Sword Art Online Discussion Post

Because it has proven necessary. Discuss the original novel, the anime, Abridged, and all things between!

110 Comments

  1. Is there any way to move the current thread on The Hero Appears over here? It’s great and all but I would like to keep things organized.

    1. CrazyEd says:
      If there isn’t, a simple link to that chain of comments either in this comment or the post body itself would probably suffice to maintain some semblance of continuity.
  2. illhousen says:

    I think the derail is mostly wrapped up by now.

    So, anyway, in light of SAO:A finale, I think it’s worthwhile to revive the discussion about the potential continuation as it seems we are going to get it eventually.

    And, well, I’m not sure there is a way to make the second arc of SAO tolerable even in Abridged format short of employing editing so heavy that the plotline would become utterly unrecognizable.

    (Though it would be hilarious if the Abridged adaptation consisted of Kirito going to see Asuna, Asuna waking up, and then cut to credits roll with “And nothing happened in-between at all” voiceover.)

    Perhaps a better solution would be to jump to the second season instead, about that shooter game. It’s improved so much compared to the original SAO as to be a perfectly mediocre anime from which you can unironically derive some enjoyment (though, of course, there are still issues).

    Also, it has DEATH GUN, a perfect nemesis to Kirito.

    The only issue with adapting it into SAO:A continuity is that it has even less Asuna than the second arc of the first season, which would be a major loss.

    1. GoldenFalls says:

      I’m really hoping that they do some voice switching shenanigans. Either switch Asuna into one of the characters with more screen presence in the fairy arc or have her in Kirito’s body in SAO 2. I’d find it really funny and it would let Asuna be more relevant.

      1. CrazyEd says:
        Out of all the characters in SAO2, I’m most curious about how they’ll handle Sinon and the Jesusfreak guy (for reasons that are spoilers). My hope for Sinon is that they’ll capitalize on the scenes where Sinon just starts snickering evilly to herself about how she intends to kill all the strong players and Kirito wonders if she could be Death Gun. Those seem like they’d be the most ripe for comedic exageration. She can be Heroic (?) Sociopath Buddies with Kirito! It probably wouldn’t be that hard to just edit the story so that Sinon is Asuna’s GGO avatar and she just doesn’t look like her real life self but I think that would change too much of the story for it to count as a straight parody of what actually happens in SAO2.

        Bu oh my god. SAO:A Kirito having to play mental health council to another person. Poor Sinon.

      2. illhousen says:

        Hm, body switching is workable, but what about the plot? I suppose it should be possible to cut out the whole birdcage thing and make it be about something else. Or, I don’t know, make it so the villain uses Asuna-lookalike NPC to promote the game and satisfy his waifu fetish. Literally a soulless replacement for the character.

  3. CrazyEd says:
    What are the thoughts on the youtuber Digibro’s videos on why SAO is a terrible anime and SAO2 isn’t much better? In my opinion, they’re a pretty good introductory primer to why SAO is bad, and they’re probably the most popular hate-videos on the topic on youtube.
    1. illhousen says:

      You should probably link the videos. I vaguelly recall hearing something about them on another site entirely, but I’ve never actually watched them.

      1. GoldenFalls says:
        Here is the SAO review. It’s just audio so you can treat it like a podcast. Whiles it does a good jobof comprehensively pointing out SAO’s flaws, idk how much I’d reccomend it as a primer since it’s an hour long.

        This is the start of the SAO 2 review series. It’s a lot tighter and is supported by visuals.

        1. illhousen says:

          Yeah, an hour of pure audio is not for me. I can’t even listen audiobooks most of the time, and only listen to Welcome to Night Vale because it has hypnotized me help.

          Would you mind providing bullet points for the video? That is, if you have time and inclination.

          1. CrazyEd says:
            There’s is video but its just an hour of him wandering around a free to play Korean MMO. The video description contains both a table of contents with time-stamps pointing to the start of each of the sections he breaks down his complaints into, and if the unrelated video doesn’t help you focus on listening to the audio, he has a text version linked in the description as well. Digibro puts a lot of effort into organizing and scripting his videos (at least on that channel). When he said “I could write a book on why The Asterisk War is a terrible show”, he really meant it. The script for that twelve part series has a wordcount of about 52,000 words. That’s the show that was so bad he bumped SAO from a 1.0 on his MyAnimeList up to a 1.5. It also comes with an actual video with really well done editing so you might find it far easier to watch if you want to look at anything of his other work. The SAO1 diatribe is unusual in that its just him talking over an unrelated video (due to copyright problems).
  4. Farla says:

    I’ll disagree with consensus: there is nothing wrong with SAO being an awful MMO. The problem is only no one commenting on it.

    If we assume the maker of SAO is similar to the writer, in that both played MMOs as singleplayer games, and knowing that player retention is a nonissue because you just have to get them to log in once, it’s completely reasonable to have SAO built in such a way that it superficially resembles a MMO but Kirito’s lone-wolf playstyle is viable. It could even be set up deliberately to screw over MMO players. I’d guess, for example, that the exp mechanics are built so, say, two people fighting a monster get 1/4th of the exp each, or worse. You can’t level as fast as the people doing it all on their own and possibly end up taking just as much risk due to all the extra fights you’ll need to do. Etc. Now the main reason to join up is to gang up on other players. If the floor bosses are the only point where it makes sense to have multiple players fight a single enemy, then players aren’t experienced working together and it’s more of the traditional hero setup of everyone doing their own thing and one being better at it than everyone else, with bonus mass death because no one’s supporting each other properly.

    (This would give more bite to Kirito figuring it out – of course someone who designed his game to murder MMO guild players would be watching his own guild getting cut down with a creepy expression.)

    1. Roarke says:

      This didn’t come up in SAO:A, but there were quite a few mechanics back in the original canon that basically existed just to foster mistrust among raiders. 

       The specific example I’m thinking of is the “last hit” mechanic. This actually originated in MOBA, where only the person who lands the killing blow gets experience for the mob. It became a strategy to feed one person all the kills so they would vastly overpower the enemy team if they tried to share experience, or set your own minions up to die before the enemy can get in the last hit themselves. I’m given to understand it’s not a common mechanic anymore, because, well, it’s stupid and not constructive.

      In SAO, the person who gets the last hit on the boss gets the rare drop. It’s almost literally the most insane way anyone could choose to reward something that is fundamentally a cooperative venture. I’d totally see that being the norm all throughout SAO. There is a short story Kawahara Reki wrote about Kirito’s first day, and how on that first day a beta tester tried to set him up to die so that he wouldn’t have to wait his turn to loot a quest item. 

      It’s got almost this Battle Royal-esque feel to it, where the game is designed to sow mistrust and discord as its premise.

    2. illhousen says:

      Hm. I would agree that it makes sense. Kayaba’s plans aside, it actually generally makes sense for SAO to be an awful game coaching on New Awesome Technology because, well, that happened already with early 3D games. Most of them were godawful, and even the better ones, like Grim Fandango, struggled with their own technology base.

      The issue, indeed, is that SAO is generally presented as a good MMO in-universe.

      While normally I’m mostly indfifferent about it, one thing I take issue with is solo players. SAO actually does establish that they operate at a great disadvantage: zero error margin, inability to reliably fight powerful enemies, vulnerability to status effects, etc. Yet Kirito is still the best at what he does.

      Which, I feel, is detrimenal to the narrative since the opposite situation, where Kirito has to join a guild to stay relevant (instead of machismo honor shenanigans) could have led to much-needed character development and more prominent character interaction.

      Your take on the issue, with more parallels between Kirito and Kayaba (and the author) drawn, is interesting, though it also kinda ties with another issue I see in SAO: the protagonists don’t really defeat the villain.

      They play the game in accordance with Kayaba’s designs, they reach an outcome he finds satisfactory, and then they’re released because he decided to actually uphold his agreement instead of eliminating all witnesses and starting from scratch.

      They can certainly be credited with saving lives on account of ending the game a quarter length earlier, but that doesn’t really feel cathartic to me (or, well, it wouldn’t if I were invested in Kirito, anyway. As it is, it’s actually amusing in undermining his power fantasy: he “wins” because the villain has accepted him as a part of his own fantasy).

      1. GoldenFalls says:

        Yeah, I think recognizing the antagonistic mechanics would be a good step towards improving the story, but it wouldn’t have a satisfying ending unless it was paired with the main characters fighting to overcome those in-built difficulties and deny Kayaba the man-eat-man world he wanted to create. If you’re not going to do that, either the story becomes entirely different and a whole lot darker, or you might as well scrap the evil design philosophy and have it work like a normal, tried-and-true MMO.

        1. Farla says:

          unless it was paired with the main characters fighting to overcome those in-built difficulties and deny Kayaba the man-eat-man world he wanted to create.

          Well, the summaries I have of Actual SAO don’t give me much sense of character, so I was thinking more in terms of Abridged, but I felt that was a good look at how someone comes to care about and support others without mechanics ever mattering. Kayaba could think that the regular MMO mechanics were there to force socialization/make it so those mean popular kids got unfair advantage over the truly 1337 lone wolves, and that all human interactions are always transactional, so he builds a system where there’s no benefit to working together at all but people just keep being social and working together anyway. He assumes this is because they are dumb losers who can’t figure out how to play the game, but post-battle game rewards don’t really matter in a battle to get out of the game, and he’s taken by surprise when his apparent soulmate lone wolf ultimately beats him by actually working together with other human beings out of basic altuism instead of the promise of numbers getting bigger.

          1. Nerem says:
            It’s hard to get a sense of Kayaba’s character because he really doesn’t have one. When asked about his motives when he is defeated he basically shrugs and goes “I don’t know.”

             

            The closest the novels have to a motive for him is Kayaba’s girlfriend saying that he always wanted to build a giant floating castle and be a villian.

             

            A lot of the terrible game mechanics in SAO come from it both being written at an early time in MMO history and also Reki literally having no understanding of the one MMO he played (FF11).

             

            He basically thought the top tier players were like.. well, Kirito. Cool lone wolves who could take on a dozen players in PvP and out-regen their attacks and then solo raid bosses.

             

            Which was literally the opposite of how FF11, being intensely team-oriented focused, to the point that you couldn’t do anything without a party.

          2. illhousen says:

            Hm, so, moving the conflict into a more ideological field and away from the literal confrontation. That’s probably the best approach given the basic premise.

            1. Farla says:

              Actually, you know what’d be cool?

              Kirito is challenged to a match (and with the same rules as their original duel, to be “fair”) – but only he gets out if he wins. BUT HEY, Kayaba’s reasonable, so after the match where they’ll lose their top fighter, he’ll let the rest of the group go to level/recruit and then try the boss again, since it’s not their fault Kirito screwed up here. He doesn’t paralyze them in this because he just kills the couple people who rush him and figures that’s good enough – who’d risk their life once it’s clear it won’t do any good?

              Of course, Kirito struggling with a L75 boss isn’t going to be able to take a guy built for a fight at L100ish, and Kayaba is now pulling out all sorts of fun boss mechanics he didn’t use while pretending to be a real player. This isn’t Kayaba recognizing his true greatness, it’s punishment for spoiling Kayaba’s cool plot twist. Asuna then does some sort of suicide strike save Kirito from the killing blow, as opposed to just getting herself killed – she gets the asshole below his precious 50% health, maybe impaling herself on his sword so he can’t block her strikes. Asuna gets absolutely nothing from doing this, but the combination of damage, shock, and her tangled up in his weapon lets Kirito finish him off before Asuna completely disappears (they are both supposed to be specialists in speed, after all).

