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- This article is about the VRMMORPG. You may be looking for the series.
Sword Art Online (ソードアート・オンライン Sōdo Āto Onrain?) is the first ever VRMMORPG produced by Argus for the NerveGear, with Kayaba Akihiko as the development director. The game takes place on a hundred-floor floating castle called Aincrad.
Prior to official launch, «Sword Art Online» Closed Beta was available to 1000 beta testers for a one month period from August to September of 2022. During that period, «Sword Art Online» was lauded as an incredible experience, and it received extremely positive reviews despite the actual difficulty of the game (over the one month period, the Beta Testers only reached the 8th floor). After the Closed Beta Tested ended, the Beta Testers were given the opportunity to pre-order the game.
Only 10,000 copies were printed in the first batch of the game, and online sales sold out within seconds. Hard-core gamers waited in line for days to purchase the first few hard copies from stores.
«Sword Art Online» officially started server service on 1 PM of November 6, 2022 and obtained infamy when the creator succeeded in trapping 10000 people in the game, and making it so that death in-game would mean actual death for the player. During the two-year period the game remained active, «Sword Art Online» evolved into an innovative yet complex society of individuals with mixed feelings about the possibility of clearing the game.
Psychologically, many players experienced extreme despair, grief, and sadness during the course of the game. Of the total 3,853 deaths, over half occurred in the first month of SAO. Combined with lethal dungeon traps, PKing, crime, suicides, a slowly dwindling population, and increasing difficulty on the higher floors, the prospects generally looked very bleak.
The game was prematurely ended on the 75th floor (as opposed to the intended 100th floor), after the «Black Swordsman» defeated the final boss Heathcliff in a duel. A total of 6,147 people were successfully logged out on 2:55 PM (Aincrad Standard Time) of November 7, 2024. SAO serves as the main setting for volumes 1, 2 and 8 of the Sword Art Online series.
The game operates similar to most MMORPGs with a level system and eventual skill mastery with some limits placed on it. The entire game is monitored and maintained by a system called «Cardinal» which self-corrects any problems.
While the Sword Art Online mainframe is capable of incredible graphical and rendering capacities, it does not actually render the entire environment in full detail unless a certain region is specifically observed by a player. SAO uses a «Digital Focusing System», which brings out the finer details of an object only when a player shows interest and focuses their visual field on it. According to Kirito, this reduces the strain on the SAO mainframe processor, which, despite its high performance power, is uncapable of rendering all marginal details of the environment simultaneously. This effectually produces the illusion that the SAO graphical and VR experience is incredibly detailed.
The SAO mainframe apparently has a difficult time rendering the sensation of water in baths or showers.
Virtual Reality Experience
As a complete virtual reality MMORPG, the SAO system is capable of rendering the entire Aincrad environment with incredible realism. By stimulating nerves in the brain, it is possible to taste food, feel the wind and weather, move one's body, and live in SAO as if it were an alternate reality. However, there are several major differences that set the Sword Art Online environment apart from the real-world experience.
First, no pain is actually felt in any situation. As a result, gamers can undergo severe injuries and still only feel a tingling sensation. Second, there is no blood; in its place are orange virtual gashes that are seen in the place of damage. Third, Sword Skills allow actions (such as fighting, cooking, fishing) to be performed with normally impossible speed, dexterity, and power, based on a gamer's stats. Fourth, there are some everyday actions that simply aren't done in the SAO world, such as changing clothes by hand or attempting to wield two items at the same time.
While playing Sword Art Online, gamers still feel fatigue and hunger (even if their real bodies are not hungry). As a result, it is an absolute necessity for all players to eat and sleep within the game. However, there is never a need to defecate or go to the bathroom. The SAO system generally censors mature or unhealthy content (smoking, sexual intercourse, etc), but it is even possible for players to disable the censor if «Ethics Code Off» is selected on the options menu.
Death or deletion in the game is visualized by fragmentation into thousands of polygon shards. All monsters, items, and players that have their HP or durability reduced to zero, disappear and fragment into polygons in such a fashion.
Sword Art Online takes the form of a giant floating castle called Aincrad, with 100 floors in it. Each floor has a medieval-themed setting and a dungeon with a boss, which has to be defeated before players can advance to the next higher floor. Like most RPGs, it implements a level based system.
Sword Art Online is set in Aincrad, a floating castle of 100 floors. At its base, it is approximately 10km in diameter, and it is completely rendered in all dimensions. Because of the nature of Aincrad as a floating castle, there are no invisible barriers or no-access regions at the edges of the map. Aincrad's perimeter is merely surrounded by guard rails that can be jumped off of (the system will render falling for approximately 2 minutes before suicide is registered as death).
Each individual floor has its unique climate, geography, fauna, and environment. Some floors are known for being fairly cold, while others are known for flowers and forests. Most floors on Aincrad have a theme.
Seasons and Weather
Sword Art Online has its own «Aincrad Standard Time» (presumably the same as JST, UTC+9), and its own «Aincrad Calender» with specially named months. Known calendar months are listed:
- «Month of Sakura» (April)
- «Month of the Ash Tree» (Late October)
- «Month of the Cypress»(November)
Globally, Sword Art Online has seasons and weather settings that are effective throughout the floors. Aincrad's season correlate with the seasons of the real world, but they are generally much milder. As a result, it is not always snowy in the winter, or scorching hot in the summer. Weather settings are generally random and quite realistic.
