As a quick heads up, each episode review I do will also have a basic recap of everything that happens in the episode. While I will omit certain details from time to time, I will mention nearly every major event that happens. So yeah, spoiler alert. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at the first episode of Sword Art Online.
Sword Art Online begins with a news report in the year 2022 about the release of a virtual reality MMO known as Sword Art Online. The game is played on a VR headset known as a Nerve Gear and only ten thousand copies of the game were available upon release. We are then introduced to a young man called Kirito, one of the ten thousand people who managed to get a copy of the game and a former beta tester for SAO. Shortly after Kirito logs in to SAO, he encounters one of the other players in the game. The other player calls himself Klein, and asks Kirito for help with figuring out the basics of SAO. Although Kirito seems reluctant at first, he agrees to help out.
The scene then switches to a field outside of the town where Klein immediately gets his ass handed to him by a large boar. But with Kirito’s explanation of how the sword skill system works in SAO, Klein manages to defeat the boar. While Klein celebrates, Kirito reminds him that the boar is one of the weakest enemies in the game.
After several hours of killing boars and other wildlife in the area in a typical MMORPG fashion, Kirito and Klein take a break. In this scene we get some character development, particularly for Kirito as he talks about his experience in the beta. It becomes pretty clear that Kirito is a hardcore gamer. Klein then gets up to log out so that he can enjoy his pizza which will soon arrive in real life, only to find out that he cannot log out of the game. Kirito confirms that he can’t log out either and ponders why the development team hasn’t done anything about it yet.
Suddenly both of them are teleported to the central plaza of the nearby city, along with all the other players in the game. A large red figure forms out of a blood like substance that falls from the sky and the cloaked figure reveals their identity: the creator of SAO and the Nerve Gear himself, Akihiko Kayaba. Kayaba then explains to players that them being unable to log out is part of the game itself. How exactly a feature like that got past QA and the rest of the development team is beyond me, as there is no way any game company would support a decision like that.
To make matters worse, Kayaba tells the players that they cannot even be pulled out of the game by having the Nerve Gear removed from their head. If someone does pull off the Nerve Gear, it will basically make scrambled eggs out of the player’s brain. The bad news doesn’t end there either. If a player should die in the game, they will die in real life.
But there is some good news, if a player manages to make it all the way to the one hundredth floor of Aincrad and beat the final boss then everyone will be released from the game without getting their brain destroyed in the process. Then for some odd reason, Kayaba gives all the players a mirror that changes their avatars so that it looks exactly like they do in real life.
So why is Kayaba doing all of this? Put simply, he just wanted a world that he has complete control over, including the inhabitants of that world. So basically, he just wants to play god with peoples’ lives in a world of his own creation. He then vanishes, allowing the news to sink in for all the helpless players trapped in the game.
Realizing that the starting area is about to get swamped by people desperately seeking to get the experience points, items, and money needed to survive, Kirito quickly departs from the plaza and takes Klein with him. With his knowledge of the beta, Kirito comes up with a plan to head to the next town and kill creatures in that area where there will be less competition. He insists that Klein should come with him, but Klein refuses in order to find his guildmates whom are still at the plaza. The episode ends with a determined Kirito running off toward his destination. Then after the credits there is a scene where it shows that two thousand players died within the first month of SAO and that the first floor had yet to be cleared as of December 2nd, 2022.
The story is not without its issues though. I mean let’s face it, realistically speaking there is no way developers or publishers would ever allow a game to prevent players from logging out. They especially would not implement a system that could actually kill players if they died or had the Nerve Gear removed. Creating a game like that would not only be career suicide but would also break quite a few laws. Although once you suspend your disbelief, SAO has a great and entertaining concept.
Now let’s look at the world of SAO for a moment. Despite the dangerous nature of it, Aincrad is a wonderful concept for a fantasy world. Just the idea of a large castle like structure with one hundred floors featuring a variety of environments to explore and enemies to fight sounds like a game I would love to play in real life. The backgrounds featured in this episode are simply incredible and vibrant. Even as far as a game goes, SAO has some interesting mechanics in place. SAO has no magic spells, and relies solely on weapon skills which is not something many RPGs do. The only oddity is the Sims style diamond shape that hovers over players and enemies when you see Aincrad from a player’s point of view.
So far I’d say that the dub for SAO has been a mixed bag. There are times where Kirito’s voice just sounds too old for a male teenager. I didn’t like Klein’s voice at first, but it has started to grow on me a bit. However there are some really bad lines in this first episode. Examples include Klein saying that the game can wait while he “gets his pizza on”. Then in the same scene when Klein is expressing his gratitude to Kirito he tells him how someday he will pay Kirito back “virtually, that is”. This line just sounds really weird, how else would he return the favor in an online game?
Overall, Swort Art Online is off to a great start with the first episode. It remains to be seen how things progress from here. As I watch more episodes, I’ll be able to recommend if SAO should be watched or avoided.