Wow, only one item drop? That is terrible design! On a more serious note, this episode makes one rather critical storytelling flaw. The general conceit behind the anime is that the virtual world matters. What happens in an MMO might not be real to you, but it’s real to others. To emphasize just how much the virtual world matters, death literally becomes real. If you won’t take, say, online relationships seriously, perhaps you’ll take online deaths seriously when you’ll die in the real world as well. This is, however, just one example. To put it simply, death needs to be important in order for the rest of Sword Art Online to gain the necessary gravitas.
Now, of course nobody ever dies in the real world when they die in-game. In fact, that’s why a lot of us play online games: we can screw around with little to no consequences whatsoever. But if you can suspend your belief for just a second, and buy into Sword Art Online‘s premise that death matters, you would certainly accept the legitimacy of online relationships as well. Conveniently enough, that appears to be exactly what this episode is trying to establish: Asuna will obviously become Kirito’s (main?) love interest.
Okay, so what went wrong? The episode nonchalantly tells us that two thousand players have already died. Just like that. No setup, no nothing. Later in the episode, when Diabel foolishly rushed the raid boss by himself and gets owned like a chump, the tone of the anime changes. Suddenly, we have the tragic loss of a beloved leader and compatriot. Death is supposed to matter in Sword Art Online, but the show isn’t really consistent about it. One would find two thousand deaths a tragedy, but the anime simply tells us that this is so instead of actually showing us. When a single guy dies, however, we bring out the whole song and dance, so to speak. That’s not something I’d take seriously. That’s just silly.
Nevertheless, I like that the anime will try as hard as it can to resemble an MMO, right down to the typical MMO boss mechanics. Players will have to form parties. Said parties will have to form an alliance. The alliance leader will then bark orders throughout the fight as different groups switch off fighting the raid boss and handling adds. As far as my experiences are concerned, that seems to be pretty close to the real thing, no? Hell, I joked at the beginning about the boss only dropping a single item, but that too resembles the real thing… well, if the real thing means MMOs like Final Fantasy XI. Who doesn’t
fondly remember slaying Tiamat just for a single pair of shoes to drop.
Unfortunately, adhering to the MMO premise does the show a disfavor from time to time. For such an amazing virtual world, why is a UI still necessary? If the virtual world can emulate the real world to such a stunning degree, do we really need to make players go through the menu to form parties? Can players literally not just fight together? When Kirito dissolved the party with Asuna at the end of the episode, it should’ve been sad but it wasn’t when he had to literally click “Dissolve.”
You could argue that the anime needs to maintain a distinction between the virtual world and the real world, but I don’t think keeping the UI around is the key. The virtual world matters but is nevertheless distinct from the real world by virtue of the fact that they’re in a fantasy setting. Unless you happen to have giant kobold bosses roaming the real world, I don’t think clunky UIs in a 2020 MMO are necessary whatsoever. Sword Art Online obviously wants to take itself seriously. Fine, there’s no real harm in that, but the UI moments are silly.
• The whole “beta testers vs. everyone else” did feel sort of like the divide between hardcore and casual players. I didn’t, however, really buy the tall guy’s retort. How is holding up the free guidebook any different from hardcores telling casuals to “lern2play.”
• It’s pretty stupid that Asuna didn’t know how to find people’s names in the UI. Did she also wear that cloak because she thought it would prevent others from realizing that she’s a “gurl gamer?”
• The action scenes weren’t an incomprehensible mess of sword fighting, but it’s also your standard anime fare. Nothing new to see here.
• Kirito advises Asuna not to go solo because there’s only so much a solo player can do… right as he walks off and seems to do just that.
I don’t think this episode was as interesting as the first episode, but seeing as how I’m only watching this anime because it’s based on MMO, it delivers enough on that front. I still believe that the anime could do much more with its premise, but who didn’t expect the studio to play it safe with the adaptation? Still, if people are going to die in the anime, it should really be emphasized. Instead of killing off a character we’ve just met, someone close to Kirito should bite the dust. It won’t be Asuna, but I certainly hope somebody takes this role.