In Sword Art Online, physical surroundings such as walls, buildings, monuments, and major features are considered "Immortal Objects". A error beep and a notification will sound if immortal physical objects are struck, even if by accident.
All non-immortal objects have a «durability» value. Durability is an important feature of Sword Art Online, and it a measure of how much an item or object has been used (similar to HP), and much it will last before it expires and shatters into polygon fragments. Clothes, equipment, weapons, potions, crystals, and food are all subject to gradual loss of durability.
Often times, players must invest significant resources into repairing equipment and resources. Many characters carry extra back-up weapons into dungeons (Asuna in Aria in the Starless Night carries five rapiers in her inventory due to durability concerns in solo dungeon-hunting), others rely on merchants and smiths who regularly repair and upgrade equipment. Food always declines in durability with respect to time, and freshly prepared foods will disappear if not eaten soon enough. Merely dropping food can cause food to lose its durability and fragment into polygons.
Initiation and Character Creation
Logging onto «Sword Art Online» is done by stating, "Link Start!" after powering-on NerveGear hardware. A brief few seconds of tunnel-vision colors are seen while the NerveGear intercepts signals from the gamer's brain, before the powerup screen is seen. A pre-game status check then confirms the link connection of the five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Upon logging on, a language-select is prompted, and then the login screen. After a welcome screen, a bright light ensues and the gamer can begin creating their character.
The first time a gamer utilizes NerveGear hardware, he or she is prompted to touch various parts of the body in order to calibrate the machine. While gamers may choose to alter their in-game appearance however they like (gender, height, girth, etc), the game avatar feature was removed when Kayaba Akihiko made an announcement during the first day and changed everyone's physique to their real-world appearance.
Basic Game Interface
In a player's display, without accessing any skills, one can see several interfaces.
The health bar is located on the upper left corner of one's field of vision. It displays the health of the player, name, numerical HP (8120/8120), and level. It also shows the heath and names of all other members one's party in a smaller bar.
A clock displaying Aincrad local time can be seen in the bottom left corner of the visual field.
A cursor interface can be over every NPC, monster, and player in the game. This cursor is either green (for players), orange (for players with criminal infractions), yellow (for NPCs), or red (monsters). During battle, the health bar of monsters can be seen around the targeted enemy, as well as the name of the monster. Bosses typically have multiple health bars. As for a monster that level is too far apart, health bars of that monster will be unable to see and instead indicated with 'unknown'.
Main Menu Window
The main menu is the primary means of accessing a player's items, maps, skills, and inventory.
It can be accessed by putting one's right index finger and thumb together, then pulling downwards. Immediately afterwards, a ringing sound is heard and a shining purple rectangle appears. In the anime, the main menu is structured with the summary diagram on the left, circular category buttons in the middle, and the detail dialogue to the right. There are five category options: inventory/equipment, friends/guild, messaging/chat, maps/quest, settings/main-menu. These five category icons scroll, and the category being accessed moves to the top.
- Inventory/equipment: The icon for the category is a character icon. This is the default screen when opening the Menu interface. The left screen is an image of the body, with multiple points that allow the gamer to equip items or clothes. The right screen has three sub-menus:
- Equipment: Selecting this sub-menu will open another three sub-menu:
- Weapons: The icon for this category is a sword like the one used in Equipment.
- Equipped: The icon for this category is an armor.
- Accessory: The icon for this category is a necklace.
- Items: Selecting this sub-menu will open an additional scrolling screen on the left that lists all items. When an item is selected, it materializes in front of the player. The inventory turns red when a player has too many items.
- Skills: Selecting this sub-menu will open additional scrolling screen on the left that lists all skills of the player.
- Equipment: Selecting this sub-menu will open another three sub-menu:
- Friends/Guild: The icon for the category is two character icons together. The right screen has three sub-menus:
- Party: Selecting this sub-menu will open three additional options. The first is "Create", the second is "Invite", and the third is "Dissolve".
- Friend: Selecting this sub-menu will reveal a list of a player's friends. Selecting a single friend will produce three additional options: "Message Box", "Position Check", and "Profile".
- Messaging/Chat: The icon for the category is two chat box icons together. The icon flashes automatically whenever a player receives a message. Apparently messages cannot be send to player who is currently in the dungeon.
- Maps/Quest: The icon for the category is a balloon location icon. The right screen has three sub-menus:
- Field Map
- Dungeon Map: Selecting this sub-menu will reveal a map of the dungeon that the player has explored.
- Settings/Main-menu: The icon for the category is a gear. The right screen has three sub-menus:
- Help: Selecting "Help" will call a GM (Game Master) in the left screen.
- Logout: The logout button is missing during the first day of SAO launch. Consequently, the left-screen is also completely blank.
Players can interact with the environment by tapping various key objects (door knobs, items, etc). Doing so either performs the default function, or brings up a floating dialogue that has several options, similar to right-click on a PC.
