The Infinite Zenith

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

Tag Archives: Gōshi “M” Asōgi

Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“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 34 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.

Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“What do you say we tell these Squad Jam people to fuck themselves, then we can go home, find a couch and a TV, then sit back and watch Pitohui burn to the goddamned ground?” –Domingo Chavez, Tom Clancy’s Locked On

Karen Kohiruimaki is a Hokkaido native who moves to Tokyo in pursuit of her post secondary studies. Because of her height, she is insecure and finds herself wishing that she were shorter. Her best friend, Miyu Shinohara, suggests that Karen take up a VR game, where she may customise an avatar to her heart’s content, and after iterating through multiple games, Karen encounters Gun Gale Online (GGO for brevity), which provides her with a diminutive character that she takes an immediate liking to. She takes on the screen name Llenn, and after exploring the game world with her new avatar, Karen begins playing the PvE components and earns enough currency to upgrade her weapons and gear. One day, while breaking from her travels, she is ambushed by other players and manages to take them out. Rumours begin speaking about the “Pink Devil”, and this attracts the attention of a fellow player, Pitohui. She introduces Karen to the “Squad Jam” battle royale competition and asks her to compete alongside fellow player “M”. M covers a range of techniques and gear for the battle royale mode, bringing Karen up to speed, and after out-manoeuvring a team of military-trained players, Karen’s confidence increases. She and M manage to fight off an assault from another team that had commandeered airboats, but when moving to engage the final remaining team, M breaks down, fearing for his life should he lose. He admits to Karen that Pitohui would kill him in reality should they lose, and befuddled, Karen decides to leave him behind and engage the final team on her own. She is overwhelmed, but M reappears to provide sniper fire, allowing Karen to finish off the remaining team’s leader.

Emboldened by her experiences, Karen cuts her hair short to signify a new beginning, and runs into the team’s real-world players: rhythm athletics club members who are in high school. Spending time with her new friends, Karen also runs into Gōshi Asōgi, who plays M in GGO. Gōshi reveals that he knows and is in love with Pitohui, but fears Pitohui will commit suicide should she lose in GGO. Perplexed, Karen decides to help him out nonetheless and asks Miyu to join up wiht them. This is where we are in Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online (Alternative from here on out, as spelling the entire thing out is too lengthy): immediately, my impressions of this Sword Art Online spin-off is that it is very enjoyable. Kirito’s absence is a significant one, and I contend that the series proceeds smoothly without his presence. I’ve long found his character to be implausible, and his attitude insufferable. By comparison, Karen is a very plausible character who finds escape in video games, and while she may enjoy unnatural performance in GGO, her real-world struggles and desire to escape to a fictional space are something that gamers can strongly relate to. I personally play shooters because it’s fun to both explore new worlds and test the limit of my skills in a space where performance is not relevant: reality requires that put in an honest effort into what I do, so I escape this in video games and play where how I do is unimportant. Karen’s newfound sense of confidence from playing GGO is also refreshing to watch. At the halfway point, however, Alternative also reintroduces the old death-related themes that characterised Sword Art Online. Here, it is not a forced component, and Alternative explores a darker side of gaming, as well. While perhaps overtly dramatic, I am curious to see how Karen will play a role in helping Gōshi with Pitohui.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • By Alternative‘s halfway point, audiences know that Llenn is Karen and M is Gōshi, so I’m going to refer to them by their real-world names rather than their in-game names. While engaging, half of Alternative is set in a desert akin to Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds‘s Miramar map. Here, the two are playing sniper-spotter, where Gōshi decides against engaging another group of enemies. The first episode drops viewers straight into things and ends with Karen beating up a group made up of either Special Units (Japan’s equivalent of SWAT) or JDSF’s Special Forces members.

  • Karen Kohiruimaki stands at 183 centimeters and is voiced by Tomori Kusunoki (who’d played minor roles in Eromanga SenseiGirls’ Last Tour and Slow Start, but also has recently played more major roles in Märchen Mädchen). Uncomfortable with her height, Karen is disinterested in fashion, prefers reading and is quite introverted. By the time of Alternative, Karen is a second-year university student in an undisclosed major and does not appear to have a part-time job, so going on a limb and recalling my own experiences, I would also conclude that Karen’s a reasonably capable student if she can find the time to game and keep up with her studies.

  • I say this because in my second year, I nearly fell below the 3.3 GPA required to stay in my honours program because I was ineffective in managing my time. After my third year, however, things turned around. Here, Karen is talking with Miyu, her best friend and a gamer who puts me to shame in terms of hours spent gaming. There are really all sorts of people out there – while I count myself a gamer of moderate skill, there are some people who spend more time playing games than I spent working. I am always baffled by some folks who have a hundred service stars for their gas grenades in Battlefield 1, for instance.

