Alternative to a close, and while superior to Sword Art Online‘s main incarnation in virtually all ways, Alternative nonetheless inherits some of the elements that made the Sword Art Online series more melodramatic and ill-conceived.
The weakness in Alternative lies entirely in Elsa and Gōshi’s backstory and motivations for playing Gun Gale Online: an implausible relationship borne of character flaws so severe that in real life, clinical intervention and law enforcement would have certainly intervened. It is immensely difficult to accept these as the driving factors for why Elsa and Gōshi are in Gun Gale Online and fighting with the intensity that they do, breaking the immersion and authenticity of a spin-off that is otherwise superb. Setting up contrived, unrealistic situations for some of the characters for the singular purpose of creating melodrama is ineffective in raising the audience’s interest and a practise that I find to detract from the story, and moreover, in the case of Alternative, this is a missed opportunity to have told a much more meaningful story about games and social behaviours. In particular, Elsa’s character could have suffered from gaming addiction and aggression associated with withdrawal symptoms, while Gōshi certainly did not require such an objectionable backstory and instead, could have simply played the role of a concerned manager worried about Elsa’s ability to perform on stage. In doing so, Alternative would be able to explore themes of addiction and recovery, and perhaps illustrate how moderation might be one solution to addressing addiction problems among individuals. Through meeting Karen, Elsa could have simply regained her love for performing and with everyone’s help, manage her work and gaming in a more balanced manner. All of this logically fits into the flow of events within Alternative, and in fact, save for this (albeit major) change of motivations from Elsa and Gōshi, it’s not difficult to imagine that Alternative could have progressed in a very similar manner without losing its momentum – the inclusion of more current social issues over fabricated drama would have allowed Alternative to genuinely set itself apart from other instalments with the Sword Art Online brand and impress audiences to the extent that Kirito is unlikely to achieve.
Screenshots and Commentary
- When Miyu first spawns into Gun Gale Online, she is given a large amount of funds and blows it on a pair of Milkor MGLs. These 40mm six-shot grenade launchers fire a variety of low-velocity rounds out to 400 meters, and in Battlefield 4, acted as a battle pickup. Miyu’s character was optimised for support, and in her shoes, I would’ve gone with a reliable mid-range LMG such as the M240B in place of grenade launchers. However, being Sword Art Online, characters don’t always choose the best of loadouts and yet, somehow still manage to do well enough with them – this stands in contrast with Battlefield 4‘s MGL and other battle pickups, which are only useful in some situations and are otherwise outclassed by standard weapons.
- To get Miyu accustomed with the mechanics of Gun Gale Online, Karen agrees to train with her, and here, after a near miss, Karen reprimands Miyu, who is still getting used to her MGLs. However, over time, Miyu becomes comfortable with her loadout, to the point where she gives Matimi0 a run for his money as far as effectiveness goes with her weapons. Throughout the course of her run in Squad Jam, Miyu never seems to run into the constraints that Matimi0 outlines as being the limitations of Battlefield 4‘s battle pickups, and so, one is forced to accept that, while Alternative does a great job with most of its mechanics, it’s not fully reflective of the sorts of things that folk pick up by playing shooters.
- One feature that DICE is definitely not going to add to Battlefield V will be player hubs where one can eat virtual meals and the like: it was revealed that Battlefield V will have a battle royale mode, and while I’m not particularly big on this game mode on account of the slow gameplay, I can understand DICE wanting a piece of the battle royale market (Activision has announced its intention to add a battle royale mode to Black Ops IV). Even against the likes of Fortnite, DICE has the advantage in that the Frostbite Engine is a tried-and-true technology – it’s been handling 64 player servers with solid performance since Battlefield 3, and large maps are a staple of the Battlefield franchise. Thus, even if I don’t play battle royale, I think it’s a great move on DICE’s part to add this mode.
- Although Miyu might be a gamer who puts me to shame with her profound knowledge of games and in terms of pure hours, her decision to eat nine cartons of ice cream prior to joining Karen in a Squad Jam is foolish to the point of hilarity: she gets the runs for her troubles and is very nearly late for their match. One of the biggest disadvantages about full-immersion VR games as seen in Sword Art Online is that there is not an option to pause out of a game. When I game, I find that the pause feature is the most critical, since I’m busy enough so need to leave games with a non-trivial frequency. For online multiplayer shooters like Battlefield, I usually camp in some remote corner or stay at the spawn screen, and hope that I’m not idle long enough for the server to kick me.
