Sword Art Online #20 – Alfheim Online, World-building, Pain and Harem

Boy, dis gon be gud.

Marow: For an arc that is about saving Asuna as fast as possible, Alfheim Online sure likes to ignore the rescue mission and instead focus on fleshing out its world. This week it took the form of saving a meeting between two territory leaders, something that surely would not be on my to-do list if I had to save my girlfriend from the evil clutches of a pervert. Then again, I am not as busy as Kirito with gathering new members to my personal harem.

But even though Sword Art Online is utterly ridiculous on the whole, I have never once stopped being genuinely interested in its world, which is one reason I enjoy the current arc so much more. You see, the SAO arc never reached a satisfactory level of development, leaving a lot about its world unknown. In fact, I do not even think it did try to tell us about its world.

We knew you could buy a house, become a weaponsmith and so on, but not so much more. How did the world run? Were there leaders? An economy? Since SAO were primarily about trapped players beating the game, its world was exclusively for the trapped players alone. The world itself did not have to have much of a point, to be honest, since it was not meant to experience it as much as finish it.

If this was a .gif animation, you would see “them” bouncing for no reason at all.

Alfheim Online, on the other hand, is all about its world. ALO is a proper game that existed long before Kirito had to go into it to save Asuna. As such, it is designed so that everything has a purpose. There are also a lot of gamers that plays it from a “normal“ perspective with typical gaming goals such as becoming the strongest player. It is these very things we see when we follow Kirito through ALO and it is what makes is such a pleasant trip if we ignore the most horrible parts of the series.

In this episode we learned how, for example, the different territories throughout ALO work. They are run by a government just as in the real world, with one player being the leader that holds the most power, even having the ability to banish players from their own territory! In addition to this we have military and economic situations, all logical since ALO is about fighting other territories and reaching the World Tree before them. We do not know if the rule is a democratic one or not, but it is heavily implied that it is.

Budget well spent.

I could go on forever, but the point is that ALO loves to drop small hints about how its world functions. The best part about this is how natural it is done as opposed to Psycho-Pass which is also airing now. In Psycho-Pass most of the information and world-building is done via heavy dialogue conveyed to the viewers via the rookie police inspector Akane’s inexperience.

It is a very lazy and to some degree boring way to introduce the viewer to its world, since it comes off more as lectures than normal dialogue by a sane person.

In ALO, on the other hand, everything flows very well for the most part, never bothering with holding a long speech about what a territory leader is. Instead, the viewers have to figure it out themselves by the tidbits of information given out.

This is a just as smart as it is enjoyable. Much to my surprise, it is also what Sword Art Online does the best at the moment. And despite being atrocious in nearly every other area, I have to give some honest praise to its world-building.

When Imouto became moe.

Myst: ALO’s strongest factor is definitely its world. I’m not so sure about the strength of its worldbuilding, but enough hints and ideas can be gathered from an episode to get an idea of how some things work. Even if we never see it used, or only see a fraction of it, we are aware of a much bigger world than the one that fits on screen. Or, rather, a much bigger world than the author is willing to fit on screen. But, whether or not the author decides to not use certain aspects of the world in favor of more “risque” antics, the ideas themselves are enough to keep me intrigued.

Take, for example, the idea of player-owned-housing. Towards the end of this episode, when Kirito is generously spreading his wealth around. One of the characters mentions that with the amount of money he has, he could build a castle on prime land. And this is fascinating because it implies that the player-characters have a large part in determining what happens to the MMO terrain itself.

Please stay classy, Sword Art Online.

Unlike other MMOs that I have played, player-housing in ALO is not confined to an instance, but can actually be built in the world. Which makes me wonder, is ALO similar to Minecraft in that the players can essentially shape the world in whatever way they wish? The idea of being able to build a castle is already pretty amusing, but then you consider building it in strategic places for your faction and it adds a whole new layer of depth to something simple.

Also, who would build the castle in the first place? Would there be NPCs to make that happen, or, like pretty much everything else in this game, would masonry be a player-driven service?

Normally the game world makes some inkling of sense, but one thing that has never failed to baffle me (even from SAO) is how pain works in the game. We are told that players don’t feel pain (for obvious reasons), but the show is constantly contradicting that by showing characters reacting to things in ways that could only be attributed to feeling pain.

For example, when a character hops around clutching his foot when another character steps on it. Not only is this contradictory, but it also points to what I think is a limitation of this particular premise. Pain makes little sense from a game standpoint, but making characters immune to pain also places certain restrictions on the game itself.

Are they players or NPCs? It’s bad either way.

Marow: Have they even touched the topic of pain in ALO, though? In SAO pain did not exist, although they did not seem to keep that consistent throughout the arc (according to readers of the light novel, however, you could feel pain, but it was more of a “funny feeling” than something hurtful), but in ALO we do not really know.

But it does seem to function the same way as in SAO, which is… being inconsistent. Stepping on some toes is the weak spot to attack for massive damage, while being stabbed by swords is not very effective.

Speaking of pain, what about touching? How would it be to touch another person’s skin? How does Kirito’s ever-increasing harem feel to him? Soft? Flat? This episode sure went low.

Myst: You know, I’ve been wondering the same thing. Removing pain makes sense from a game standpoint, but pain is just a nervous system response to stimulus in the way that you recognize someone is touching you or grasping your hand. But if the technology is blocking the feeling of pain, do the players even register and other “physical” feelings beyond visually recognizing that something has happened?

Perhaps the system restricts certain stimuli if it is considered battle damage or dangerous? Now that I think about it, this seems like a strange thing to be left unanswered, but maybe the disconnect is just due to poor writing.

So, typical Sword Art Online then?

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