              Because Asuna and Kirito together fulfulled the Floor 100 victory condition, and because Asuna doing this at all disproves Kayaba’s entire concept of how people work, he lets them all out and stops Asuna’s headgear from murdering her.

              As a bonus, it now makes marginally more sense he’d be mumbling about how he doesn’t even know why he did this at the end, he’s not really listening to them at all but is lost in his own head.

              Reply
            2. CrazyEd says:
              Hm… I think I follow you (it would also be a pretty demoralizing “this is what awaits you on Floor 100” moment), but do you mean that Kirito and Asuna would complete the clear condition and each earn their freedom individually or that their combined efforts would result in the clear condition Kayaba meant only for Kirito being completed? And why would their team-up have him freeing everyone, exactly? I don’t follow your logic there. I think I can see where you’re going with it, and turning it into an idealogical battle would definitely improve things, but… yeah, sorry, I’m just not following your words.

              Now, what would be really interesting is if Kirito said no there, because he has grown to be unable to leave everyone else behind. Not because SAO is the best thing that ever happened to him, not even because it excludes the people who he knows and cares about, but because he refuses to leave someone trapped here when he gets out. I wonder how your version of Kayaba would react to having that wind taken out of his sails.

              Honestly, though, of all the problems I have with SAO’s plot… Kayaba not remembering what inspired him to do this barely registers in me. Meta-narratively its kind of a huge cop-out but from the perspective of Kayaba-as-an-actor, I could totally see someone so fucking far off the deep end that he became consumed by a dream that ended in this result just kind of… losing track of the plot himself. He didn’t fail to see the forest for the trees; in the process of creating, designing, and detailing the trees to create his dream forest he forgot exactly what that forest looked like in its entirety. If that makes sense. That metaphor ended up more butchered than I thought it would.

              Reply
            3. illhousen says:

              At this point may as well rewrite the final fight more and have it so Kayaba is all geared up for a manly duel between him and Kirito only for Klein to parry the killing blow while Asuna stabs him in the back, then Tiffany joins the fray, etc.

              I mean, that would kinda go into the cheesy anime ending territory where everyone and their dog fight the big bad, but it kinda works for me, and it would work thematically there since it would be about subverting the power fantasy of lone wolves in favor of cooperation and working in synch with each other.

              Kayaba can still attempt to do his boss mechanics to prove what a terrible idea that is for the players, but they would be able to overcome him anyway, with some losses (perhaps massive losses) because, despite all of his efforts, they actually did learn to work together.

              Reply
            4. Farla says:

              And why would their team-up have him freeing everyone, exactly?

              The win condition for Kirito’s lone wolf duel is just to get Kayaba under 50%. He does this whole BEHOLD MY TRUE FORM THING, fully heals, and starts beating the shit out of Kirito. He’s near 50% when he’s about to do the killing blow. Asuna intervenes, getting him a good chunk below 50% but, more importantly, fucking up his ability to block blows, allowing Kirito to dualblade him down to zero and fulfill the Floor 100 victory condition for the game itself.

              The problem with Kirito volunteering to stay is that it’s really hard to sell “okay, so I thought I wanted to get out, but actually it’s super great in here, but actually actually I want to get out but with my friends I made in here” in a single burst. There would be nothing too surprising about wanting to stay in the game with the other players when that’s almost exactly what Kayaba wants too. If the game was objectively horrible and Kayaba was just doing it to torture people, then Kirito saying he’s getting out with everybody or not at all would be a counter, but this is totally Kayaba’s baby.

              (Also, in this view, it wouldn’t really be an offer so much as a “oh so you think you’re so fucking smart? how come you weren’t smart enough to see this coming?” bit of lashing out at the player who didn’t respect spoiler policy.)

              Reply
            5. Farla says:

              At this point may as well rewrite the final fight more and have it so Kayaba is all geared up for a manly duel between him and Kirito only for Klein to parry the killing blow while Asuna stabs him in the back, then Tiffany joins the fray, etc.

              Well, at that point we’re back to it being a regular boss fight. Fighting the guy who can let them all out is understandable behavior, and doing it in groups isn’t any different than how it was before. Asuna getting herself killed so Kirito doesn’t die, however, is pure altuism because she doesn’t benefit from it.

              Also acceptable would be for Kirito, at low health, to realize he’s just not good enough to win this, sacrifices himself unparalyzing Asuna, who, as the other fastest player, then gets the dualwielding skill and finishes the weakened Kayaba off within the ten second grace period.

              Reply
            6. CrazyEd says:
              The win condition

              So Asuna completes the win condition for the duel, but Kirito completes the win condition for the game? Okay, I follow now.

              The problem with Kirito volunteering

              What about “while I really don’t want to leave because this is my dream world, I’ll clear the game to free all the people who consider it a nightmare”?

              Reply
            7. illhousen says:

              @Farla, yeah, I get your objection.

              Hm, I do think that an honest sacrifice from Kirito is a better counter to Kayaba given how much he’s invested in the whole “we’re not so different, you an I” thing.

              He thinks that Kirito is clearing the game because he likes playing out the heroic narrative, likes the sense of validation and meaning it brings to his life, not because he actually cares about people.

              Selfish altruism.

              So Kirito actually forfeiting his life for the sake of someone else taking his place and finishing Kayaba off could be seen by him as something inconceivable, a direct strike against his philosophy since it would demonstrate that for Kirito it’s no more about living a dream, it’s about killing his dream for the sake of saving other people.

              I guess it would still be a cliche, “Kirito died for your sins” and all that, but definitely an improvement over the original.

              Reply
            8. CrazyEd says:
              Technically, Kirito would be dying for Kayaba’s sins, at least.
              Reply
            9. Farla says:

              What about “while I really don’t want to leave because this is my dream world, I’ll clear the game to free all the people who consider it a nightmare”?

              Problem is that’s pretty much the start point for Kirito. He has every reason to stay in the game from the moment he put on the helmet. I think you could set up an arc where the point of the honeymoon is to make him realize that if he beats the game he’ll be the hero of the hour but if he stays he can be the hero forever, and he starts slowly dragging his feet and doing random fetch quests and catching delicious fish and talking to every NPC, and he’s pretty much dragged to the L75 boss fight on the basis that well, if they really must he doesn’t want to be left behind, but… And then the climax is him realizing how that was wrong.

              Reply
            10. Farla says:

              I guess it would still be a cliche, “Kirito died for your sins” and all that, but definitely an improvement over the original.

              If you set it up so the issue was that Kirito was never seriously trying to get out or only wanted to get out as the lone wolf hero who could do it all on his own, so he wasn’t sharing gear or helping teach other players new tricks, then it could be that Kirito died for his own sins – Asuna, a total newbie, improves so much, and she (and others) could’ve done even better if he’d been seriously trying to help instead of putting his focus on making sure he was always a level ahead of everyone else, including her. He wanted to be the one who saved them, instead of the one who helped them get out together. Because he wanted to lone wolf it, he ends up in an unwinnable lone-wolf duel that’s going to get himself killed and the rest of the players screwed over, so he dies to aid another player who has a better shot at winning now.

              Reply
      2. Farla says:

        While normally I’m mostly indfifferent about it, one thing I take issue with is solo players. SAO actually does establish that they operate at a great disadvantage: zero error margin, inability to reliably fight powerful enemies, vulnerability to status effects, etc. Yet Kirito is still the best at what he does.

        While that makes Kirito’s continued existence implausible, if you combine it with a sliding exp scale it’d explain why Kirito is consistently a ridiculous level and so awesomesauce that he keeps getting asked to help out with things by groups because he personally is better than all of them. If the goal is to separate the very best players from the rest, giving huge rewards to risky, high-skill behavior works perfectly, and, assuming Kirito is just that much better than everyone else, is why he has time to screw around being badass at people without anyone else overtaking him through grinding. They spend five weeks fighting trash mobs, he spends five minutes fighting Killfuck Skullshitter who has three different instakill attacks.

    3. CrazyEd says:
      There is nothing wrong with SAO being a terrible MMO.

      Fair enough, but everyone treats SAO like it’s a great MMO, and both ALO and GGO are also absolutely terrible MMOs and don’t even have the excuse of being designed as death games. Plus, you have to wonder how Kayaba convinced people to design SAO that way, unless literally every programmer and designer was complicit in the death game scenario. You’d think someone else on the design team would’ve pointed out that an SAO with a final victory condition (something that ALO also has) is a terrible idea.

      The last hit mechanic

      Something the anime left out is that Diabel (who may’ve even been a beta tester) intentionally manipulated events in an attempt to get the last hit bonus for himself. An MMO designed to sow mistrust and discord. That’s the thing that actual MMO designers try their damndest to avoid, which is why SAO is an MMO only so far as that there are 10,000 people playing in the same game instance at a single time.

      Yet Kirito is still the best at what he does

      Even though pretty much every sidestory from the second volume that makes up most of the first arc are stories that happened while dicking around on lower floors than are meant for his level. How is Kirito a higher level than his girlfriend who spends all her time on the highest possible floor completing epic-level raids (because there’s nothing to imply that SAO has the solo xps)?

      Kirito has to join a guild to stay relevant

      It’s fascinating how SAO:A manages to do something I don’t see any other abridged series doing. It doesn’t just make fun of the source material, it tells a story with the same themes in an infinitely more skillful way. When Kirito made that huge speech about how he hates everyone but what he hates most about them is how he cares about them, that scene felt so much more meaningful than in canon, where it’s just an excuse to show off his Dual Swords skill.

      deny Kayaba the man-eat-man world he wanted to build

      The only problem I have with this is that, even with the god mode cheat he has, Kayaba doesn’t really seem like he’s an unfair person. The god mode was to prevent him from accidentally dying (and completing the game’s clear condition, since he was meant to be the Floor 100 boss) while he actually attempted to help his captives escape. The game seems like its meant to be like Dark Souls in that way- no matter how much bullshit it throws on you, it rarely does so just to deny you a victory you earned. Nothing about Kayaba’s character (the little shown in the Aincrad arc and the even less shown at the end of Fairy Dance) implies he’s the kind of person who ever planned on not holding up his end of the bet, and there’s something to be said for villains with a code of honour.

       

      1. Nerem says:
        The game seems like its meant to be like Dark Souls in that way- no matter how much bullshit it throws on you, it rarely does so just to deny you a victory you earned.

         

        You say that, but anti-crystal rooms exist and are the worst thing in existence.

        1. CrazyEd says:
          But anti-crystal rooms are consistently anti-crystal rooms once the concept of anti-crystal rooms are introduced after a certain point of difficulty increase. It’s not like every room in every dungeon from level one to one hundred has a random chance of being an anti-crystal room just to fuck you over (except for that one trap room in the very poorly written volume 2 story about Kirito joining a guild). After the first anti-crystal boss room, every single boss past that point is anti-crystal room. Yes, the first time the mechanic is introduced will fuck a lot of people, but the same is true for Dark Souls.

