Book Review: Sword Art Online Volume 1

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Score: 9.5 out of 10

If you’ve listened to either last week’s GeeksFTW podcast or this week’s I Recommend podcast, you’ve heard me talk about the anime Sword Art Online {SAO}. This has become my new favorite anime, along with Death Note and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. After I finished watching the show I wanted more. I’ve recently started reading the books. As of this review I’ve only finished the first book. I was going to review the anime itself [Everyone who likes anime should watch it. There quick review] but I realized that less people have read the books and would get more out of a book review. There are going to be minor spoilers in this review.

Sword Art Online volume 1 was released as a light novel in April 2009 and written by Reki Kawahara. He originally wrote it for a contest back in 2002 but it was too long and didn’t have the heart to shorten it. He didn’t really know what to do with it so he released it online and got high praise. He continued with sequels and side stories. Eventually ASCII Media Works picked it up and started publishing all the SAO volumes.

For those of you who don’t know what Sword Art Online is about, takes place in the year 2022 and virtual reality is almost on the Matrix level. People have to wear a helmet-like piece of equipment. It’s called NerveGear. NerveGear basically stops all signals going from a person’s brain to their body and gets turned into control inputs for the NerveGear. So in a sense they are controlling it with their minds.

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Aincrad

Sword Art Online is the first VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). It’s a medieval type fantasy game with castles and sword combat. The world is a giant floating castle with 100 floors known as Aincrad. The each of the floors are huge; some with lakes and small villages, others big enough to house all the 10,000 players. The only way to get the next floor is by defeating a boss monster guarding the stairs.

The players of SAO aren’t able to cast magic; only able to use melee weapons. As a sword/melee user in almost all MMOs, this is my kind of game. On launch day only 10,000 people were able to get a copy of SAO. Of course everyone logged in and started running around. Because everyone was wearing a NerveGear, they were able to touch and smell and taste everything in that world. It was truly another reality. After a while some of the people began to notice a problem. The spot on the menu where was the logout button should be was empty. No one could logout. Since the NerveGear stopped all signals to the body, no one could move their bodies to physically take it off themselves.

Soon after this realization everyone was informed that the logout button was missing by design. The creator of the game, Akihiko Kayaba, wanted everyone to be stuck in this fantasy world full of monsters and other dangers. He also informed everyone that there will be no more resurrections and if they die in SAO then the NerveGear will send an electromagnetic feedback signal into the player’s brain and fry it. In other words death in SAO equals death in the real world. The only way that they can escape the game is by someone reaching and defeating the boss on the 100th floor of Aincrad.

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Kirito

The antagonist of the story, Kirito, has become one of the top strongest players in the game. He is a «clearer» and a «beater». A «clearer» is someone on the frontlines fighting the bosses and clearing the floors for the lower level people and «beater» is combination of the words beta tester and cheater. Beta testers aren’t well liked in the world of SAO because most of them went solo and only look out for themselves. The cheater part of that is unfairly used because the beta testers were in the game before everyone else and have knowledge that nobody else does.

My Final Thoughts:     Something I like about the book over the anime is that you get a lot more internal thoughts of Kirito,     since it is written through his eyes. Also more about the game mechanics of SAO are explained. The only complaint I have about volume 1 is that a huge character developing side story was left out of the book, Yui. The whole Yui story was completely skipped over. I understand that it’s in volume 2, which is nothing but the skipped over side stories, but I felt like it should have been in volume 1. That’s my only reason for not giving this a 10 out of 10.

I am really looking forward to reading more in this series. I can’t wait until I get to volume 5. It covers the continuing adventures of Kirito, Asuna, Leafa (Lyfa), and group where the anime stopped. If you really liked the anime, I really recommend this books. Since they are yet to be translated into English, if ever, the only way you can get them is through a fan translation site. If SAO is ever released here then I will defiantly be picking these up to support more content like this coming to the US.