- My last Alternative post featured my reaction to Pitohui’s situation, but since Karen and Miyu are unlikely to tell Pitohui to go fuck herself and stop the events of Alternative cold in its tracks, I’ve opted to go with a different quote for this finale post – sourced from Battlefield 1‘s opening cinematic, the juxtaposition in Alternative is an appropriate place for such a quote: in the context of Battlefield 1, the line refers to the fact that soldiers in war are people, each with their own story. However, the line is also relevant to Alternative in that Karen sees her opponents as people who are playing the game and trying to have a blast, the same as her: she makes a clear distinction between gaming and the real world, using Gun Gale Online as an escape. This stands in contrast with how Pitohui seemingly plays Gun Gale Online.
- In the match’s opening moments, Miyu runs into explosive traps that blow her legs off, resulting in one of the most adorable apologies I’ve seen in any anime for quite some time. Unlike DOOM or Wolfenstein, Gun Gale Online does not have any blood and gore even though limbs can be severed, and bodies bisected. I imagine this design is by choice rather than hardware limitations in-universe: using digital effects would lower the game’s ESRB rating to “Teen” rather than “Mature” and allow Gun Gale Online to reach a wider market. Within ten minutes, her limbs regenerate, and the pair continue on with their goal of reaching Pitohui.
- Karen’s avatar, LLEN, is entirely speed driven: against opponents, her advantage is surprise, but she’s also surprisingly fragile. In games where I have a choice, I usually go with slower, more heavily armoured characters because they handle most similarly with the spartans of Halo 2. If fighting LLEN, strategy would be key: Karen is what one would call a hipfire scrub, and her fighting style emphasises speed at close range, so one would reasonably counter with good mid-to-long range options. A DMR and traps would certainly do the trick, although it would also be a fun challenge to trade blows with such an avatar using whatever equivalent Gun Gale Online has as the Doom Slayer.
- Moving through a railyard, Karen spots for Miyu, who uses her MGLs as a makeshift mortar and hammers all opposing players with ease. Battlefield 3, 4 and 1 include mortars: when used in conjunction with good recon players and their ability to spot, mortars are powerful to the point of ludicrousness. Mortars are useful for shelling positions with a large enemy presence, but as stationary weapons, they also leave operators exposed to retaliatory fire – one of my favourite pastimes in Battlefield is humiliating mortar users by killing them with weak weapons.
- My curiosity with the Alternative loadout led me to run a naked P90 and the MGL in Battlefield 4: coming back in from Battlefield 1, the movement feels much more limited, and hit detection is not as responsive, but the time to kill is significantly more satisfying, and with a P90 having no attachments, I nonetheless managed to do quite well in TDM on Operation Locker. Like Matimi0 shows, however, the MGL is rather less useful: I did end up scoring a double kill with it when I found one on Siege of Shanghai in TDM, but the weapon is very restricting. I conclude that Karen and Miyu are probably uncommonly lucky half the time with their situations, if they are able to make their loadouts work as well as they did, and one wonders if Alternative‘s writers have some experience in Battlefield or other shooters.
- The hipfire penalty is strong with this one: Pitohui is seen firing an AK-74M here from the hip against ambushing enemies, and while she’s touted as being highly effective, during the fight against the amassed enemy players, it seems that their inability to use cover and strategy, coupled with their tendency to charge towards Pitohui, contributed to their loss more than any exceptional skills or gear on Pitohui’s part: it’s not exactly hard to kill someone charging forwards. The best counter against Pitohui’s dug-in group, under the assumption of superior numbers, would be sustained artillery and mortar fire, before closing the distance and picking off any survivors with mid-range weapons.
- Evidently, resupplies are not a thing in Gun Gale Online, and Karen expends more ammunition than intended. She’s able to acquire some from an unscrupulous-looking fellow in exchange for a kiss: long presented as a practical individual, Karen’s actions here are not particularly surprising, given that she knows this is a game, and that in exchange for something few will likely remember, she will be given the provisions needed to carry on with her objectives.