          Like I said, it’s not perfect in implementation, but I definitely get the sense that SAO was at least intended to be a game where the system itself didn’t attempt to dick you over just to kill as many people as possible. If 10,000 players managed to make it to the end of SAO and beat the final boss, I honestly believe Kayaba would’ve let them all go without a fuss.

          1. Farla says:

            Eh, there you’re supposed to discover the mechanics by dying a lot. Combining it with permadeath is inherently unfair, plus a game that requires sacrificing a certain number of players so that others can learn from their mistakes is actually ridiculously group-oriented, which is the exact opposite of what he was going for.

            Now, making it so the hint that the room blocks crystals is buried five hours into an item quest and given in braille, that would make sense.

            Or just having a giant sign saying NO CRYSTALS WORK HERE, given the main difficulty is just the crystals not working and getting blindsided by it isn’t necessary. Maybe establish it with terrain – the rooms where crystals don’t work all have nega-crystal walls, and if you find the boss room and don’t think anything of the fact it’s lined in nega-crystal too, well, too bad.

            1. CrazyEd says:
              I still don’t think that the idea Kayaba meant it to reward being a lone wolf solo player is something that is very well supported, but even if it was, labelling the idea of sending disposable idiots into dangerous situations to blow up all the traps as “group-oriented” is kind of charitable. “The boss shall begin the fight by sending hordes of disposable minons at you. You must respond in kind.” It is precisely the kind of man-eat-man callousness you’d expect from someone secretly trying to encourage disunity in his playerbase. Teaming up would always come with some risk that its only so they can use you as a guinea pig and people would be inherently distrustful of anyone they don’t know, which would make guilds like Klein’s (composed entirely of people who know each other in real life) super-powerful. Buuuuuuuuuut, these trap rooms are basically the only place where this kind of thing happens. Most of SAO’s world is an unbelievably dull grindfest full of generic dungeons and generic field-zones. The most unique locations are the haunted field zone and the dragon mountain from the second volume. There’s absolutely no reason to not party up except for when you’re such a Cool Dude that the party would hold you back. The trap rooms are just Kawahara ramping up the tension and threat without giving thought to what it means for the themes of the game and series. 

              I think the reason why Kirito is so strong despite all logic to the contrary, Reki Kawahara’s imagination of what a top-tier MMO player would be like, actually implies the opposite. SAO is probably a very communal game. We just don’t see that element of it because of Kirito’s lone wolfing. There is an entire class of players like Agil and Lisbeth who do nothing but support the raiders and guilds like the Aincrad Liberation League and Knights of the Blood Oath comprised of hundreds if not thousands of players. I have a hard time believing that Kawahara would make Kirito powerful because of how the game is designed rather than despite it. Lone wolf badass solo players play the game their own way.

              Reply
            2. Farla says:

              but even if it was, labelling the idea of sending disposable idiots into dangerous situations to blow up all the traps as “group-oriented” is kind of charitable.

              But that’s just it – the only person who would willingly play mine-detector once they realized this is someone doing it for the sake of the rest of their group, and you’d have to be doing it deliberately because if you all blow up the mine then there’s nobody to report back that there’s mines here.

              Kirito’s hilarious directions only work in a game where people respawn indefinitely and there’s a steady influx of new players. Once everyone knows the stakes, you’d have something like guilds drawing lots about who enters each new room. Or maybe a sort of reverse escort setup – most people just aren’t good enough at this game to have any chance of surviving battles long, but there’s a lottery and when picked a group go along with the handful of most talented players to help map (especially given the bodies aren’t lootable – this is a game with incredibly scarce resources that are either irreplaceable or locked behind high-risk activity, and the loss of any high level player is a blow to everyone).

              Reply
            3. CrazyEd says:
              If they don’t come back, there’s mines. Preferably, the people sending them into the minefields would be outside dangerous range but still within observable range, to tell what kind of mines there were and whether or not they respawn.

              But it wouldn’t be impossible to force people to do it. Which option would you take? Certain death from a player 30 levels higher than you, or possible death via mine explosion?

              Reply
            4. Farla says:

              That’s not really what I’m getting at.

              A game designed to be learned by trial and error, combined with permadeath, makes collaborative, self-sacrificing play the ideal behavior. Everyone pools their own individual risk for the greatest chance of the majority making it out at all.

              Reply
      2. illhousen says:

        How is Kirito a higher level than his girlfriend who spends all her time on the highest possible floor completing epic-level raids (because there’s nothing to imply that SAO has the solo xps)?

        To be fair, eating weird plants give weirdly massive amounts of exp.

        By which I mean, in theory it’s about Themes. Kirito is a better player because he immerses himself into the game world rather than treating it merely as a puzzle to be solved or a prison to escape, so he understands it better and is capable of achieving greater things.

        Of course, when you think about it, it makes negative sense, but hey, the same is true for the power of love breaking paralysis, so at least SAO is consistent in its bugfuckery.

        The only problem I have with this is that, even with the god mode cheat he has, Kayaba doesn’t really seem like he’s an unfair person.

        Yeah, Kirito brings it up during the murder mystery side story, buuuut the same story also introduced the mechanic allowing ganking sleeping players inside safe zones, so there.

        Not to mention that paralysis effect seems to be op, nerf plz. Like, it renders a player completely helpless and apparently can be delivered from a distance through what looked like good armor.

        Back in beta, the pvp scene must have been bloody insane if that’s an improvement.

        1. CrazyEd says:
          To be fair, it’s hard to imagine the mechanic to gank sleeping players in safe zones as something intentional. Maybe the beta testers were all like Kirito. Can you imagine a guy like that filling out a bug report?

          The only time I remember a player putting it on another player is Kuradeel putting it on Kirito, and he had to pretty much trick Kirito into drinking a Potion of Paralysis. I always just assumed that Kayaba’s ability to paralyse everyone in the level 75 boss room was through use of console commands to just turn everyone’s Paralysis status flag and its not something that could be accomplished by a player without admin access.

          But yeah, the paralysis effect definitely seems like more of a jRPG type paralysis than an MMO paralysis, presumably because Reki Kawahara is more familiar with jRPGs than MMOs. Paralysis worked similarly in the original dot hack quartet and status effects were insanely annoying in those games. Come to think of it, SAO seems like it plays a hell of a lot more like those games than an actual MMO… I doubt that it had any effect on SAO except for possibly the vague premise of Sign, though. The dates are too close to each other to give him time to write it, Tsukasa’s situation is way too far removed from the cast of SAO’s for it to have been directly based on his, and the Nerv Gear would’ve been way less stupid if Kawahara had known that people were willing to accept that a game played with a VR headseat that looks like the one Sony is developing could trap people in an MMO.

          1. illhousen says:

            The only time I remember a player putting it on another player is Kuradeel putting it on Kirito, and he had to pretty much trick Kirito into drinking a Potion of Paralysis.

            No, there was an instance during the same murder mystery plot. A Laughing Coffin guy paralized Shmidt with a thrown dagger or something to that effect.

            EDIT: Oh, and I think it was mentioned in the light novel that some monsters have this effect, in the context of listing disadvantages of solo players.

          2. Nerem says:
            He actually wrote it after SIGN started airing, as it was originally for a contest that he ended up not submitting for as it was too long.

            The thing about the Anti-Crystal Rooms is straight up that the trap rooms even exist. Also well, the fact that basically every boss room was one. It kind of made the things pointless when you couldn’t be sure if your healing or escape powers would work until you needed them enough to test them. That’s as far from Dark Souls/Bloodborne as you could get.

            1. CrazyEd says:
              Ignoring the trap room, which comes from the second volume of terribly thought out side-stories that Kawahara only wrote because people wanted a series from his standalone novel, the only boss rooms which were anti-crystal areas were on floors 74+. Past level 74, going into a boss fight acting like you’ll be able to use crystals is your own mistake, because there’s no wondering involved, you absolutely could be sure whether or not they’d work. They won’t. There’s not even a chance of accidentally triggering them, because again, they’re the super-obvious and clearly labelled boss rooms. The only anti-crystal boss room which is unfair is the first, because you’re not expecting it, and Dark Souls has a ton of stuff that kills you the first time you come into contact with it because you’re not expecting it. You just don’t notice it as much because you’re not only given a single life to deal with it. But if you took 10,000 people and had them do a blind ironman playthrough of Dark Souls you’d probably have far more casualities than the SAO incident. And crystals aren’t the only form of healing in the game. Non-crystal-based healing still works perfectly fine, and is 100% of the healing items they carry into the boss fight on floor 75.
              Reply
        2. Farla says:

          To be fair, eating weird plants give weirdly massive amounts of exp.

          By which I mean, in theory it’s about Themes. Kirito is a better player because he immerses himself into the game world rather than treating it merely as a puzzle to be solved or a prison to escape, so he understands it better and is capable of achieving greater things.

          …Kirito is picking up piles of roleplaying exp handed out by a delighted Kayaba.

          1. CrazyEd says:
            There is a doujin that Kawahara wrote in which Kirito’s refusal to sacrifice the NPCs to Sheeptar actually is what allows them to save the day. One of the NPCs in the town that would’ve been destroyed has, unbeknownst to all and totally unhinted at, the plot coupon to allow them to easily defeat the boss that she’ll give to any player who befriends her. Laugh at his reasoning all you want, but Kirito’s refusal to sacrifice non-sentient lumps of artificial intelligence was the objectively correct choice to make. That is the level the narrative goes to in order to justify Kirito’s every action.
            1. Farla says:

              But if no one ever gets the item before Sheeptar is defeated, then does it matter?

              Reply
            2. CrazyEd says:
              I don’t remember the doujin well enough to say whether or not defeating Sheeptar without the key item was possible but from a tactical point of view the key item was a far better way of fighting Sheeptar than just brute forcing it. I think it depowered him to a more reasonable challenge or something, if it was an optional reward for player exploration and not the only way to beat the boss. But in the end, they did get the key item before fighting Sheeptar, so it did matter, so I guess we’ll never know for sure. If I find that doujin again I’ll let the thread know how it goes down.
              Reply
            3. illhousen says:

              Seven people still died that day.

              More seriously, it ties with the issue I’ve discussed above, about how Kirito prevails by basically becoming a part of Kayaba’s dream, being the kind of person Kayaba wanted to reward.

              I… don’t think having villain’s approaval should be rewarded in this kind of story.

              Reply
            1. CrazyEd says:
              I thought I had a problem when I was defending people from inventing or exagerating problems with SAO because it lessened the easily found valid criticisms with the series.

              I thought I had a problem with I sought out a canon doujin by Reki Kawahara to mine it for more reasons to criticize SAO.

              Today, I reviewed SAO through the lens of libertarian-inspired video game design theory, and it’s 100% Farla’s fault.

              My first comment on this site for four days ago. When I think back and wonder who this-person-I-once-spoke-to-on-the-internet is, she will be “that person who got me to write a libertarian analysis of SAO”. And nothing can change that.

              Reply
      3. Farla says:

        Plus, you have to wonder how Kayaba convinced people to design SAO that way, unless literally every programmer and designer was complicit in the death game scenario. You’d think someone else on the design team would’ve pointed out that an SAO with a final victory condition (something that ALO also has) is a terrible idea.

