Author: Reki Kawahara
The year is 2022, and the highly-anticipated virtual reality MMORPG, Sword Art Online, has just been released. Along with nearly ten thousand excited gamers, beta-tester Kirito logs in to the world of complete sensory immersion that the new VR software creates. He’s ready to have some fun slashing monsters, but it’s not long before he realizes something has gone horribly wrong. . . . There’s no log-out option. Worse yet, an announcement is soon made by the game creator that players will have to beat all 100 levels of the game before they can leave–and if they die in the game, they’ll die in real life too. Two years later, Kirito is one of a few thousand surviving players, an elite who has devoted himself to beating the game, avoiding too close an acquaintance with anyone else. Still, when another elite–the lovely and skillful Asuna–decides to pair up with him for a while, he might be convinced to make an exception.
Ever since the anime for Sword Art Online first came out in Japan, I’ve heard people saying how good it is. Having held out for an English translation of the light novel–the original form of the story–I’m blown away by how good it actually is. Rather, it is quite an exceptional story! The premise is quite simple–normal people being stuck in some game or fantasy and striving to fight their way back to normal life–but where Sword Art Online really shines is in the details of how the author deals with this premise. Kawahara goes to lengths to make the situation credible; from the details of the game to the practicalities of keeping the players trapped, every argument is deftly explained. Furthermore, the story delves deeply into the psychological effects of being in such a situation for such a long period of time–it’s a fascinating psychological study, truly. Of course, to me the most outstanding feature of the story is the characters, Asuna in particular. I’ve heard some people say she’s a strong character in the beginning but is weak towards the end–I strongly disagree. I think it’s amazing that so strong a character can show such a soft side and yet retain all the depth and strength of character that she does. That takes some impressive character writing. I think Sword Art Online: Aincrad is a light novel that will prove immersive and fascinating for almost any reader, even if you aren’t a gamer–it’s honestly that good.