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.