        While it can’t solve the fact that in-universe apparently all games work this way, the fact he could sneak brain-frying technology into the helmets suggests that either it wasn’t true in beta or he told people the fixes were already in the pipeline and it would be different come launch time.

        And there have been some really stupid games out there – if Kayaba was the one running the place without proper oversight, he may have been able to get away with all sorts of things that were obviously a bad choice for a MMO and everyone just assumed it was incompetence. Possibly they even figured that it’d be released, there’d be a wave of complaints, Kayaba would finally get that no one wanted to play a game like this, and they’d release a huge patch a week in, so hey, why keep arguing with the boss now?

        The only problem I have with this is that, even with the god mode cheat he has, Kayaba doesn’t really seem like he’s an unfair person.

        Dog-eat-dog isn’t inherently unfair. Some (Kayaba, probably) would argue it’s incredibly fair, since it means everyone’s being judged only on their own ability. It’s entirely possible for him to still place great value on honoring his word – indeed, a lot of libertarians/objectivists place great faith in that kind of thing because you need some way to run your new ideal society that doesn’t need kindness or police.

        1. CrazyEd says:
          The brain-frying is really just a result of kicking what the helmets are supposed to do into 1000% overdrive. It seems like more of a system capability exploit. The players in canon don’t even have the same incredulous reaction to the clear condition they do in SAO:A. For being 100% release-day adopters of a brand new MMO and about 10% of them being beta testers, they seem surprisingly uninformed about how the game works, but this is one place where they don’t seem surprised by the ridiculous game design. But that’s not exactly what I meant. Even without the brain-frying, SAO is a terribly designed MMO with a ton of design choices that make little to no sense even in a deathgame, like how basically everyone is forced into the role of melee DPS. That’s not a bug or something different from the beta. This is stuff that even the most terribly designed and lazily made free-to-play/pay-to-win MMOs do.

          Libertarian game design

          I can’t believe I am doing this, but… Actually, SAO is an incredibly un-libertarian game. Libertarian societies usually actually do assume some form of military and police force (unless you get into far out there things like anarcho-libertarianism). But in basic Taxation Is Theft-flavoured libertarianism, one of the primary purposes of the government, according to libertarian theory is protection of its citizens from harm and the enforcement of contracts between two parties. When Abridged-Kirito made his speech to Kayaba about how he respects the players more than him because they all chose to be here even without having his god mode, the inner libertarian in me flared up because no they absolutely didn’t (though, after my knee-jerk reaction, I realized the dialogue probably meant “here” to be “the boss room”, which they technically did choose).

          Not a single one of them was told of the death game scenario, so every single player signed that social contract through deception, which makes a contract invalid. Forcing someone to do something through threat of physical force or death is horribly un-libertarian statism.

          Kayaba-as-the-government-of-SAO (along with guilds like the Aincrad Liberation League who attempt to be the game’s police force in the absence of any sort of moderator team) is a perfect representation of the kind of government that libertarianism seeks to destroy. At least with the rules and codes of the Knights of the Blood Oath, they apply only to those with membership, which is something acquired through free voluntary association with the organization (in which way it more resembles a modern labour union than a government).

          Oh my god I can’t believe I analysed Sword Art Online through the lens of libertarian video game design theory. I have a problem. I have the biggest problem.

          1. Farla says:

            See, assume he’s Lawful Evil and it works fine. There’s probably something somewhere in the EULA that means they technically agreed to this, or the fact you’re not actually forced to fight is good enough.

            SAO is a terribly designed MMO with a ton of design choices that make little to no sense even in a deathgame, like how basically everyone is forced into the role of melee DPS. That’s not a bug or something different from the beta. This is stuff that even the most terribly designed and lazily made free-to-play/pay-to-win MMOs do.

            But it’s never meant to be what anyone else wanted, it’s just what Kayaba wanted to do. Like I said at the top, the only issue is no one commenting on how weird this is. So long as Kayaba’s goals weren’t to make a well-balanced MMO, and so long as he had enough control over the game that no one else could force him to do it, any design choice is fine.

            (Also the sword bit makes the most sense of all of this – coding a battle system run by your brain is probably really, really hard, and doing just one thing that works relatively close to reality is your best bet.)

            1. illhousen says:

              Yeah, as I said above, a lot of SAO terribleness can be easily explained by it being a brand new technology (designed by Kayaba himself, no less, so he basically holds a monopoly on this stuff).

              Personally, I figured most players signed up for Second Life type experience, only with full immersion. Visit exotic location, eat delicious food, have a body of your dreams, and all that for a reasonably cheap monthly subscription.

              Fighting stuff was an afterthought for everyone except Kayaba probably.

              Reply
            2. CrazyEd says:
              EULA

              I assume that, like America, there are legal provisions which would render that an equally invalid contract. There are laws against things like selling yourself into slavery even if you are making the decision completely uncoerced and are of sound mind and body. Contracts are always supposed to be mutually beneficial (so far as libertarianism is concerned). Why would you sign a voluntary contract if it didn’t benefit you?

              It’s just what Kayaba wanted to do

              That only works if he’s the only person physically creating the game. When someone works with a team, their idea is going to get dilluted. Even if they’re employees legally obligated to enact his will, its not going to be a 100% perfect representation, even if the game publisher was as insane as Kayaba was and gave him literal unsupervised reign over the development of this game.

              And even if they had, you’d think that when 90% of their beta testers (who seem to have been people who won a contest for beta codes rather than contracted playtesters considering a 14 year old MMO addict got in) dropped in the first week because it was a piece of garbage, the company would’ve made him change it based solely on profit concerns.

              the sword bit

              Ignoring the fact that ALO, which uses a less advanced version of the engine SAO has totally unreal things like magic, it also has bows. SAO’s only ranged weapons are those thowing daggers. And shooting a bow is a far more intuitive action than using a sword. Sure, it might take training to get good at leading shots and accounting for drop-off due to range, but the majority of historical archer training was building the massive strength required to pull, totally unaided by technology, the 150ish pound draw weights medieval warbows possessed. Skeletons of medieval archers are actually identifable by the differences in their left and right arms.

              Swords are deceptively complex both in construction and use, which is one of the main reasons it gained such a mystique. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to feature a realistically accurate bow in a modern AAA video game (and, if I was more of a gamer, I could probably name some for you), but the swordplay in Mount and Blade is regarded as very in-depth for your ability to slash and parry on eight cardinal points. I have no clue how you’d include things like halfswording or binding maneuvers…

              At the very least, in the abscence of classes, SAO could’ve had people grouped into tanks, DPS, and healers (even if item based healing is the only option, because SAO lacks a hot bar and the only way to access any items is to scroll through drop-down menu after drop-down menu five items at a time) just by having some people focus on heavy armour strength builds and others focusing on super fast stabby ones. Instead, everyone just kinda circles around the boss and hacks at it.

              Have you ever played Shadowrun? I imagine it’d be something like that. Shadowrun is a point-buy system, but because of all the subsystems that shadowrunners might have to access, party roles are very structured and people build themselves into these roles with the rigidity that most games have you select classes. Hell, as I recall, Shadowrun 5e outright lists the various archtypes that have formed over the years and tells you to pick one so it can tell you what the best way to build that archetype is. Shadowrun is one of the most generalist-punishing RPGs I’ve ever played.

              Reply
            3. Farla says:

              I assume that, like America, there are legal provisions which would render that an equally invalid contract.

              Yeah, but Kayaba obviously doesn’t care about what non-Kayaba people think regarding his actions and even in real life there are a ton of contracts that, if actually brought to court, turn out to be totally illegal.

              That only works if he’s the only person physically creating the game. When someone works with a team, their idea is going to get dilluted. Even if they’re employees legally obligated to enact his will, its not going to be a 100% perfect representation

              Maybe all the bits that do resemble functional MMOs are from them!

              Look at Duke Nukem. Game studios making terrible decisions because the person on top is nuts and no one can rein them in is entirely possible, and if Kayaba’s a genius coder he has the advantage that he can set his team to doing the more normal tasks, like coding all the backgrounds, while he focuses on his own pet issues.

              And given it’s the only game for the technology, I’d bet that the beta testers kept playing regardless. It’d be easy to manipulate them too by saying that lots of features totally are there, but the beta only lets them play part of the game. The fact they’re random kids means they’re unlikely to be suspicious. (And there’s always lying about the feedback you’re getting as another option.)

              Reply
            4. CrazyEd says:
              While I could see Kayaba not caring what the EULA says, that doesn’t make it any more valid a contract. That just means he’s ignoring the contract.

              It’s the only game for the technology.

              Except it isn’t. There’s at least one that predates it, presumably by not being as picky about how polished the engine is.

              The beta only lets them play parts of the game

              Doesn’t that defeat the point of a beta test, then?

              Reply
            5. Farla says:

              ? What a third party things of a contract is only relevant for making that third party enforce the contract. People agree on unenforcable contracts all the time. If Kayaba feels he needs some sort of permission for the totally illegal thing he’s going to do, I don’t think he’d care that the permission is not considered legally binding.

              Doesn’t that defeat the point of a beta test, then?

               Which would explain why they weren’t using real beta tests. Two plot holes closed with one stone!
              Reply
            6. CrazyEd says:
              It seems weird to feel like you require permission and not care if that permission is obtained without deception or is legally binding. In any case, no matter how much control Kayaba had over the design of SAO, there’s next to no chance he personally drafted the EULA. I can’t even imagine the Nerv Gear has a “we’re not responsible if it microwaves your brain” clause, for two reasons. The first is because that’s what it’s designed to do (that’s how the Nerv Gear transmits information to and from the wearer), and the second is because any device that would require lawyers to feel the need to speficially include that in the EULA probably wouldn’t get produced in that form. Because it microwaves your brain.
              Reply
            7. Farla says:

              Nah, people can have codes of honor that bear no resemblance to the legal system or even internal fairness. I mean, there’s that guy who said it was okay he had sex with a donkey because he only had sex after he’d “paid” her with corn, so the donkey was a prostitute and really she was the one who should be ashamed.

              Assuming Kayaba has an issue with it in the first place, then five minutes before the file is copied to the game drives, Kayaba puts in the middle of the EULA, in article fifty-three b, that you agree to be killed if you die in the game. Technically he told them and it’s not his fault they didn’t read it before clicking agree.

              Reply
          2. illhousen says:

            basically everyone is forced into the role of melee DPS

            Well, that’s not true. Asuna’s doing fine as the Grand Wizard.

        2. illhousen says:

          On beta testers, it’s actually more hilarious: they only got up to the eighth floor. Everything above was totally unknown to them, so it’s actually plausible they wouldn’t know about the winning condition.

          Of course, that should also mean that everything above eighth floor is a minefield of never-found bugs and glitches, but hey, details.

          1. CrazyEd says:
            Grand Wizard Asuna

            How do you figure? ALO (more specifically, the Calibur arc) is the first time Asuna gets put into the healer archtype. How she had the Slyph for her mom to use at the end of the Mother’s Rosario arc, unless she played ALO before SAO, is beyond me. This is one of the reasons I think ALO predates SAO, but it’s not supported by Asuna’s lack of MMO skills at the start of SAO, especially since she only joined SAO because her brother couldn’t play on release day.

