In the year 2022, gamers rejoice as Sword Art Online-a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) like no other-opens its virtual doors, allowing players to take full advantage of the ultimate in gaming technology: NerveGear, a system that allows users to completely immerse themselves in the game world by manipulating their brain waves to create a wholly realistic gaming experience. But when the game goes live, the elation of the players quickly turns to horror as they discover that, for all its amazing features, SAO is missing one of the most basic functions of any MMORPG-a log-out button. Now trapped in the virtual world of Aincrad, their bodies held captive by NerveGear in the real world, users are issued a chilling ultimatum: conquer all one hundred floors of Aincrad to regain your freedom. But in the warped world of SAO, "game over" means certain death-both virtual and real...
Author Reki Kawahara wrote the first volume of Sword Art Online in 2002 and intended to submit it for the Dengeki Game Novel Prize, but refrained as he exceeded the page limit. He instead published the series as a web novel. Shortly after his other series Accel World won the Dengeki Novel Grand Prize in 2008, Sword Art Online was published in print.
The series placed 1st on the Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! ranking under Best Light Novel category in 2012 and 2013.
Yen Press has been publishing the series in English under the Yen On imprint since April 22, 2014. It has also been published in Italian by J-POP since October 11, 2014; in Polish by Kotori since December 2014; and in Russian by Istari Comics since December 2015.
Note: The hate towards the anime adaptation has begun converting directly to the novel. However, the general consensus is that the novel is superior to the anime, and I would like to just say that the novel isn't necessarily going to be as 'bad' as the anime. I won't tell you to give the novel a go if you hated the anime however, as it is likely that you will start reading the novel with a biased and negative opinion, which never ends well. Or this could just not be for you. Either way, onto the review:
Sword Art Online. Also known as SAO, this series
currently (at the time of this review) stands as the second top ranking Light Novel on MAL, and 11th when including Manga. First published in April 2009, it has continually gained popularity, currently having 10 volumes and multiple side stories which will only keep increasing with time. So why is this series so popular? There is a reason behind everything, and this is no exception.
The story gives the rest of the series a good setting to work with, making it possible to create all sorts of little stories from them. And you know what? A lot of the content in SAO is actually in fact, side stories that happen during the game. This is to be expected, as MMOs allow you to meet with a variety of people and experience new things as the heroes of the story move up and up the great castle called Aincrad. All of them are entertaining, and slowly allows the reader to understand the main character's personality and feelings with each one that is told. I found myself learning new things about the protagonist all the time! The attention to detail that the author provides is also amazing. A lot of the common plot holes that one would expect are well explained and covered, leaving you satisfied and not confused in any way.
(+) Setting allows for a variety of interesting and unique experiences
(+) Lots of battles with monsters to hunt and train, which are described well
(±) Romance that develops pretty fast
(−) Sometimes predictable
Not much to say really, except for the fact that the artwork is very well drawn.
(+) Nice character designs
For me, characters usually make or break the show/book/whatever. And in this case, they make it. The protagonist Kirito is NOT one of those losers who only occasionally turn GAR only when they absolutely have to, but one of those people who are consistently strong and reliable all the way through. His thoughts are also well portrayed in the form of monologues, adding to his character. The heroine of the series, Asuna, is very well-known and popular in the game for both her skill and her looks, but that isn't the end of her character. She also has her own will and thoughts, and can actually keep up with the protagonist in a fight. The MMO aspect allows for a variety of other interesting characters, each with their own different views and pasts. A solid 9.
(+) Main character [Kirito] is actually likable and cool, without the usual 'self-pitying phases' that we all hate
(+) Main heroine can actually do something herself and doesn't always have to be saved
(+) A wide variety are present
(±) Kirito is pretty much a Gary Stu at times
(−) A lot of the villains aren't that well developed
I REALLY enjoyed this series as a whole, and finished 7 volumes in around 3 days (currently up to volume 10). It kept me wanting more the whole time, and really showed me just how much a light novel can have an impact on you. Although this is not my first, it is most definitely the first light novel to force me to write a positive review about it.
