Sword Art Online (Japanese: ソードアート・オンライン Hepburn: Sōdo Āto Onrain?) is a Japanese light novel series written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec. The series takes place in the near-future and focuses on various virtual reality MMORPG worlds. The light novels began publication on ASCII Media Works‘ Dengeki Bunko imprint from April 10, 2009, with a spin-off series launching in October 2012. The series has spawned eight manga adaptations published by ASCII Media Works and Kadokawa. The novels and four of the manga adaptations have been licensed for release in North America by Yen Press.
An anime television series produced by A-1 Pictures aired in Japan between July and December 2012. An Extra Edition episode aired on December 31, 2013, and a second anime series, titled Sword Art Online II, began airing in July 2014. A video game based on the series, Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, was released on PlayStation Portable in March 2013, with a second game, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for PlayStation Vita (PS Vita) released in April 2014. A third game, Sword Art Online: Lost Song, will be released on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita in March 2015.
Sword Art Online has received widespread commercial success, with the light novels having over 16 million copies printed in several countries including Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Thailand, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The anime series has received mixed to positive reviews from critics, with some praising the exploration of the psychological aspects of virtual reality, while others criticized the series’ pacing and writing.
- Sword Art Online (SAO) (ソードアート・オンライン Sōdo Āto Onrain?)
- The first virtual game world, and the setting of the first story arc. The world takes the form of a giant floating castle called Aincrad, with 100 floors in it. Each floor has a medieval-themed setting and a dungeon with a boss, which has to be defeated before players can advance to the next higher floor. Like most RPGs, it implements a level-based system. However, after the beta testing, the game’s creator activated a system to trap the players inside the game, unable to log out; if players die in-game, or the helmets they used are removed, a strong, electromagnetic pulse is emitted, frying their brain and killing them.
- Alfheim Online (ALO) (アルヴヘイム・オンライン Aruvuheimu Onrain?)
- The second virtual game world, and the setting for the second story arc. The player characters in the game are fairy-based, capable of flight thanks to their wings. It is a large world, divided into separate “homelands” for each of its fairy races. In Alfheim’s center is a very large tree called the World Tree, and the goal of the game is to reach the top. It implements a skill-based system with players increasing their stats by developing both their combat and non-combat skills. Aincrad, the castle of the first game, is later accessible to ALO players as well.
- Gun Gale Online (GGO) (ガンゲイル・オンライン Gan Geiru Onrain?)
- The third virtual game world, and the setting for the third story arc. It is a virtual game world with a main focus on guns, although melee weapons like lightsabers (photon swords) and knives also exist. From all the games it is the most competitive one as the money earned there can be exchanged for currency used in the real world, drawing high-tier professional players to make a living from it.