            Eight floors

            True, but its still a structure that would appear to have an end goal. Would they just keep adding more and more floors with expansion packs? Could there possibly, some time in the future, be a 1596th floor? And what about adding content that isn’t designed to expand the upper play range? MMO expansions never focus solely on the experiences of the highest level players. They always include something new to start with, whether its a new class or area or whatever. The mere premise of climbing up level after level of a floating castle in the sky of Floor 1 (at least, that’s how I always saw the ability to see Castle Aincrad itself from inside the game) would have people wondering how many floors it had, don’t you think? In a real MMO community, there’d probably be memes questioning when Aincrad ended before the game was even released just from pre-release info alone. Granted, SAO doesn’t seem to have any pre-release info considering Klein (who stood in line for days to get one of the 10,000 copies) didn’t know shit about the game, but hey.

            1. illhousen says:

              How do you figure?

              It’s a joke from SAO:A. “Grand Wizard” is an RL title for KKK leaders.

              Reply
            2. CrazyEd says:
              See, I was gonna say something about that, but I didn’t see how it was relevant, and didn’t remember that particular joke. I still don’t, actually…
              Reply
            3. Roarke says:

              Asuna being extremely racist to Tiffany. Kirito tries to conclude their business “before Grand Wizard Asuna starts a race war.”

              Reply
            4. illhousen says:

              It isn’t relevant, it’s just funny to me.

              Reply
            5. CrazyEd says:
              No, I mean… without the context of the SAO:A joke, it just seems totally out of left field to possibly refer to Asuna as a member of the KKK, and I wasn’t sure if that was what you were doing or what. With the knowledge of the reference you were making, I totally understand the relevance of the comment.
              Reply
            6. Farla says:

              True, but its still a structure that would appear to have an end goal. Would they just keep adding more and more floors with expansion packs?

              Isn’t that pretty much what MMOs do, it’s just usually the expansion is sideways and not up? It’s always been possible to use up all current content if you’re a dedicated enough player.

              Plus there’s always the option of adding basement levels, a second tower on another floating island, etc.

              Reply
            7. CrazyEd says:
              That’s my point. The logical way to expand on the idea of Aincrad, adding more floors, is up rather than out. That’s why every MMO takes place in a huge expansive world and not what is essentially one dungeon with an inexplicable design where each Floor has a clear blue open sky hanging above it despite being above a floor with a clear blue open sky and below another floor with another clear blue open sky. It makes a lot more sense in ALO, where New Aincrad hangs in the sky of Alfheim and is essentially treated as a floating dungeon. People can enter and exit the New Aincrad part of ALO as they wish, and the company that runs ALO periodically adds new packages of floors to New Aincrad as part of a fixed release schedule (presumably after adapting them to fit ALO’s gameplay diferences, to take out the deathgame parts, and to bugfix the floors above eight) as part of their horizontal content expansions to the expansive world of Alfheim.
              Reply
            8. Roarke says:

              There’s actually no problem expanding up given that SAO is designed around what used to be  (maybe still are) called “global events”. In MMO’s, those are unique events that can only be completed once per server. In this case, that would be clearing a floor’s boss.

              They aren’t very common these days. To my knowledge, World of Warcraft only had them in Vanilla. Like SAO, their scarcity sparked fierce competitions among guilds. Blizzard later realized that was kind of a bad way to produce content for an MMO. I would be 100% sure Kayaba wouldn’t realize that.

              Reply
            9. CrazyEd says:
              To be fair, I think the global event in this case would be the unlocking of the new floors. There doesn’t actually seem to be anything stopping you from fighting old bosses. In the Mother’s Rosario arc, Yuuki’s goal is explicitly to get her name on the wall that immortalizes the first party to clear a floor’s boss, not just to defeat a boss with only a single party.

              Besides, even if this is true, like you said… MMOs kind of realized that’s a bad way to design a game intended for an indefinite play length. Plus, games in the universe of SAO seem to only operate on one server. In ALO, the leader of the Salamander, Cait Sith, and Sylph factions are all in the same instance with no implication that this is unusual or random thing. Everyone who plays the game seems to play the game with everyone else.

              Reply
            10. Roarke says:

              Well. I really don’t want to have to reread, like, Volume 7, to be absolutely sure, but I’m relatively certain each boss is still cleared only once even in ALO!SAO. The reason Yuuki needed to clear the boss with only a single party is because the memorial only has room for about 7 names per boss. Each name is the leader of one party within the raid group.

              It is possible that the bosses respawn, but I don’t recall it and I’m relatively certain that ALO’s Aincrad is faithful to the original. Minus permadeath.

              Reply
            11. illhousen says:

              Which is a shame. Without permadeath it’s not authentic.

              More seriously, can we talk about how fucked up it is to willingly return to your murderprison of two years shortly after finally getting out of there?

              Because it’s fucked up.

              I can believe that some people (like canon Kirito) would do it, but it definitely can be unhealthy.

              Reply
            12. Roarke says:

              That reminds me of the first time Kirito died in ALO. It was actually one of the most effective moments in the series, to me. The way he was briefly gripped by terror and claustrophobia because he thought he was going to die was pretty well-done.

              Strictly speaking, if you returned, it didn’t murder you. Just other people. That said, yeah, it’s super creepy. Though, if you take SAO at face value as the BEST MMO EVA, then I could absolutely see people being sufficiently Stockholmed.

              Reply
            13. illhousen says:

              It was actually one of the most effective moments in the series, to me.

              Let me ruin it to you: then Kirito kills a dude and eats another dude (when he was transformed into a monster because that’s how illusions work) and doesn’t feel a thing.

              Reply
            14. CrazyEd says:
              The start of the Calibur arc has Kirito’s party leading the charge to clear the Floor 21 boss so they could be the first to race to the cabin they lived in on Floor 22 during the last few weeks of SAO. Because they remember it as the romantic getaway where they had their honeymoon, and not that horrible deathgame where thousands and thousands of people died.

              Strictly speaking, if you returned, it didn’t murder you.

              With the sole exception of Kirito and Asuna, you’d be right. SAO actually did murder them! It just didn’t stick.

              The first time Kirito died in ALO

              A smaller scene that also had  the same kind of nice touch to it was that the very first thing Kirito did, immediately upon spawning in ALO for the first time, was check to make sure the log out button was where it should’ve been.

              Reply
            15. CrazyEd says:
              And then after threatening to kill the sole remaining member of the party that he otherwise ate, Kirito interrogates the poor bastard, then pays him off with the loot stolen off the corpses of the fallen. That was around the point where Kirito started to grow on me as a character. It was just so awful I couldn’t help but appreciate it.

              But then he admits to his little sister that, while transformed into the Gleam Eyes, he pretty much totally blacked out in combat, which is a common thing that happens to him in battle that doesn’t seem to concern or even bother him.

              You gotta wonder why the illusion-focused class-race Kirito picks isn’t more popular if they can turn you into a boss monster from a floor around the mid-sixties in SAO, except apparently you can only do it once at the end of a volume if it would give the book a big climax.

              Reply
            16. illhousen says:

              In theory, your form is determined by your stats, so it can only be done by players who are already comparable to bosses without the transformation, and probably picked some better magic along the way.

              What actually peeves me is that it’s not proper TRPG illusion magic. I mean, yeah, you won’t find proper illusions in video games because they’re very context-based, and in MMOs specifically there are way too many ways to foil them (just a simple voice chat does wonders against shapeshifters, for example).

              But ALO is controlled by a super-advanced AI (and its predecessor had fully-sapient AI as a subroutine), and it’s full-immersion, so I feel it would actually be viable.

              And it would be such a perfect way to go:

              – No need to give Kirito power at the starts because “skills transfere between games.” He can rely on using simple illusions in creative ways, which even ties with the theme of him “getting it, man,” and being the best because he buys fully into the virtual world and drags other people with him;

              – The creativity requirement would explain why it’s not very popular among players since you need to game other people to utilize it properly, not the system. Its power is very subjective;

              – Would explain why he needs help and actually engages with the virtual politics even before he arrives at that tree and discovers an impossible fight. You don’t even need to make the fight impossible for that, just, you know, something that would overwhelm a first-level player, which isn’t hard at all.

              (On that note, one of my numerous grips with ALO is Kirito for some reason caring about peaceful negotiations between factions and Salamanders trying to disrupt them.

              He gives a big speech about how “your experiences in the virtual world are just as real as IRL” and so on, and there is a grain of genuine moral here, but the issue is that consequences are wildly incomparable.

              Peaceful negotiations going awry or Salamanders winning would mean a flame war for a month on forums and some players maybe ragequitting.

              Failing to get to Asuna would mean raped Asuna.

              The two are not exactly on the same level.)

              Reply
            17. CrazyEd says:
              Like I’ve been saying, ALO is technologically the predecessor of SAO, but otherwise yes.

              The reason why Kirito deals with the whole faction war thing is because its important to the girl helping him with his Asuna thing and it’s on the way to the world tree. No, seriously. Because her virtual reality worries are just as important as his. The worst part is, his sister even says “oh saving your girlfriend is more important so maybe we should split up here because I have to handle this due to obligation and duty”.

              Even though I’m 99% sure that Kirito has no clue anything is happening to Asuna besides a really boring birdcage, it’s still pretty terrible reasoning. I think he might’ve had some vague notion of resolving the faction war so that the slyphs would help him with Asuna, at which point it becomes a passable motivation (pausing for a little bit to recruit allies which will make your goal possible is super reasonable!) but otherwise, yeah, it’s just Kirito’s whole thing about how games are just as important as real life so fa as I can remember.

              Reply
            18. illhousen says:

              I think he might’ve had some vague notion of resolving the faction war so that the slyphs would help him with Asuna, at which point it becomes a passable motivation

              Not that I remember. Pretty sure he helped them out because Heroism and Virtual Reality is like Reality, then went to rescue Asuna alone, failed, and was actually surprised when cat girls showed up to help him.

              (Speking of, the Salamander leader dude and his two lap babes.

              What’s up with them? Are they actual players who are into posing erotically all day? Or are they paid to do so?

              Or is it an unwritten duty of some guild members, so occasionally Steve and Joe log in as hot women to pose on their boss’ lap?

              I suppose it’s also possible that there are NPC trophies: clear a dungeon and get a hot sexbot to take away with you. The guy in charge is certainly skewy enough to do it.)

              Reply
            19. Roarke says:

              Or is it an unwritten duty of some guild members, so occasionally Steve and Joe log in as hot women to pose on their boss’ lap?

              Maybe they log in as hot women for selfish purposes and sit on the boss’s lap for some easy gold. Enough guys IRL do it.

              VR would open up a weird can of worms when it comes to opposite-sex characters.

              Reply
            20. illhousen says:

              Well, it did bring at least two people hapiness (seriously, those two guys from the start appear on numerous occasions, always together), so it’s not all bad.

              Reply
            21. CrazyEd says:
              Yeah, I’m being pretty charitable in guessing that might be how it happened. I have vague recollections of the final book that was adapted into SAO1 at best. I vaguely recall something about a political squabble involving a catgirl politician getting mad at an elf politician for squishing her boobs on Kirito for purely political reasons because she lacks politically large boobs of her own to counter-offer Kirito a politicial alliance with her instead in a very important political scene?

              Actual players who are into posing erotically all day

              … Yeah, I know so many people both male and female who would be so into this premise, so I could easily believe that’d happen in a full immersion VR game. Is Second Life still a thing? Isn’t that half of what that game is about?