In Sword Art Online, the Touch Interface replaces many actions and simplifies the process of actually performing an action. For example, in Episode 2 of the anime, Asuna taps on a jar of cream to "use" the jar. Tapping again on bread automatically spreads the cream on the bread.
Several factors go into the calculation of damage in Sword Art Online. Among them, include the efficacy of hits (a direct hit as opposed to a scratch), the skill level of a player, the Sword Skill used, and the weapon stats. SAO's damage calculation system is more complicated than the system on Alfheim Online.
Weapons have the following enhancement parameters that determine stats: Sharpness, Quickness, Accuracy, Heaviness, and Durability. When a weapon is given to an NPC or player smith to upgrade, bonuses such as +1 or +2 are appended select categories. Players use an abbreviated notation to describe the effective bonuses on a weapon. «1A2H1D» for example, has +1 Accuracy, +2 Heaviness, and +1 Durability.
On a regular basis, these parameters cannot be seen unless a weapon is «Appraised». Selecting a weapon will only show its name and its aggregate bonuses (the sum of all enhancement parameters). For example, Kirito's «Anneal Blade +6» has the parameters «3S3D».
Status Effects, like many MMORPGs, play an important role in combat. Many attacks have a random chance of dealing status effects. They are generally not curable, unless the appropriate Crystals are used. Most status effects expire after a set period of time. The following is a list of known status effects:
- Stun - Many Sword Skill attacks have a random chance of dealing Stun, which disrupts the next action of the affected player.
- Delay - Slows the movements of the affected player.
- Tumble - Disrupts the standing balance of the affected player.
- Paralysis - Prevents movement for several minutes.
- Hate - Attracts the attention of enemies, and causes NPC attacks to be focused on the player. It is automatically gained by being the most predominant attacker in a group.
Monster Battle Mechanics
There is no «Magic» in SAO except for the different colored crystals that bring instant effects. Instead players can fight using their «Sword Skills». Execution of Swords Skills are assisted by the system, and it can fall into any of the four properties: Thrust, Slash, Pierce and Blunt. SAO has no projectile weapon skills, with the exception of throwing darts, boomerangs, and chakrams.
Attempting to battle without Sword Skills is largely ineffective, and it is equivalent to waving one's sword around without doing damage. Many beginners make this mistake, and they can lose a large portion of their health if they panic and forget to use their Sword Skills.
Defeating a monster brings up a Congratulations screen with a summary of results: EXP gained, Col gained, and Items dropped. Distribution of loot occurs automatically, and Col is automatically divided evenly between the party/raid members while items are placed in the inventory of the person who receives it. Unlike the systems of many MMOs, Sword Art Online does not have a battle log or announce to others what items other players receive. As a result, Boss Battles can end awkwardly as there is no fair mechanism of splitting the loot. To prevent disputes, guilds often have set policies dictating the division of loot.
In Boss Battles, being the player to deal the finishing Last Attack produces a rare drop for the individual player.
In general, monsters cannot enter safe zones, such as towns or cities.
Party Battle Mechanics
It is generally much more efficient to battle in parties. While there are less emphasis on Classes in Sword Art Online, and monsters can only be engaged by one player at a time, the main benefit of battling in parties is the ability to «Switch».
Switching allows a fellow party member to take the lead spot against an opponent at any time. Most monsters and bosses have a short down-time in between attacks, so switching during the gap allows an additional blow to be dealt when a monster is stunned. Additionally, the AI algorithms are known to run slower when a change of attack style (which occurs during a switch), so monsters have marginally slower reaction times immediately after a «Switch». Kirito mentions that «Switch» is one of the skills that are improvised by players without the assist of the system, also dubbed by Kirito as "a skill outside the system".
The maximum number of players that can form a party is six. Eight parties (or groups) constitute a complete Raid Group large enough to challenge bosses.
Player vs. Player Combat
In Sword Art Online, it is possible to engage in combat with other players. Player vs. Player combat can either be authorized or unauthorized.
Unauthorized combat can be initiated by simply striking another player intentionally. This will render the aggressor's cursor icon as orange, which is visible to everyone for several hours (repeated offenses will render a player's cursor permanently orange). While anyone can be challenged in unauthorized combat, such player vs. player battle cannot occur in safe zones. Attacking a player in a safe zone will not decrease HP, but the recoil and impact of sword skills can be felt.
Authorized combat is essentially dueling. It is done by requesting permission from another player to engage in a duel. There are several different duel modes, which vary conditionally by concluding after the first clear blow, after HP decreases by one half, after a period of time, or death. Attacking someone during a duel will not turn any participant's cursors to orange.
Like most MMORPGs, Player Killing (PKing) is often a result of unwanted player-player combat. While death in the original Closed Beta test resulted in respawning in the Room of Resurrection on the 1st Floor, player death is permanent and real in the Official Server Service. As a result, PKing in Sword Art Online has a severity akin to murder.
- The light novel series is the first place winner for the 10 light novel rankings in the Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! 2012 awards and 2013 awards. It placed fourth back in 2011
- When the Sword Art Online VRMMORPG game was first sold, it had a recommended age rating of 14+