  • Karen initially struggles to find a game with a proper avatar for her, and this is something I cannot relate to. For games where I can customise how I look, I usually choose something that isn’t too ugly and then pop straight into the game. This moment also highlights an interesting safety feature of the new VR headsets in Alternative: if the user’s vitals reach unsafe points, the system will automatically disengage. I certainly would not mind seeing more fanservice moments of Karen in Alternative, but for the present, this has been very limited.

  • Karen eventually lands on a tiny female avatar that is the epitome of Japanese standards for kawaii: a petite frame, round face, large eyes and a squeaky voice. Kusunoki does a solid job with voices in Alternative, presenting Llenn’s voice as squeaky as one is wont to hearing in shows like Kiniro Mosaic or Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?, switching over to a deeper, quieter and more mature voice when playing Karen. This avatar is precisely what Karen’s been looking for, and she prances about in celebration. Soon after creating her avatar and enjoying it, Karen decides to actually go into the world of GGO and see what it’s about.

  • Initially participating in PvE against monsters to collect the resources needed to buy better gear, Karen’s experience in GGO is not too dissimilar to that of games like Destiny or The Division. In fact, The Division encourages players to reach level thirty, wherein the entire array of skills, talents and perks unlock. In MMO terms, The Division allows one to unlock all branches of a skill tree at the level cap, and then forces players to pick the combination of skills, talents and perks that best suit their play-style. It is at level thirty when things get real interesting in The Division.

  • Unlike Karen and GGO, I’m completely optimised for PvE combat in The Division, and I get my ass kicked if I should run into any rogue agents. After some time in GGO, Karen has earned enough currency to customise her looks somewhat, and while she enjoys a beverage here, her choice of pink gear allows her to blend in to the fiery desert sunset. This is where she has her first PvP encounter: while some folks find Llenn’s design to be overpowered, her high speed and puny hitbox is offset by a low durability. While the size of female hitboxes are apparently the subject of no small debate, the best games out there with variably-sized hitboxes will always balance things out so that characters that are harder to hit are also more fragile.

  • Karen eventually meets one Pitohui in GGO: a highly skilled player, Pitohui teams up with Karen on PvE missions. Pitohui’s identity is no mystery to me, and she’s voiced by Yōko Hikasa (Mio Akiyama of K-On!, Houki Shinonono from Infinite Stratos and New Game‘s Kō Yagami). I’ve long enjoyed Hikasa’s performances: she’s able to project a sense of maturity and sexiness in her characters, and her singing voice is also quite good. The music of K-On! with Mio on leading vocals, and Mio’s character songs are the best place to hear Hikasa’s performances.

  • Pitohui plays GGO the same way I play many shooters: with different guns on almost every mission. It’s always fun to experience shooters with a diverse range of weapons, and things get old real fast if I were to run through every mission or match with the “best” or “easy” guns. This is why I will occasionally mix it up in things like battlefield, where I run with weapons I am unfamiliar with for the thrill of the challenge. Of course, if I get salty, I will switch back over to the “tryhard” guns. Karen, on the other hand, prefers to run with her FN P90, a space age-looking personal defense weapon with a 50-round capacity, fires at 900 RPM and shoots 5.7×28mm ammunition. Its design makes it highly manoeuvrable, and in Battlefield 3, I found the P90 a fine gun when outfitted with a laser sight, suppressor and Kobra RDS.

  • In Battlefield 4, I’ve unlocked the P90 but have yet to use it extensively for my engineer: the UMP-45 is my most used PDW. Battlefield 1 has changed the way gunplay works, and I’ve not touched earlier Battlefield titles for some time, but I am tempted to come back and try Karen’s loadout, which is a stock P90-only setup I would call “hipfire scrub”. Like all gamers who want to get the most bang for their buck, Karen occasionally consults online guides to better improve her strategy, although there are occasions when she gets in touch with Miyu, as well.

  • With all of the formalities out of the way now, the Squad Jam event begins. My main reason for not playing current battle royale titles like Fortnite or PUBG is that I am an impatient gamer. I am at my best running around, killing people and then dying, respawning and doing the same. As a result of my styles, I have a very high number of deaths in Battlefield games, but I also contribute greatly to my team’s performances. In other games, where staying alive is important, I tend to play more cautiously. Here, Karen is seen with Gōshi: as M, Gōshi rolls with the M14 EBR and the HK45. In order to approximate his loadout, I would run with support class with the M39 EMR and the Compact 45.

  • I’ve opted to leave out most of the combat scenes in Alternative because they’re meant to be watched in motion, not as individual stills. After taking down a team of players with real-world training and a team with airboats, Gōshi and Karen evade a third team. Gōshi reveals a plot to kill Karen so he can stand down without dying, leading to the most hilarious moment of Alternative that leaves Karen’s Llenn with what I’ve come to call funny faces. The presence of these funny faces show that Alternative is not taking itself as seriously as its predecessors, which I greatly welcome.