- The players on Team Slayer are counted as the most fearsome of the players participating in this Squad Jam tournament. Donning armour that resembles the Praetor Suit of DOOM, this team is armed with Heckler & Koch XM-8 rifles, experimental light-weight rifles that were born of a want for versatile, durable replacements for the M4 and M16 assault rifles. A good assault rifle is all one needed in Battlefield 3 and 4, as well as most games: they strike a balance between DPS and accuracy at range, making them highly adaptable.
- The rhythm athletics club field a WWII-era PTRD-41; alternatively known as the Degtyaryov Anti-Tank Rifle, it was a Soviet weapon that could punch through up to 40 mm of armour at 100 metres (compared to the .50 BMG’s ~22.2mm at 91 metres). After sacrificing one of their own to act as a shield, the rhythm athletics club blow away Gōshi’s shield, forcing him to retreat, and use the opportunity to press the attack, but come under sniper fire. Their actions create the distraction that Karen and Miyu need to close the distance and flank the cabin that Pitohui is recovering in, after she takes a near-lethal shot from an enemy sniper. Karen eliminates this sniper, and the remainder of her team give themselves up to defend Pitohui.
- When Pitohui recovers enough of her health, she decides to emulate Lord Vader’s massacre at the end of Rogue One. Like Kylo Ren’s pale emulations of one of the most iconic Sith Lords of all time, Pitohui’s gleeful slaughter of an enemy force with her lightsaber, however fun it was to watch, barely holds a candle to the sheer impact of Vader’s methodical, calculated elimination of Rebel soldiers in Rogue One.
- Because Karen seems to lose most of her motivation after watching Pitohui dominate everything that tries to stop her, Miyu decides to jump into the open and in the process, binds Karen’s shoelaces together to give her some time to regroup. Miyu references the Gordian Knot here: it refers to a tale where an oracle at Telmissus decreed that any man who could unravel an seemingly unsolvable knot would hereafter be king of Phrygians. In some versions of this story, when Alexander the Great was confronted with the knot, he simply drew his sword and slashed. Since then, the Gordian Knot refers to a problem where thinking outside of the box can offer a solution that conventional thinking might not. Miyu’s rationale is that Karen’s overthinking things, and forcing Karen to slow down might allow her to see that settling things with Pitohui is much simpler than she might otherwise think it to be.
- From a technical perspective, Alternative does not impress in the artwork department: the world of Gun Gale Online during the Squad Jam mode is monotonous, with the golden glow of evening permeating all environments save the social hub, which is eternally locked in the night. Battlefield 1 and The Division have dynamic weather, as does The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – it stands to reason that a game as technically sophisticated as Gun Gale Online would conceivably have dynamic weather that could alter the way players approach a problem, and while one might argue that unchanging weather is more fair for battle royale modes, I counter that shifting weather patterns, especially those affecting visibility, forces players to alter their tactics. As such, those with more familiarity with the game and a higher skill level would therefore adapt more readily.
- In the final confrontation, it ultimately boils down to a confrontation between two opponents who both are fighting for the sake of exhilaration, and because of a promise they’d made to give it their all when challenging one another. This fight would’ve stood alone just fine even without Pitohui’s threats to kill herself and Gōshi, and as argued above, the excessively dramatic setup for why Pitohui and Gōshi play Gun Gale Online comes across as being corny, implausible. This is the one strike I have against Alternative, a series that I feel could’ve done to deal with contemporary and more plausible issues, such as gaming addiction and its surrounding mental health challenges.
- After a firefight that sees Karen’s second P90 destroyed, combat enters the realm of melee. It should not take a whole lot of effort to convince readers that had Pitohui’s situation merely be that of a gaming addict who suffers from severe withdrawal and anger issues when unable to game, and that Karen is trying to get Pitohui to come around by beating her, Alternative‘s flow would largely remain unchanged, and the progression would have continued very closely to what we ended up seeing in Alternative. Of course, I suppose it would not be Sword Art Online if at least a handful of ridiculous situations were not presented.
