In 2022, Sword Art Online (SAO) is released, a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG) that is unlike any other. Advances in technology have allowed for the creation of a perfect virtual reality experience, known as “full-dive.” A specialized NerveGear helmet worn in the real world bypasses the player’s senses and sends signals straight to the brain, creating the full-dive effect. On the day of the game’s release, ten thousand lucky gamers throughout Japan enter SAO, where they hope to find adventure, gain new skills and weapons, make friends, defeat monsters, and clear as many of the 100 floors within Aincrad’s ominous floating castle as they can. Then something unthinkable happens: players realize they cannot log out of the game. Akihiko Kayaba, the game’s brilliant designer, appears in hologram form; to their horror, he explains that he has decided to make SAO real, imprisoning gamers in his world. Anyone killed in SAO will really die, and if anyone from the outside tries to forcibly remove their NerveGear equipment, the players will also be killed. The only way to escape is to beat the boss on the 100th level, which will allow all surviving players to leave. It makes sense for players to work together, since anyone left at the end can leave, but being trapped can do strange things to the mind. It is not only monsters that our protagonists will have to defeat—thus begins their two-year quest for survival.
Kirito, a solo player and former beta tester, is the novel’s main protagonist. The story follows Kirito’s experiences within the online world, particularly his developing relationship with Asuna, the beautiful and powerful vice-commander of the well-known guild Knights of the Blood. Together they make an unstoppable duo as they fight to clear the game and reunite in the real world. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship is refreshingly equal, with each character mentally and physically strong enough to protect the other.
Sword Art Online is one of the hottest series to watch, but before the anime came the novel. Sword Art Online stands out for its extraordinary world-building, epic sword fights, and compelling characters. Reki Kawahara clearly did his research on multiplayer role-playing games and the psychology of hardcore gamers, creating a believable world within SAO and the actions of the players trapped inside. While the anime brings a new dimension to the story, the novel relies solely on Kawahara’s descriptive language, engaging tone, and expert pacing—all translated seamlessly into English—to transport readers into the fascinating world of SAO. Interspersed are Abec’s gorgeous original illustrations, including six in full color.
The Sword Art Online novel has broad appeal for reluctant to avid readers, anime and gaming fans, and anyone craving a solid action/adventure story. There are some differences that fans of the anime will pick up on; knowing how the anime ends will not detract from their enjoyment of the novel, as they will experience the world of SAO in a new light. Likewise, those who have not seen the anime will be able to jump right in without any confusion. Teens who are wary to venture outside the genre of graphic novels may need a little push, but will not be disappointed once they begin reading.
Sword Art Online is an absolute must-have for any collection. Book two will be published in August 2014.
Sword Art Online 1: Aincrad
by Reki Kawahara
Art by Abec
Yen On, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 13+