              Reply
          2. Farla says:

            Of course, that should also mean that everything above eighth floor is a minefield of never-found bugs and glitches, but hey, details.

            Maybe that’s why it’s so grindy, everything the rest of the floors do is just recombining the elements from the first eight that got tested. 
  5. Theory; Kirito is stupid high level because he does quests and its a game where that leads to insane exp gains and grinding like Asuna does even high risk and edge of your ability can’t compare.

    There was a godawful book that dealt with the same idea ramped to a million, EPIC. It wasn’t a deathgame in the sense that it would kill them, but it would kill their character in a world where game currency was what they used as real currency. The main way they got new technology was mining the magical amazing deathgame left by their ancestors. This is an extremely charitable description.

    1. CrazyEd says:
      If doing quests resulted in more xp for the same amount of time invested and was significantly less risky than killing high-tier monsters, then “grinding” would take the form of doing as many quests as possible, and no one would ever wander out in the forest to just kill monsters until they’re level 100. And Kirito still spends most of his time seemingly doing nothing but loitering around on floors he’s 20 levels too high for.
      1. Farla says:

        Hm. It could be an exponential thing. The quests give you some insultingly paltry amount (+1 experience, even!), but once you’ve completed X quests, doing more nets you twice that, then doing more nets you more, and so on, so only someone doing it because they just liked quests would ever get anything from it. Or, doing quests gives you nothing directly but results in a global increase for all other forms of exp. Or the bonus is only to the first person to complete the quest (it’s not like SAO ever hesitates to pull that). Kirito speedruns the quests first for several floors straight, by which point everyone else assumes they’re pointless and stops doing them.

        The real issue is keeping the system opaque enough that people can’t see this happening. If your goal is to reward people for engaging with your world rather than exploiting mechanics, you’re best off making it so they don’t know pretending to engage lets them exploit things. If the quests give an invisible experience multiplier and the experience algorithm is complex enough that people can’t notice that, say, Kirito gets twice as much experience than everyone else, then it’d work perfectly. Personally, I’d go the route of hiding experience points. You just suddenly level up when you get enough. It’s really hard to reverse engineer things then, especially since it’s not like they can do stuff like make a bunch of new characters to compare. Then make it so experience from mechanics you want hidden don’t trigger level-up until the player gets experience from another source. Players could still notice that quest-doers or people screwing around nomming plants seemed more likely to level up the next fight, but if you put an audible “ding! exp gained!” on the ones you wanted them to think gave experience and made sure everyone had to fight regularly while doing the other things, it’s unlikely they’d see through the misdirection – if they notice anything, they’d more likely think there was some random factor to how much experience a given event gave you. Having a whole lot of grinding options would be good too – maybe collecting potions for plants gives tiny bits of experience. The people actually eating them for fun are getting piles of extra exp that the powergamers aren’t, but both will only level after getting a “ding! plant collected!” notification.

  6. Muphrid says:
    It’s strange to me how many people get going on whether SAO is a well-designed game or how its game mechanics deviate from established practices.  Time after time I see people write SAO fanfics where they just change the mechanics completely to try to make it a better game, and I’m thinking, is that it?  Is that all you’re gonna do?  It’s not like that suddenly makes it a better story.  It just gives you less to nitpick about the worldbuilding.  All the rest of it is still there.

    SAO doesn’t even really have a proper story until the GGO arc.  That’s nuts.

    1. CrazyEd says:
      Of all the complaints I could level at SAO, its lack of a story isn’t one. SAO1 definitely has a story. It’s just not a very good one. The Phantom Bullet arc is actually a bigger mess, in terms of narrative structure, than either of the arcs from SAO1, and the anime is even worse. What madman adapts two LN volumes into fourteen fucking episodes? That’s eight episodes worth of LN, at absolute most.

      But fixing the games would probably fix a lot of the story holes, like if it gaev a reason why Kirito’s solo play made him such a badass (if, for example, it was stated that you get extra xp if you’re the only person to kill a monster, that’d fix so much). If you fix the plot holes caused by the terrible worldbuilding, allowed people to have agency even when standing next to Kirito, and made people react more realistically to Kirito (or adjusted Kirito so that the reactions would make more sense), that’d easily bump SAO up two or three points on a ten-scale. But SAO definitely has a story. It’s just a mess.

    2. illhousen says:

      True enough. Ultimately, complains about SAO not being a proper MMO are minor, and people focus on them so much mostly because the story failed to engage them on a deeper level and because they’re easier to identify.

      Well, if we’re talking narrative, at its best SAO is a mediocre anime with walking archetypes in place of characters, limp themes that don’t hold up upon examination*, its pacing is shit, its focus is meandering, Kirito and Kayaba are the only ones who have any agency and, of course, it’s sexist to the point where mainstream anime fans went, “hey, I think there are problems with the treatment of women here.”**

      Each of those issue is a bigger problem than SAO sucking as an MMO.

      Well, if we’re discussing narrative flaws, I shall link to this review of SAO 19th episode: http://wrongeverytime.com/2014/06/14/sword-art-online-episode-19/

      It’s about Kirito being a mesovore, and it’s beautiful.

      *I mean, “emotions and revelations provoked in you by virtual experiences are just as real as ones gained from RL” is not a bad message, but not when it means equating forum drama or mistreatment of NPCs to actual lives on the line.

      **You know that advice for hard-boiled detective fiction? “When you’re stuck, throw in a man with a gun onto the scene.” It does feel that SAO’s version would be “when you’re stuck, throw in an attempted rapist and/or fanservice onto the scene. No, those aren’t contradictory, why do you ask?”

      1. CrazyEd says:
        Sword Art Online volume 1’s pacing isn’t that bad, actually. They actually escape by the end of volume 1. It can be read as a totally standalone novel. That’s pretty rare for the basically-a-prose-manga subgenre of LNs! And the pacing of volume 2 isn’t that bad either, since it’s just four or so sidestories that take place in between the events of volume 1. The problem with this is that, in the anime, they decided to do volumes 1 and 2 in chronological order for obvious reasons, which throws the dramatic curve all out of whack. They also decided to adapt the LNs at a ratio of about 6:1, where most LN adaptations get three or four episodes to the LN.

        The pacing of the second and third arcs can also be chalked up to being split up over two books, but here, the pacing problems that result aren’t the fault of the anime adaptation (except for the glacial speed of Phantom Bullet). The big fight scene where Kirito inexplicably turns into the Gleam Eyes and the duel between Sinon and Kirito during the BoB qualifiers both take place at the end of the first volume of their arc, because each book needed its own climax. And, like I said, having fourteen episodes of the Phantom Bullet arc is insane. I’m not entirely sure how many it could be cut down by, because I’d have to go back and think about what scenes were actually important, ten sounds like more than enough. The first epsiode in its entirety only has about five or ten minutes of even tangentially important stuff (two if you cut out all the cute but not needed scenes of Kirito and Asuna acting like real people). Digibro’s SAO2 review has a tally of how many scenes of two characters telling each other exposition there are in it somewhere, and how long those scenes take, and I’m pretty sure it added up to about an episode or two worth of content. So already I’m down to eleven, and all I did was cut out all the exposition dumps in cafes.

        The first episode is especially bad with this. Remember that cold open where Death Gun comes into the MMO bar, gives his little speech, and kills the GGO player with that ridiculous CGI bullet scene? Remember how Kirito and that guy from CC Corp spend over half the episode explaining what happened in that scene as if it was hard to grasp? And how the rest of the episode was devoted to a date which had a few cute scenes but was mostly a chance for Kirito to ramble about his nonsensical view of how the virtual world is real life? If I wasn’t watching SAO2 (which I watched before SAO1, which I think I dropped in an episode or two, if that, back when it first aired) when it ran its english dub on Toonami (which is actually a pretty good dub all things considered!) solely to get material to ask a friend how they can like this even as a guilty pleasure, I wouldn’t have watched episode 2.

        The only exposition scene I can think of that is more unbelievably bad is the very first scene of GATE, that has the main character standing in a featureless black plane with a slackjawed expression while a narrator explains that he’s an otaku who cares more about his hobby than his job. Not only does this render the next 15 minutes where they show this an absolutely boring slog to get through (this is one instance where I prefer the telling to the showing immensely, because no one needs half an episode to get that this guy is a standard harem protagonist- though they really could’ve at least had the monologue playing over the scene where he’s riding the train to the anime convention or something), but it renders the very premise of the character impossible. I have no doubt that the JSDF has more than a few otaku in their specops units, but the one thing that is universal among specops across the world is that people who don’t want to be specops aren’t specops. It’s a job for self-motivators only.

        1. illhousen says:

          Yes, I was mostly talking about anime here and its decision to include the side stories, which shot pacing in the face.

          When it comes to the LN, the bigger issue is infodumps. Pretty much every pivotal moment of Kirito’s character arc (such as it is) is delivered to us through, well, him describing it to someone else. Sachi’s death, Laughing Coffin deal and their demise (which wasn’t shown in the anime either because obviously dragon shit story was more important), most of evolution of his and Asuna’s relationship, etc. – all told, never shown. Some of the other stuff, like ALF, was also explained in huge infodumps, as I recall, which wasn’t really needed as their role was minor.

          As I understand it, it’s a consequence of the web novel basically being a draft for a contest with word limit, so the author attempted to deliver the information in as few words as possible while still telling the story he envisioned, even though the story clearly couldn’t fit into the format while remaining worthwhile.

          1. CrazyEd says:
            I don’t really mind that most of Kirito and Asuna’s relationship is told rather than shown in the first novel. It’s just supposed to be a few snippits of his time in Aincrad, not his full story, it it makes it feel like the escaping from Aincrad plot is more important than the romance plot and that he’s got a life outside of what we see. How many books have been reviewed on this site where a romance subplot overpowered its far more important main plot? The part that confuses me is why volume 2 would be a bunch of random stories that wouldn’t matter at all, instead of nothing but sidestories of Kirito and Asuna going on various adventure-dates, or why Kawahara couldn’t have at least had their first meeting or when they became a couple or something like that be in the first novel (since I recall the Floor 1 boss raid is one of the Vol 2 sidestories), especially since the first person narration makes it seem like it’s Kirito telling his story to someone else and he’d probably think that part is important.

            expodumps

            I won’t link it here because of its subject matter, but for everyone interested in what the first time Kirito and Asuna fucked was like in detail, just go and google “Sword Art Online chapter 16.5”.Reki Kawahara basically put a (very bad) pornfic in the middle of his story… and it contains an small exposition dump about how the game of SAO works. I think it has something to do with how the fast-travel system works.

            From SAO chapter 16.5, I’ve developed my two Cardinal Rules of Writing Pornography.

            • Rule 1: Don’t ever describe in detail how unerotic something is. That scene in SAO:A where Asuna just takes her clothes off and goes “So we doin’ this or what?” is pretty much 100% how it went down in canon and Kirito is not a fan of that at all. Dude wants to be romanced first, Asuna.
            • Rule 2: Don’t include worldbuilding that doesn’t directly impact the context of the fucking that’s going on in the scene. And even if it is, think very long and very hard (heh heh) about whether or not you absolutely need to include it here.