  • Against a team of deadly-looking female players, Karen finds herself outgunned, but clever use of plasma grenades that look a great deal like the seeker mines of The Division and support from Gōshi, who’s regained his composure, allows Karen to escape defeat and fight another day. As Llenn, Karen’s playstyle is absolutely brutal and sexy: she makes use of Llenn’s small size, speed, game mechanics and her environment to devastate her enemies in ways that I’ve not seen from the YouTubers that I follow, even sacrificing her P90 to stop the enemy’s bullets for the sake of victory.

  • In a one-on-one, Karen manages to best the remaining group’s leader with a knife, bringing an end to her first-ever Squad Jam competition. Despite the first five episodes being focused around Squad Jam, Alternative never becomes boring at all, and I am very fond of Karen/Llenn’s characterisation. Lacking the things that made Kirito a dull protagonist at best (and an insufferable one at worse), I feel that Sword Art Online would have done better to have Kirito encounter a larger number of male players, doing away with the group of female admirers he accumulated in favour of people who are there to share his experiences and challenges. Back in Alternative, Karen’s win brings to mind how Jeremy defeats DeathStriker6666 in Pure Pwnage by means of a knife in the “Lanageddon” episode.

  • In the real world, Karen meets up with the high school students whom she’d played against in the Squad Jam tournament and finds in them a new group of friends who are impressed with her play-style. Having long envied them for their short stature, Karen had no idea they were equally envious of her figure, and it is with the confidence of victory from GGO that Karen finally is able to break the ice with this group of high school students. She’s cut her hair short to signify the turning over of a new leaf.

  • I’ve been called a scrub before for using PDWs like the P90 in Battlefield 3, and in Battlefield 1, players who use the Automatico M1918 Trench are similarly disparaged. High RPM weapons, or “spray-and-pray” weapons require very little skill to use in single combat: because they fire quickly, they have a higher DPS as well. In this sense, Karen is a scrub for favouring PDWs and speed: her approach is one of my favourite ways to roll, although since Battlefield 1 introduced the sweet spot mechanic and increased muzzle velocity to make sniping easier, I’ve taken to using bolt action rifles more frequently. At present, I can make use of any rifle outside of their sweet spot and be modestly effective with them.

  • Introducing everyone on the rhythm athletics club members will be an exercise for another day, but their story is another example of how video games can be helpful. Initially, this group of girls lacked team spirit, so their coach encouraged them to work on this in a virtual space, where faces and names do not matter. After becoming hooked on GGO, the girls have seen an improved performance in their club activities and also have another hobby from which to bond over. They seek Karen’s counsel in trying to improve, since the thrill of Squad Jam has left a considerable impression on them.

  • Karen travels home while on break, and upon returning to Tokyo, finds herself face to face with Gōshi. She’s visibly shocked at meeting Gōshi in person, sufficiently so that she has another funny face moment. I note here that if my readers are interested in meeting me in person, there’d better be a bloody good reason for it.

  • Gōshi explains a bit of his story with Pitohui to Karen and details Pitohui’s obsession with death in a story that is chilling as befitting of Sword Art Online. Thrill-seekers such as these are rare in reality, and Gōshi’s devotion to Pitohui foreshadows at what is to happen next. The second half of Alternative will follow another Squad Jam battle where the stakes are much higher, and if executed well, this will certainly be a blast to watch.

  • I will conclude this Alternative post with a fanservice image of Miyu for your amusement, and explain the page quote: it’s sourced from Tom Clancy’s Locked On, and is a reasonable approximation of how Karen might feel about things concerning Gōshi and Pitohui. Instead of backing down, however, she recruits game expert Miyu to help out, and I’m curious to see what Miyu brings to the table. Since we’re dealing with games, The Division‘s Onslaught global event begins tomorrow, and Wednesday will see the reveal trailer to Battlefield V.

It is therefore appropriate to say that, despite its simpler showing insofar, Alternative has nonetheless done a fantastic job of conveying what a VR battle royale shooter looks like, and for illustrating the postive impact that video games may have on folk like Karen. Sword Art Online had always excelled in having strong background and world-building, as well as for inclusion of game mechanics in its narrative. I understand that presently, battle royale games are all the rage, especially with the likes of Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, so Alternative is also relevant to the period. While I’m adamantly against playing battle royale games because they involve more running than shooting, I also accept that the unpredictability and the attendant thrill adds to the genre’s appeal. Seeing terminology and mechanics from first person shooters make their way into GGO, with a game type that has surged in popularity was therefore highly entertaining. GGO is especially attractive for me because I’ve played enough shooters to know how they work from a technical level (I presently don’t play MMOs). By comparison, Sword Art Online‘s thematic elements and characterisation have traditionally been weaker. While themes of death slowly begin to return with a host of individuals with uncommon backgrounds, Alternative has remained reasonably grounded and relatable. One would therefore hope that this trend continues; at the risk of treading on toes, Kirito’s absence and all of the romance-related turmoil makes Alternative all the stronger, and one would hope that Karen’s story in GGO is unfettered by unnecessary romance, allowing Alternative to focus purely on video games and their potential positive impact on one’s mental health.