Live by the sword: ‘Sword Art Online’ is a meta-commentary on the nature of video games

Roni Rafeh
Staff Writer

Many gamers have experienced that feeling of believing some games to be so absorbing that it’s almost real. Usually, this is a metaphorical referral to compelling storylines and characters that create an almost real-life experience. But what happens if one takes it in the literal sense? Well, one gets a rather unique anime known as “Sword Art Online.”

“Sword Art Online” follows our protagonist Kazuto Kirigaya and his adventures in the latest Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online (VRMMO) game known as “Sword Art Online.” The game is played by putting on a helmet, known as the nerve gear, that connects to one’s nerves to stimulate a virtual world.

A beta tester, one of the first thousand to try the game, Kazuto (or Kirito as he calls his in-game avatar) and other players must complete 100 levels before winning, using only swords, axes, and physical weapons.

When the beta testers begin the game, however, they are surprised to find out that the “Exit” button has disappeared and they can’t leave. At this point, the creator of the game, Akihiko Kayaba, appears in front of the players and tells them that this is not a defect in the game but is how the game was meant to be played.

None of the players can leave the game before completing all 100 floors of the virtual world known as Aincrad and, as an added bonus, any player who dies in the game or removes his or her headgear dies in real life as the nerve gear sends microwaves into their brains and ends their life.

Kirito is at an advantage as he knows exactly what to do to become more powerful (seeing as he was a beta tester to begin with), but isolates himself from others and becomes a solo player so as not to get anyone else hurt (as he tragically finds out is a possibility early on).

The anime is excellent and will keep watchers at the edge of their seats. The tension could be cut with a knife as viewers wonder who will be next to be removed from the virtual and the real world. A lot of the tension comes from the great character development. Viewers find themselves connecting with many of the characters and wondering whether one of their many favorite characters was in jeopardy.

What adds to the authenticity of the characters and the uniqueness of the anime is the conversations between the players about the real world. Having spent years in the game trying to complete it, they start to forget what is actually real.

The battles are intense and look just as epic as they are meant to be, especially during the big battles at the end of each floor, which require many players to cooperate together.

Though the show’s premise demands viewership, there is a huge crack in the armor. After the first season, which comprises 14 episodes, the show becomes a bit dull and almost all the tension is gone. The gripping tale of survival starts to become more of a romance between two main characters with a little bit of what made the show great added in between. Regardless, the show is still going strong with a new season currently being released.

This is a must watch for all viewers, at least for the first season, for its gripping story and dramatic tension. The following seasons are still very good but nowhere near the standards of how the show started. That said, “Sword Arts Online” is well worth a watch for its unique blend of the anime and gaming genres.

Photo source: blackgate.com

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