Look, I don’t play MMO’s, and I’m generally even less interested in sci-fi plots centered on MMO’s (SUMMER WARS notwithstanding). The prospect of one, to me, is not only about literally watching somebody else play a video game, it’s also about listening to somebody freak out about the notion of “cyberspace”… some 20-30 years after the fact. And I guess that isn’t so bad when half the stuff NUEROMANCER and SNOWCRASH predicted in the 80’s has basically come true today, more-or-less rendering speculative fiction into topical fiction.
Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m unexcited by the sub-genre of MMO sword & sorcery that’s emerged in anime over the past few years, and that I approached a title like SWORD ART ONLINE with trepidation. (Seriously, the title sounds like the domain name of some outrageously amateur website from ’94 run by somebody who’s really into the HIGHLANDER TV show).
And the first half of this pilot more-or-less supports that trepidation. A transcript of my internal monologue would have choice quotes like...
“Oh no… they’re seriously going to farm XP in this, aren’t they?”
“Please, please don’t let them make good on the threat to go to the forums.”
However, once the digital sky starts bleeding and the eerily satanic dungeon master lays out the hostage situation rules to these hapless participants... things start picking up for me. (Just as they were taking a horrible down turn for the actual characters - - ay-oh!). Hell, I even appreciated the ominous undercurrent running beneath the otherwise banal surprise about - - GASP! - - the users’ menus not having an exit button!
The premise of these innocent gamers having to scale 100 levels of challenges to reach the big boss at the top of tower sounds exactly like a gameplay map, certainly. However, the combined offer of a satirical, BATTLE ROYALE-style death game and a questing venture into this unknown digital world that actually seems like a legit fantasy landscape… well… it’s actually kind of interesting.
I don’t know if it’s interesting enough to get me watching this over other shows currently out there, but it did counter my prejudice against this sub-genre a bit. So +50XP to SWORD ART ONLINE for that.
Watch this episode, "The World of Swords" here and decide for yourself.
Tom Pinchuk’s a writer and personality with a large number of comics, videos and features like this to his credit. Visit his website - - tompinchuk.com - - and follow his Twitter: @tompinchuk"The World of Swords"