- Karen’s strongest suit is her pragmatism: she goads Pitohui into attacking, and then knifes her. However, she looks to meet her end when Pitohui picks her up and prepares to execute her. A distraction, in the form of Gōshi and Miyu arriving, leads Pitohui to shoot Gōshi for setting up a situation that favoured Karen, and Miyu “frees” Karen from Pitohui’s grip, slicing off Karen’s hands in the process. This forces Karen to take out Pitoshui with the only weapon that she has remaining to her in a brutal manner, and I admit that Karen’s playstyle as LLEN is a bit of a turn-on.
- I’ve never been a particular fan of the deranged faces in Sword Art Online when characters go in for the kill, especially those of Kirito’s, but for Karen’s execution of Pitohui, the faces seem to work fine without coming across as extraneous. Karen’s actions in Gun Gale Online are continually unexpected, even if they are consistent with her play style, and this is one of the aspects that make me particularly fond of Karen as a character in Alternative. After Karen chews through Pitohui’s internal carotid artery, she defeats her, but does not live long enough to savour the moment: Team Slayer arrives and scavenges kills off Karen.
- I refer to TS as Team Slayer simply because their powered armour resembles the Doom Slayer’s Praetor Suit: close inspection of the armour’s design finds that it has rounded elements on the shoulder and chest piece that makes it similar to the Praetor Suit, rather than the Mjolnir armour variants seen in Halo. Had Gun Gale Online allowed players to play as the Doom Slayer, right down to having the same powerups and abilities, however, it might’ve been a little too much – DOOM encourages players to go in up close and personal for brutal glory kills, and seeing Pitohui and LLEN ripped apart the same way the Doom Slayer kills Hell’s dæmons would not be suitable for television, even if the violence in Gun Gale Online is restricted to a simplified red grid texture and particle effects denoting injury.
- In an anti-climatic closing to the second Squad Jam competition, Karen and Pitohui die in one another’s arms, bringing things to a close. To have another team come in and win is a plausible outcome: so focused are Karen and the others on taking Pitohui out that they neglected another capable team’s presence. This is one aspect of battle royale games that is raised: it is possible to do very well by picking one’s battles and not engaging in every encounter. Some of my friends who’ve played Fortnite, for instance, have gotten very far into the game simply by avoiding active combat and only picking off survivors following firefights.
- The rhythm athletics club gift Karen a necklace for her birthday in the aftermath of the Squad Jam. As promised, more sweets and tea are had: Karen keeps her word, and throughout Alternative, Karen’s personality and motivations are what kept me interested in watching the series. She’s the polar opposite of Kirito: I actually have no problems with Kirito’s exploits in-game any more than I do with Karen’s exploits in-game. Instead, it is the presentation his real world actions that I find bothersome; Kirito is presented as being worthy of working alongside law enforcement and government agencies despite an lack of formal training, beyond his entanglement in some situations.
- I get that Kirito, at a certain level, is similar to Jack Ryan Senior of the Tom Clancy universe, but most of Jack Ryan’s achievements follow a somewhat logical pattern. By comparison, Kirito’s circumstances simply happen. As my grievances with this particular aspect of Sword Art Online is a lengthy one, we’ll return discussion to Alternative, where Pitohui agrees to have Karen meet with her in person as a bit of a prize for having bested her in single combat. While we’ve not seen much of Miyu in the real world, my impressions of her are that she’s a bit similar to Girls und Panzer‘s Saori Takebe and gaming club members, being both highly interested in VR games and has a bit of an eye for men.
- Gōshi’s story behind how he met Pitohui and the formation of their relationship subsequently is pretty messed up: I’m not sure what was going through the writers’ heads when they designed things in this manner, given that it is implausible and also reflects poorly on Gōshi’s character by presenting him as weak and ineffectual, lacking any agency. By comparison, Karen and Miyu are solid characters because they have agency. I’m not sure why characters in Sword Art Online necessarily need such unrealistic backstories: Sword Art Online‘s Sinon is another example of this, and I found that her fear of firearms could have stemmed from a different story that doesn’t involve her playing the hero.
- Up until now, I’ve referred to everyone by their real names save Pitohui, and it is here that Pitohui is shown to be the singer Elsa Kanzaki, Karen’s idol. While she’s voiced by Yōko Hikasa, her singing voice is provided by Kameda Reona. Diminutive in stature, one wonders how she manages to pound Gōshi into the ground in the anime adaptation, where in the original light novel, she capitalised on his being injured to subdue him. With Pitohui’s identity in the open now, I will refer to her as Elsa from here on out, having deliberately not done so previously to minimise on the spoilers.