(+) Once you start reading, it's hard to stop
(±) REALLY makes you thirst to play a VRMMORPG which, as of yet, remains a dream
In the end, I never really had anything bad to say about the series. Of course it has its flaws, but I felt that they didn't stand out much- you would probably do a much better job than me at finding them while reading the series. Highly recommended for people who play/used to play MMORPGs (although you don't have to), and those who like action and sci-fi with a hint of romance.
If this has still not convinced you to read this series, then... I am well and truly sorry for your loss.
First of all I want to tell you that I'm not an english native so sorry for my poor english and for the eventual errors.
Sword Art Online, the novel behind one of the most discussed anime ever. Someone says "it's the best, omg nothing can be compared to that", someone else says "it's just the worst story ever with the worst character ever".
So that point of view gave me a lot of curiosity, I just wanted to start reading the novels, and after reading all the 14 that are out up until now I feel ready to explain my vision over
We have our main character: Kirigaya Kazuto (much more well known as Kirito) who will "travel" trought many different virtual reality worlds, with just a sword as his neverchanging companion, and every time he will deal with different kind of lifethreatening dangers.
I will devide the various arcs, and than tell an overall small personal point od view.
Aincrad Arc - Volume 1+ Spin off (2 and 8)
I think I never read something with so much potential and nothing that wasted that much potential. The story is good, the setting is just insane and anyone who loves MMO would love that kind of setting. The ending is actually well done as well, the problem is what's in between. I felt like I was reading a black hole. We have no clue on what's happening during those 2 years, and I was dissatisfied. If the main problem is with the plot development the second major problem is with the characters. Expecially with the spin offs. We have a whole lot of characters over those 3 novels but just a couple are actually useful for any development, and even those aren't well explained, well characterised and we don't know nothing about their background. For me, who likes to analyze the character behind, was annoying. Anyway it's still a quite interesting story and it's enjoyable, overall rating for this arc: 6.5
Fairy Dance - Volumes 3 and 4
If the first arc showed how the autor can fuck up with the potential, here he just showed how he can create a story with basically no potential at all. I mean, I think this arc is completly useless. I didn't like it and that's just my tought. On the good side he created an actual story involving some more characters (...) out of nothing. It feel forced.
Overall rating imho:5.5
Phantom Bullet - Volumes 5 and 6
I like to think the author realized that the previous characters were just too much and not well explained and that the story had too many loops in between. So he created the GGO arc. We have just one character, and for the first time she has a background, a personality and a development. Sinon isn't static, she is interesting and well done. You can like her or dislike her, but you can't deny she is the first complete character ever in this series (it took only 5 books though), and for the story he resolved the loops by lowering the lenght of the period descripted. I personally liked the change of setting with the futuristic style of weapons (lightsaber-snipers-lasers weapon etc), but that's up to a personal taste. I preferred much more the light novel than the anime for this arc. First because we don't have all the shots on Sinon ass, second because it explains the move of the characters (I felt that the people who didn't read the novel couldn't get at all the meaning behind the move Kirito did in the episode 13... anyway) Overall score: 7.5
Mother's Rosario - Volume 7
A short spinoff with Asuna as our main character instead of the usual Kirito. It's not needed for the main story, as it won't leave anything actually important for the next arc, but it's a really enjoying volume. Finally Asuna get background, finally we can know her better, and finally we gat back to see the "new" Aincrad, which I liked (the idea of a floating castle with 100 floors). We got a new co-protagonist, Zekken Yuki, or "Absolute Sword", and she is quite amazing on both the personality and skill in game.
As I said, it's not needed to read this volume, but I personally loved it. Overall score: 7.5
Alicization arc - Volume 9 to 14 (up to now, it will go on)
That's the real thing. Finally we got an actually long story, which is set in a long period of time, and which doesn't present any gap. The character are well developed and finally our protagonist show some colours. It takes place in the new world "UnderWorld", an hyper-realistic world where magic (called sacred arts) is a normal thing and everything has his own HP (named Life).
Kirito after his long journey in the previous world was quite too overpowered, here he start from the beginning, not being able to lift an high level sword.
The story is quite simple, but it doesn't present any bad gap, everything is explained in a really detailed way, from the rules of the world, from his hierarchy... I found it interesting, sometimes the fight present too much description but well, that's what the whole series is about, swordfights.