            The only positive thing I can say about the scene is that SAO is one of the few Light Novels where its Light Novel Guy actually gets to have sex with its Light Novel Girl instead of being a sexless weirdo. But the same is true even in the LN as published, and doesn’t at all require to know what bits went where, so… yeah.

            Chivalry of a Failed Knight is also unusual in that its Light Novel Guy gets to progress beyond the “calling her his girlfriend” stage of a relationship and its so much better done in that series. Volume 1 is basically nothing but an introduction to the hero and heroine of the series.

            The novel opens, with a prologue, on a cliche Guy Sees Girl In Her Underwear On Accident Scene. Wait, hold on, it gets better, I promise. Chapter 1 opens… not with disproportionate violence but with the two of them in the principal’s office and her demanding for the principal to punish him for barging in her dorm room.

            The principal explains that he was there because it’s his room too, because part of her restructuring of the school since becoming principal is having people room together based on ability and complementary skills… but mostly because she thought it’d be funny (she’s the only reason Light Novel Guy was even accepted into the school, so she has a personal interest in him). But wait, hold on, it’s not that bad, I promise.

            Light Novel Girl (her name is Stella) says that she’ll forgive him for walking in on her because it was all just a big misunderstanding! Light Novel Guy (Ikki) breathes a sigh of relief. The only thing he’ll have to do to apologize is… commit seppuku. But wait, hold on, it’s not that bad, I promise.

            Ikki pretty much tells her that, while he’s sorry he saw her in her underwear, she’s being totally unreasonable that he die for it and calls her out on it. They eventually decide to settle things with an official fight in the school’s magic swordmanship arena gimmick. Stella, seeking to chasten Ikki (because she’s the top-ranked mage of the school and he’s literally the lowest ranked, but shows the utmost confidence that he could take her on), decides to raise the stakes, and decides that the loser shall become the winner’s servant. But wait, hold on, it’s not that bad, I promise.

            SPOILERS FOR VOLUME 1- The two of them have a very nicely well done fight (both in the LN, which has surprisingly good third person prose and battle scenes by LN standards, and the anime, which is very cleverly directed by someone who learned at the knee of Shaft’s master of cost-saving). They reveal their backstories through the fight. Stella has a very high natural aptitude but a privileged upbringing, so everyone assume’s she’s a natural genius, but Ikki is able to tell how much she has worked hard to refine that natural genius into her current A rank magic knight rating. Ikki has next to no magic skills, so he’s pretty much 100% trained ability and a wicked scary obsevation skill, which he thinks is enough to defeat Stella. After fending off Stella’s best ability, he uses his trump card (which pours all his strength into a single minute of combat and supercharges his basic stats to insane degree) and goes to finish the fight… and absolutely fails to penetrate Stella’s shield of magical armour. Despite his greater sword skill, Ikki’s power isn’t enough to defeat Stella; and despite her amazing skill, Stella is forced to rely on her natural power to defeat Ikki. Both of them feel like they’ve lost, and Ikki passes out, due to his trump card has a massive amount of recoil damage. At some point I don’t quite remember, Stella decides to give the victory to Ikki for some reason (I think because she was concious enough to express that his ideology defeated hers first).

            While he’s unconcious, Stella watches him sleep and thinks about everything he was able to tell about her just through that fight, and how much she respects the way of life he’s decided to live. After a small scene in which she gawks at his rock hard abs (and accidentally gets her hand trapped under his sleeping body), the two of them have a cute little scene where the both realize how much they like and acknowledge the other. They become a couple at the end of volume 1, after Stella motivates Ikki to win his first match in the school’s rankings tournament by basically yelling an order forbidding him to lose. The whole “loser becomes the winner’s slave” thing is only ever brought up, from that point forward, when Stella decides to use it as an excuse to push him forward in their relationship, because she’s totally the more dominant personality between the two, without falling into the annoying type of tsundere that always blows everything out of proportion and yells at the MC over nothing .

            – SPOILERS FOR VOLUME 1 OVER

            Chivalry of a Failed Knight, while not a great series, does many things that’s rare to see in Light Novels. It has a non-harem romance plot (there are only two major love interests, but one is a total non-starter who has zero chance, is introduced after the relationship is established, and the fact her love will never be reciprocated is an important character arc for her), a non-romantic friendship between the male main character and a female character who decides to change her way of life because of the main character without losing any of her agency in the process and who doesn’t stick around to fawn after him after her character arc is over, the heroine being allowed to have sexual thoughts for her own sake and not the male audience’s (this one is a bit shakier than the others, but its trying a lot harder than most LNs), and every girl gets at least one fight with a major plot impact by volume 5.

            In the anime, the best fight is probably the fight between Ikki and the student council president to decide who will be part of the school’s international magic-knight school competetion team. Due to machinations involving his backstory, Ikki is in zero condition to fight, and his opponent doesn’t want to fight him when he’s at anything less than 100% (everyone in this series is a bigger blood knight than Vegeta), but to toss the fight would require each of them to forsake their dream, so they duel. Ikki’s One-Hit Asura technique versus her Lighting Cutter technique in an iaijutsu duel. And it is probably one of the best quick draw duels I’ve ever seen. Overall, the anime is a solid 6 or charitable 7 out of 10. I like to decribe it as about as bad an anime can be while still being good. If I was 12 or 14 when this series came out, I probably would’ve thought it was the best thing ever (and I feel like the ability to remember what your tastes were at age 13 is an important thing when you review this sort of shounen battle series).

            And going past the anime into the LN-only material, the best fight belongs to… his little sister, singlehandedly defeating a dangerous terrorist leader, while her big brother is busy dealing with a mercenary he hired. She is the greatest swordsman in the entire setting, and his fight with her (where she destroys him using his own observational skills at a far higher level than he can- and this a guy who can turn off his colour vision and hearing to observe movement better) is actually such a beat down that it locks up his ability to fight for awhile.

            1. Roarke says:

              Haha, someone’s talking about Chivalry of a Failed Knight. Full disclosure, I totally like that series of light novels. I agree that the anime gets about a C, but strangely the light novels are endearing to me. They get a B-, at least. I think it’s like you said, that the narration actually cares about the female characters independently of the male protagonists.

              It’s also a little weird to me that in your last paragraph, you note that it’s the little sister’s fight that is the best, and then detail Ikki’s fight instead.

              Anyway. So, Chivalry of a Failed Knight is, to me, an example of a bad cliche done pretty damn well. I think a lot of it rests, like you said, on the relationship between Ikki and Stella. She’s the dominant one in most of their interactions, and unlike the bland protagonists, he’s someone firmly convinced of his own self-worth and has a lot going for him beyond inexplicably being attractive to the quirky female cast.

              You recollect their first fight incorrectly. He defeated her sword skills but his first attack was deflected by her barrier, at which point she said she’d attack him respectfully and used her power. That’s when he invoked his secret technique and defeated her.

              I actually like your version better, though. 

              Reply
            2. CrazyEd says:
              I totally like that series

              It’s one of my guilty pleasures, even though I don’t feel particularly guilty about enjoying it to the level I do, especially because I only gave it a try when the guy I regard as having a particularly bad taste in light novels recommended it. I was going to just read a bit and ask how he could possibly think it was good, and only gave it a real try because of how unbelievably upfront its prologue was with the accidental pervert scene and the fact it was written in third person. I fully admit that, if this series came out when I was 13, I would probably think it’s the best thing ever. Stella’s the best, the third arc has some amazing animation, and it’s even got some surprisingly clever powers (like the student council member who has a casuality-type equipment that can turn a 1% chance into a 100% certainty… but he’s so weak that most fights he gets in have a 0% chance of him winning). Ikki’s power set being totally my type of thing is just icing on the cake.

              the little sisters fight is the best, and then detail Ikki’s fight instead

              Honestly? You’re probably gonna laugh at this one, but… I did that because I didn’t want to spoil the ending of the fight that actually makes it the coolest fight in the first half dozen volumes. I’m just pretty bad at the concept of “spoilers”. I didn’t really spoil Ikki’s either (how he loses and the reason he locks up, mostly), but I didn’t want to give away what happened during either her fight with the student council president or the terrorist leader at all.

              I am a person who generally does not give the slightest fuck about talking about what will happen later in a story (if I even realize I do it) because no matter what information I hear before I get to that part, I’ve never been spoiled on a story so a lot of the time it just feels like people having too soft a skin and kneejerk labelling absolutely anything that happens (even the utterly predictable things) as spoilers (like what happened to Jon Snow in episode 602 of Game of Thrones. Literally 100% of viewers should have seen that one coming from the moment episode 510 ended. The only actual surprising part was that it didn’t happen during 601).

              One time I got yelled at for “spoiling” an episode of a shounen jump battle anime series by a friend… who was about twenty episodes past the episode in question when I said it, because I gave him a generic “spoiler” literally along the lines of “the main character defeats the villain by harnessing the power of friendship”. I wanted to see how little a thing he’d label as a spoiler.

              Try to guess what series this is “spoiling”: A lawyer and an archaeologist have a dispute over inheritance. This is something I once said that was literally deemed too big a spoiler for someone who hadn’t started the series yet.

              You maaaaay have been able to tell by now that, when I like something, I will just go on and on and on and on and say whatever comes into my head on the topic (and maybe some other topics too).

              beyond inexplicably being attractive to the quirky female cast

              Actually, I think the series does a pretty good job of explaining what’s so attractive about him, especially within the battle-addict worldview of the series (at least, it does from my perspective, but I’d be interested to hear from someone who is actually attracted to men). Stella is pretty dominant, but she doesn’t feel domineering or straight-up abusive like 90% of redheaded fire-themed tsundere princesses. She’s just a very proud and confident person, and even when she’s passive or submissive to him, it doesn’t feel like unwarranted slavish devotion. The scene where she washed his back wearing nothing but a string bikini, while definitely meant as fanservice for the viewer, was written in a way that it at least felt like she was doing it for herself and he merely happened to benefit from it.

              She’s got the tankiest powers (she fights a four on one in the inter-school tournament to ensure that all four people who hurt her friend will get defeated rather than drop out if they meet each others in the bracket), a personality that allows for both give and take without going full Kugimiya or becoming a doormat, an adorable design, and some super cute facial expressions in the anime. You might look a bit sideways at someone who said they wanted a relationship like Kirito and Asuna, but how would you react to someone saying they wanted one like Stella and Ikki? 

              And on Ikki’s side of the equation, he’s not some passive subserviant wimp who exists just to self-insert onto either. He’s actually pretty badass without being some tryhard cool dude like Kirito and I don’t really see much of a problem with the idea of a viewer wanting to be more like him. He’s gtot a pretty admirable set of ideals. The narrative does a lot to answer the question of why the girls might like him (even though a surprisingly small number of them do) but he’s also just pretty cool dude who is pretty chill most of the time and has no problem being in the background when he’s got nothing to contribute.

              I love how his first major friendship forged in the series is by swordgeeking out with a girl who is the daughter of a swordmaster he’s a fanboy of. Both Ikki and Stella are actually kinda dorky and, when they decide to take their relationship slowly, it actually feels in character for both of them, even if Stella clearly has far less of a problem with the idea than Ikki does.

