Welcome to AAB’s light novel reviews! I’ll be starting with the first volume of the critically acclaimed Kawahara Reki series, Sword Art Online.
Title: Sword Art Online
Author: Kawahara Reki
Published: April 2009
Genres: Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance
Note: I’ve tried my best to make it spoiler-free so new fans can take up the series. Future volume reviews will have spoilers.
The year is 2022. Technology has developed to the point where games are now a virtual reality – they can be played by simulating yourself in the game through a piece of headgear, the Nerve Gear. On the day a virtual MMORPG, Sword Art Online is released, 10,000 players log-in and begin playing. When they try to log-out, they can’t – the option to has disappeared. Creator Kayaba Akihiko tells them that they are trapped in the SAO’s castle world of Aincrad, and the only way to escape is to beat all 100 floors of the game. If you die in SAO, Nerve Gear electrocutes your brain in the real world – you die for good.
Volume 1 – Aincrad
Imagine if you had to live in that kind of world. What would you do? Would you remain in the starting city and hope someone beats the game in the future, or would you go out yourself and try to be that person? Sword Art Online tells the story of an MMO fan named Kirito who decides to make the best of his situation, ignore why some insane guy would trap thousands of people in a virtual reality and try to clear the game. I’ve always been impressed by how a light novel can bring so much depth to a story with just words and some pictures, and SAO proves that yet again.
The diverse world of MMORPGs and their society is used in great detail – as Kawahara-sensei said in one of his Author’s Notes at the end of the novel, many people will be inspired to play MMOs if they haven’t already, because of the kind of society SAO exists in. As one would expect from an MMO, there are guilds, PKers and solo players, but because of the rules under which SAO operates, everything suddenly has a totally different meaning.
Because death exists, and people have to live life in SAO, a real gaming society forms. Guilds like the Army establish control over the 1st floor, and the rest of the players split into different factions, with the rest being solo players. People like Kirito, who are beta testers have extensive knowledge of the game and thus a greater chance of survival, meaning they get outcasted from society and are called <beaters>, (beta + cheater) which kinda became a swear word of sorts. Even so, Kirito fights on the front lines daily to aid the war effort, and is probably only treated nicely by axe wielder Egil, katana user Cline and fellow front-liner Yuuki Asuna.
Asuna is another one of the joys of SAO – not just Asuna herself but the whole idea of the Kirito x Asuna pairing. Not only is it canon but their relationship actually goes somewhere, and they buy a small house in the middle of a forest on the 22nd floor. Their days there were definitely one of my favourite parts of the novel – they actually care for each other so much, and Asuna even doesn’t mind staying in Aincrad forever, if she could be with Kirito. It’s such a pure, pure love, and I feel so happy for Kirito that he was able to find his own peace after being a lone wolf for so long in that kind of world.
Of course, like with every other story with a similar genre, there’s action and rivals. The system in SAO is a skill-based one, where the system assists you through motions for various sword skills other than the basic attacks. Kirito’s <Dual Blades> is one such example, with his one being a unique SS in the sense that only he has gained its usage. We only do get to see the 74th and 75th floor bosses defeated, however the message is clear – there are casualties each time, and the number of high level players continue to drop. Among the best of the best is the leader of the high-level guild Knights of the Blood – a paladin named Heathcliff. He’s everything your charismatic leader would usually be, complete with his own monstrous strength and unique SS, <Holy Sword>. No-one has ever seen his HP drop below 1/2, and his skill…it’s almost as if he was a god or something…
Skimming over the details of the final battle (which I can’t mention any more without spoiling) the ending of this 1st volume was stunning. I can almost picture it – Kirito and Asuna on a grassy field, hugging each other and crying while they look out over Aincrad – I said it earlier but it’s amazing how Kawahara-sensei can paint something like this just using words, just that correct mix of casual and formal. SAO’s characters, plot, society and everything was just beautifully crafted, and I feel privileged to be able to read his work, both SAO and its subtle counterpart Accel World. (though really, SAO is tons better xD) I guess if someone were to ask me which my favourite volume was (out of the 7 I’ve read) my answer would always be either this or Volume 4. New fans, you’ll understand as you go through the series ^^
It’s a great light novel, and I encourage everyone that isn’t familiar with it to get reading, it’s easily read online or downloadable as a PDF file if you search around Baka-Tsuki, the light novel translation site. If my opinion of it isn’t worth enough, then hopefully this delicious Asuna offering will appease you.