The only thing that I hated is the beginning of the second volume (volume 10) where we have over 100 pages of description of the new fulldive technology, but you can feel free to skip them, there is nothing so important there.
It was a quite long journey to go throught this series, and I feel like you should give it a shot despite all the badmouthing that's around the animated series. If you want feel free to read the first arc and than skip to the arc that more interested you, because the only thing that's quite similar throught all the arcs are the references to the Aincrad arc, while the others are just quite disconnected.
I enjoyed the series and I give it a 7.5, just drop any previous heard stuff about it and think with your own mind!
Thank you for reading my review.
Sword Art Online is about a virtual reality MMORPG. It is set on 2022, where humanity has finally for the first time able to completely go inside the game world using virtual reality technology.
At first I didn't really put high expectation to it, since it's genre is quite mainstream, like .hack G.U. or Yureka, but with a tint taste of darkness; Death is real here.
But the more I read it, the more I find myself enjoying the proggress of the story. The writer, Kawahara Reki gives a really realistic system and surrounding of said VR game, and it makes us able to completely drowned
ourselves to the story.
-Story is 8/10. Volume 1 is an extremely solid story, and the best foundation for a series. One would feel really attached to the series 'SAO' just by reading volume 1, even those who initially did not like reading (I have my friends as living proof). Plus, dat damn cliffhanger ending would hook everyone to keep reading this series. The story also pull you in it deep, making you feel really experiencing the MMO Sword Art Online. There are plotholes, but those are covered and well-explained as the story progress.
Oh, and don't forget the vanilla taste, one of my favorite genre in this novel.
However, after volume 4, one MIGHT feel the story is being dragged on and on and making you feel the story has no purpose, by getting further from SAO itself. Several of my friends dropped SAO after volume 4, saying "it's pointless to read further, the story is as good as ended" to me. But the hell with it, I enjoyed reading SAO.
Alicization Arc is where most people dropped this series, as several of my fellow reader did. Nearly all old chara's was thrown away, so to speak, and new charas popping up here and there. Only our protagonist and heroine has major plot. I can see why most people would hate this.
My argument is: each arc can be said as different series. I would hold my opinion considering Alicization until it is finished, but each of SAO arc is like a different series for me. There's no need to forcefully include one arc's chara in other arc. Each arc has its own solid ground and story, so the whole SAO novel is like several different series. Not all people would agree to me on this, and it's fine since everyone has their own cup of tea.
-Art is 8/10. Art rarely shows up on novel, unlike manga, but the art for this novel is drawn really nicely, hats off for abec-san the illustrator. Both the design and the drawing are really nice, mainly the character design, they really fit the characters.
-Character is 8/10. Chara amazing as well. Kirito, the unsocial but headstrong protagonist is depicted as nearly perfect guy, but in the inside he is not. He actually felt a bit like Gary Stu, but at the same time also not. He's not the character who suddenly went badass together with a turning point in the story, he's a reliable guy through and through. But the perfect sides of him is only on net. His other face, the reality side is practically a social nerd, one who don't get over his problem and haunted by it. Kawahara Reki managed to succesfully give the main character Kirito almighty-but-not-overpowered. Some flaw is also given to this MC , but they blend nicely with the positive sides and creates an anti-hero-but-still-hero of a character (at least for me).
The mainly 'main' heroine, Asuna, is 'Mary Sue' at first impression. Yes, the perfect girl and the perfect waifu, one may say she is a boring character. She's not. She had her flaws. She is a social reject, pretty much, with family rejection issues and such. Yet those blend with all her aspect too.
The qualities are told together with the story, not just with narration power, making them and the chara felt real.The readers are slowly given and made understand about the chara, making them realistic. And that's what I like from SAO's chara.
Even the supporter side charas is designed greatly, each with redeeming qualities and flaws fitting for their roles for each arc.
Then again, there are several people who will argue me on this and said 'no chara development' 'old chara is one use only' and such. I had my arguments for this. Kirito is the sole source and focus in whole novel, yes. Everyone else is purely secondary. Every arc was focused only to him. And I say he got a lot of character development in each arc. For other chara, their development is only on their own arc, but those development exist as well. So what I meant to say is whole SAO development is about the main protagonist Kirito. Other side-charas is truly side charas.