              A lot of anime fans look at the two of them and deem it unrealistic for two teenagers to not bone the minute they realize they have the hots for each other (this kind of attitude probably is the fault of harem anime and it took people quite awhile to even realize Rakudai Kishi wasn’t one), but I’ve never had a problem with two characters deciding they want to take things more slowly or who are slightly embarrassed about the idea of going all the way at that moment, so long as that’s what is stated and its not just teasing the reader with sexual situations but avoiding actual sexuality to keep their teen rating.

              In the manga Kekkon Yubiwa Monogatari, the main character and heroine decide to hold off on doing it even after the MC becomes the hero who needs to marry her and four other princesses to get their magic powerup wedding rings, because they’re childhood friends and they already had a load of feelings for each other before that happened, regardless of the newfound duty that’s been given to them. The dude likes her so much that he jumped through an interdimensional portal and volunteered to kill the Demon King for her sake.

              So when the idea of sex comes up, they both decide that they want to take things at their own pace and not ruin their relationship by diving into things they’re not ready for or just doing it because they have to be married because of the plot. It even provides a convenient excuse for the rest of the harem to keep that teen rating, because they  still both want to be each other’s first time (even though, of the four he’s currently gathered into his party, only two are even interested in him, and of those two, only one wants to cut in line).

              Reply
            3. CrazyEd says:
              You recollect their first fight incorrectly.

              The only reason I even remembered Ikki’s duel with the Hunter took place in volume 1, and how they became a couple after that and not their own duel, is because I knew the anime adapted the first three LN sand the second volume was everything involving the senpai with the time delayed cuts and the third’s antagonist was the student council president. That arc didn’t leave much of an impression in me despite it being a great little bit of insight into the differences between how Ikki and Stella approach fights.

              I actually like your version better, though.

              Thanks. But, as much as I like my version better as well (gee, I wonder why), I still think the way you described it happening was good too. One of Chivalry of a Failed Knight’s major themes is the earnest bond between warriors in an honourable duel. Just look at how the senpai’s dad felt about the guy trying to take his dojo’s sign. Stella’s decision to look at Ikki earnestly is the turning point of their entire relationship in the first volume.

              I have a habit of adding “this is how I’d do this if I wrote it” bits to my anime-rambling when I’m just doing it off the cuff directly at friends. Maybe I’ll start adding them to these comments. People generally seem to think they’re pretty good, and some of my favourite posts on this blog are like that (especially the bits on rewriting the Dresden Files).

              Reply
  7. CrazyEd says:
    Oh, god damn it, I thought about Accel World. What’s everyone’s thoughts on that mess? Personally, I think its worse than SAO, and I have no clue how it was the series that got Kawahara the clout to publish his pet project.

    (Well, I mean, I totally understand the reason why AW is popular with the people who read light novels, but that reason is terrible. Interestingly, though, AW doesn’t really seem that popular in the west.)

    1. Nerem says:
      It’s a lot less of a straight up power fantasy, which is why I think it’s less popular then SAO.
      1. CrazyEd says:
        Yeah, I used that in an explanation of why the protagonist was insufferable once. He’s just as much catnip to women as Kirito is, if not moreso, but at least Kirito is a hyper-badass manly cooldude from the narrative’s perspective. AW’s protagonist is like a pick-up artist’s textbook definition of a beta male. He has basically no redeeming traits. I think the heroine literally falls in love with him because he’s honest about himself on the internet. And that’s it. Not even your harem anime standard of “he’s kind”.

        I can understand why the typical reader of SAO would want to see themselves as Kirito. I was a thirteen year old boy once too. I get it. But I have absolutely no clue why you’d want to self-insert on such a pathetic lifeform as Pig-kun.

        And it still doesn’t explain why AW’s so much less popular in the west. Western anime fans generally don’t have a problem with identifying with useless guys with spines made of tissue paper so long as girls like them for being kind.

        Even I’ll admit that some scenes of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai’s protagonist hit way too close to home for comfort (“What, this guy already has a friend, and he wants more? What a selfish bastard!” and “Whoa, cell phones can be used for calling more than just home and family!?” are the first that come to mind). Though… one of my best friends in my junior year of high school was a mysterious but insanely cute transfer student upperclasman who made friends with me for no adequately explained reason, and who is probably secretly a vampire who wanted to drain my life force but I was too harem-protagonist-dense to actually notice this before shutting it down. So I may secretly be an anime protagonist without even knowing it.

        That said, I also feel that the fact Haganai’s protagonist is literally the only guy who will talk to them helps things (he’s not technically the last guy on earth, but he might as well be, so far as these girls’ social lives are concerned), and I take solace in the fact that he’s basically a less aptly written version of Ryuji from Toradora (who’d probably be my kind of guy if I had a kind of guy) and that I’m like 75% sure that Haganai is actually an attempt at deconstructing the harem genre that no one noticed was trying that.

        But how many other harem anime treat its “bitchiness-masquerading-as-a-tsundere” character as a generally dislikeable person or introduce a brand new harem of legitimately personable, kind, and reasonable girls (that don’t even assasult him for accidentally seeing them in their underwear after he covers his eyes and apologizes for the mistake) a third of the way through the story?

  8. CrazyEd says:
    Only tangentially related to SAO, but remember that time I said that guy who made an hour long podcast about SAO sucks put a lot of work into his reviews, including literally writing a 52,000 word book about how a single 12 episode long anime series sucks?

    Did I ever mention that anime series so bad that he increased his MAL rating of SAO from 1.0 to 1.5 because it wasn’t as bad as it, and then went on to make a nearly twenty minute long video about how much more brilliantly written SAO was?

    Because he did.

    Behold, the anime so bad that it makes SAO look 150% better.

    1. Heatth says:

      I disagree with many things Digibro says and I find his love for lolis and moe to be more than a little creepy. But I do appraciate does put a lot of thought into his videos and tries his best to explain them.

      1. CrazyEd says:
        The most telling thing about Digibro is that, after a decade of reviewing anime, his capstone of achievement is… Top Ten Hottest Anime Babes of the Last Decade. And I honestly can’t tell if it’s supposed to be satire or dead serious. Or if it’s supposed to be both. And that, to be, is the essence of Digibro.

        In general, I find Digibro to be far better at explaining why a thing was bad than why a thing was good. He legitimately made K-On sound like it was a masterful work of genius. I went back to watch it just to see what he was talking about, since I hadn’t watched K-On since it aired five years beforehand. A great slice-of-life anime? Of course. The bestest most greatest anime ever? Nope.

        But that’s still something I like about him. I actually find it really important to be able to articulate why you like and dislike things. Even with things I like “because they’re fun”, I could tell you why I found them fun.

        In my usual communities, I have a huge reputation for being no-fun. I used to be a sort of boogeyman on /tg/ for a few games. I could go on for hours on why Exalted 3e was the worst thing ever. It’s easier for me than going on about SAO, and I’ve basically rewritten the first eight books of SAO with all the ranting I’ve done about it (Klein/Leafa platonic swordbros fic coming soon never).

        But I am equally passionate about talking about the things I like. How many times have I snuck in comparisons with stuff being reviewed here to how I handled the same topic in something I’ve written on this site? Not being able to explain why you like something is just… incomprehensible to me.

        That’s why I think Digibro’s Asterisk Wars review is my favourite thing he’s done, but it’s not for the parts where he tears into AssWar. He ends it with an hour long review of why Chivalry of a Failed Knight doesn’t suck and… he’s absolutely right about it. He does do a few things that I think are him giving the work too much credit but it’s not a totally undue amount of credit (it’s more like calling things smart when they’re merely clever), and overall… Yes. I agree. If I was 13 or 14 when that show came out, I’d do the exact same fan things that he describes in that video, and Stella would be my waifu to this day as much as Asuka is for some people. I remember what it was like to be 13, and that was it.

        This is the guy who got me to watch a ten minute long review of a My Little Pony episode on the basis of “how could someone take that long to talk about the themes of a MLP episode?” and walk away thinking “… huh, that’s actually a pretty good point!”

        But yeah he’s kinda creepy sometimes. It actually kinda feels like he’s been making a joke so long that the joke became true at some point.

        1
        1. CrazyEd says:
          Also, these two excepts from his light novel (I Wrote This Light Novel In Like A Day, It Sucks And I Hate It, But If It Gets An Anime Adaptation I’ll Pretend It Was A Work Of Genius).

          This is how most of my attempts at fiction went. I would construct a concept, sometimes very extensively, that I wanted to create a story around, but just could never up with an actual story. And to a lot of people, that might seem minor and barebones and like no huge loss, but to me it was always a massive loss. These stories are so specific in their aesthetic sense, and there are no other stories that have the feel that I wanted them to have. Each was meant to communicate some piece of my soul–some inner obsession that I needed others to comprehend, because I could never possibly explain them as vividly as they could be conveyed in a story. But I just never came up with the stories. I have perhaps sixty different story concepts laying around, all still banging around the back of my mind, and just not enough meat to them to be made into actual books. Instead, I have this monstrosity. I am a human failure.

          And

          If I tried to tell a story about this character, it would really just be in the name of having a fleshed-out idea of this person because I fantasize about being with someone like this. It’s all just a vicarious exploration of my deepest-held desires, which I am desperate to materialize in any conceivable form, even if it’s just making a more solid image in my imagination, or creating it in the minds of others so that it exists in a broader shared consciousness and therefore expands its sensation of existence. Oh shit, did I just find the meaning of writing for myself?

          This isn’t going to work. I’m never going to be able to write an actual story at this rate, because I can’t actually concoct characters and stories which exist for the sake of themselves–I have spent a decade to view narrative as a springboard for analysis of the purpose of its existence, and how it both effects us, and what about us brings it into existence, so the idea of just creating a story without internally analyzing it constantly is just alien to me. This is why even when I write prose these days, it’s all nonfictional gonzo storytelling. I am broken to fiction. Send help.

          You might want to ignore the rest, it’s just seventy pages of stream of conciousness trying to offend literally everyone possible. I don’t think anyone on this site could stand to read through the entire thing.

          That second excerpt is after a long rambling ramble about a 300 year old vampire who is just visually different enough from Remilia Scarlet to be legally distinct, for example.

  9. illhousen says:

    For those interested, new episode is on SWE Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/304318218

    (It’s also technically on Youtube but is currently under a copyright strike.)

    1
  10. CrazyEd says:

    So, uh. Y’all watching that new SAO? It’s gonna be 52 episodes. That’s as long as the rest of SAO combined. Buckle up, motherfuckers. This ain’t no spin off like the last SAO anime. This is pure strain grade A Reki Kawahara right here.

    1. Act says:

      I had to explain to my brother the other day that people unironically like SAO and I came out of it still not entirely sure I believed it myself.

      1. Heatth says:

        I became quite surprised when I learned people of my college like it. I mean, they weren’t super fan or anything, but in a discussion of recomended “starter anime” it came up and I was really confused. They even liked the second half of season 1, which I thought it was universaly reviled.

        Then again, I came to learn that the taste of people in my college is really shitty. They make me feel a major snob. Which is really disconcerning as, among my other friend, I am the trashy guy who likes stupid shit like fighting shonens.

      2. CrazyEd says:

        Well, at least SAO: Abridged is still great. Jerk Jock who does weird VR rape ERP is far more characterization than Suguha got in the canon series, and she even has a perfectly good reason to not reveal herself to Kirito now.

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