Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Sword Art Online - Aincrad

Sword Art Online - Aincrad
Sword Art Online - Aincrad by Reki Kawahara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finished this during traffic on the bus. It's a very quick read.

This first volume covers the launch of the first Virtual Reality MMO where players use NervGear helmets to achieve "deep dive," a state that allows full immersion in the game. About two hours into the launch, the creator of Sword World Online announces that everyone is now trapped in the game with no way to logout. This taking of the players hostage is achieved via the specifics of the NervGear interface which basically cuts off all of the brain's signals so that they translate to actions in game rather than as instructions to one's body. Death in the game also results in the NervGear electrocuting (or microwaving; the translation is hazy) the player's brain, killing the in the real world as well.

Sword Art Online is set on the huge floating "castle" called Aincrad which is itself divided into 100 floors. Players start on Floor 1 and negotiate the maze there until they come upon and defeat the floor's boss, in which case access to the next floor is granted.

As I've said, this novel is a very quick read, not just because it is relatively short at less than 400 pages. The pacing is fast, often jumping months, and years to follow the main character. By the time the game is cleared at the end of this volume, two years have already passed in the story, and the main characters are at a supposedly high level, and the frontier of exploration has moved to the 75th floor.

Those who have played MMORPGs before (and have been hooked) will definitely find something to like in this action-adventure/love story. Even without NervGear, the experience we players had with the current MMOs are comparable: sometimes, the difference between the real and the virtual worlds blur, get confused. And you're left with the feeling that one is better than the other.

I'm looking forward to reading through Volume 2 which are side-stories set parallel to the main storyline of Volume 1. In the anime adaptation, these stories have been inserted into the episode order, mainly as padding to complete at least 13, or maybe 26 episodes (a season length to which some anime should definitely adhere).

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