- All of the posters in Alternative give Elsa’s name as Elza, which is probably the correct spelling, but since I’m lazy, I’m not likely to go back and change all of the spellings here. While Elsa attempts to surprise Karen by having the establishment’s manager stand in for her, Karen quickly works out who Elsa really is. The fan letter that Karen’s written to her evidently got through, and Karen embraces her tearfully. Elsa’s appearance does not appear to suggest any sort of mental health issues that Gōshi’s described, although the truth is that some problems do not manifest in ways that can be easily seen. With this being said, I still find it difficult to believe that Elsa can kick Gōshi’s ass in a fight.
- Elsa kisses a surprised Karen while Miyu looks on in shock: whether it be trolling or a genuine token of gratitude will remain unknown for the present, but the consequences are invariably hilarious, with Karen remarking that she’ll never get married now with such a stunt. This joke has long overstayed its welcome, and it’s not like guys decide whether or not they’ll marry someone based on whether or not that individual had been kissed by other girls before. However, rather than going into a tirade about this joke, I will instead liken Elsa’s actions here as making her the equivalent of Alternative‘s Brad Marchand.
- I’m not sure how many of my readers watch ice hockey, or the NHL in particular: Brad Marchand who is a colourful player known for his goal scoring and on-ice antics. During the 2018 playoffs, Marchand licked Ryan Callahan during game four of the Tampa Bay and Boston series, and Maple Leafs players similarly complained when he did something similar during the games against them. The NHL threatened Marchand with disciplinary action, but this pales compared to when he kissed former Flames right wing Jerome Iginla during 2014. In this game, Iginla scored an overtime winner after Marchand had missed his shot on net, and a grateful Marchand is said to have kissed Iginla afterwards. Knowing this, I wager that suddenly, Elsa kissing Karen does not seem so difficult to watch now.
- Overall, Alternative earns a B grade (7.5 of ten), the same as Comic Girls. I enjoyed the FPS and PvP aspects very strongly – I’m normally well out of my depth when it comes to Sword Art Online‘s RPG mechanics, and despite having played my share of RPGs, I personally prefer shooters. As such, knowing the mechanics of Gun Gale Online in Alternative, and seeing a story that largely remains coherent, without an excessive emphasis on unnecessary relationships and the like, was a breath of fresh air. Similarly, while Karen might be quite skillful in Gun Gale Online, she’s an ordinary university student in real life – Kirito, by comparison, stumbles into positions of responsibility and only wears the role because the plot demands it. With this post done, the last of the series from Spring 2018 that I planned to write for are now finished, and the focus for the summer season is largely going to be Harukana Receive.
While Alternative might have succumbed to the symptoms of poor exposition that plague Sword Art Online, that each episode nonetheless commanded engagement and left me excited to see what was next is a testament to the strengths in Alternative: with its well-thought out game mechanics in Gun Gale Online, strategies and tactics that I am familiar with as a long-time FPS gamer, and main characters who are very relatable and likeable, Alternative gives viewers clear incentive to cheer for Karen and later, Miyu. Watching them overcome various challenges with the aim of reaching Elsa and Gōshi to make a difference was quite touching, and although this might have been a gaming environment, Karen’s feelings and intents are very real. Seeing the story come together, and having Karen meet her idol was a satisfactory ending – overall, Alternative remains a fun watch that I would recommend to those who do not view Sword Art Online negatively: most of the issues impeding Sword Art Online have been addressed, and having relatable, well-written main characters works in Alternative‘s favour. For folks who are not big on Sword Art Online, I’m largely neutral towards recommending Alternative; on one hand, the firefights are well-animated, and build-ups are quite exhilarating, but Elsa and Gōshi’s character motivations are lacking. This wasn’t enough to detract from the solid writing in Karen’s character for me, so Alternative ended up being a fun experience overall despite its shortcomings. Gōshi might have eyes for only Elsa, but I would contend that Karen and Miyu are tied for first as my favourite characters in the whole of Sword Art Online.