-Enjoyment 9/10. This. THIS. THIS is the most important thing for a novel. Many people dislike reading novel because seeing only writings and letter can be boring. This is the biggest hurdle for a novel. A novel must be able to give enjoyment to the readers and pull them into the story itself, so not only the reader read the story, but also imagining them or even live them. Even the simplest of stories can be a great story if told with great enjoyment. And SAO has really gives me enjoyment to maximum when reading it. Kawahara Reki has succesfully narrate SAO with no Deus ex Machina and amazing detailed writings, yet it only draws the reader more. It is my most important aspect for reading and grading a novel.
Now, it's too bad Alicization latest volume, volume 13 felt really, really rushed, and that made me enjoyed it less (that's why I change my rating from 10 to 9). Alicization started strong, but latest volume has left me quite confused. It is definitely not one of my favorite arc/volume. I myself would hold my opinion concerning Alicization Arc, but I do hope that the ending won't be disappointing.
Overall, I gave 9 out of 10 for SAO. I appreciated enjoyment the most out of all novel qualities. SAO has really make me enjoy the story and pull me into it. Not to mention other aspects is also enjoyable. It has flaws, but it doesn't make SAO less enjoyable, some even give a unique quality to SAO. 9 it is.
P.S.: I effing hate the anime adaptation. Made a revies (ranting) of it too.
I've read the baka-tsuki version of every main story up to Alicization, which I won't start until the translation is finished. This review is for every non-side up till then, not just the first volume.
The series is very good. Poorly written, but very enjoyable. You can tell the author was younger when he wrote it and each arc is vastly different from the others as he progresses as an author.
Every arc is different here. Vastly.
First arc Sword Art Online
the story basically serves as a medium with which to explain the world to you. The romance factors are a bit exaggerated since the
main characters are extremely plain. Still a very fun read.
Second arc Fairy Dance
Lots of fun if you exclude the incest bits that are made blatantly apparent early enough for this not to be a spoiler. The series could have easily take a Luke/Leah approach to make it less gross... but it didn't and the story suffers as a result. The villain is also much more despicable than I'd like. I know you're supposed to want the villain to lose, but rarely does a villain disgust me as much as the fairy king wannabe.
Easily has the weakest story of any of the arcs barring the bits they cut from the animu, which were cool.
Third arc Phantom Bullet
Actually has an interesting story in its own right. Neat world, and basically a mystery novel done kinda well. Kirito munchkins out in full form here though, so brace yourself. Aside from that it's fairly solid.
Fourth Arc Mothers Rosario
Arguably a filler arc, but in my opinion the best in the series. It focuses on Asuna instead of Kirito, which is the first plus. And the other plus is that it actually makes the characters matter in the story. I cried when sad things happened because they mattered and felt good when good things happened.
It's a book. Letters are still letters and are usually of similar prettiness.
Again, this is largely on an arc by arc basis.
First arc the characters are fine. Kirito and Asuna aren't quite so munckiny and it's nice.
Second arc had only 2 likable characters, Asuna and Yui. Everybody else, including Kirito, was bland. Yui is actually probably bland too, but she's adorable and makes up for the bland by the sheer force of cuteness.
Third arc characters are alright, but not good. Kirito goes full munchkin, making hm a bit less cool.
Fourth arc, again, is the best. Characterization is a bit lacking in all the previous installments of the series, here it isn't. You don't get to know the characters on a personal level per se but they matter.
Loved it. I can't really explain why, but it was a fun ride. Bland characters, sub-par plots, and poor writing in the earlier bits should make for a not-fun story. They didn't. I had lots of fun reading it.
Something I'd recommend reading if you like japanese books and aren't a literature snob that demands perfection. Not super deep, but it brings up some interesting world ideas and pays good homage to video games in a way that doesn't feel like nerd fanservice. And the fourth arc just blew my mind.
PS. The secret H chapter is so cheesy it will make your computer smell funny.
And because every review on this site needs this line and I know you all care deeply about this fact. First review.