I used to love the shit out of Japanese Role Playing Games (games with long, convoluted quests; a large cast of playable and swappable characters; and a system of upgrading your character's stats, weapons, and spells in order to fight more and more powerful enemies); back when games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI were so open-ended that you could technically beat them halfway through their sprawling story lines if you so chose. But then games slowly became more linear and unadventurous to the point where FFXIII made Super Mario Bros. look like Grand Theft Auto 4; FFXIII allowed no real deviation from the main quest, and a 20-hour "training period" was forced into the game in order to make the boring second half actually seem exciting in comparison. God how I loathe FFXIII. I piss on its ashes after drinking a bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Anyway, I worshipped and adored the open-ended, free-to-roam-and-explore games, which is why when the Chief and Mikey first tried to convince me to play Evercrack with them back in the late 90s, I quickly and firmly said "Fuck and no!" Not because I didn't think I'd enjoy it, but mainly because I was afraid I'd get addicted to it and wind up like those loserish hikikomoris in Japan who only play Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs, look up pr0n, play those hentai fuck-your-adopted-sister games, eat shit tons of junk food, and sleep whenever they pass out from their own body odor. There was a reason I invented the Uber-Week for myself: it was because I had to contain my love of RPGs in one-week blocks, and regulate them to only one or two a year lest they destroy my life. I could only play games that actually ENDED, and I simply knew that if I ever got involved in something as addictive and fun as a well-made MMORPG that continued on for-fucking-ever... well, my social life, physical health, and job would be in grave danger.
So I avoided Evercrack, WoW, and FFXI. It was for my own good. But then came the anime Sword Art Online, and it made me long for an MMORPG like I'd never jizzed my pants over anything before.
In the anime Sword Art Online, a pretty kick-ass video game (also called Sword Art Online) is released in 2022, and it's the very first fully-immersive RPG ever. This means that it's a virtual reality world that requires a special helmet-controller to play. This helmet cuts off all your brain activity to the rest of your body (making you pretty much comatose in real life) and sends all your neural signals into the servers, so that you can see though your virtual playable character's eyes, hear with his ears, smell with his nose, taste with his mouth, move with his digital arms and legs, and... other things (with a small hack I'm sure). Being able to level up to 75 and jump up 5 stories to attack a boss monster by swinging a 6-foot sword down at its head is something I've actually dreamed of doing, and it's possible in SAO.
So the anime Sword Art Online is all about a full of himself douchie teenage boy playing the game Sword Art Online... until something goes pretty heinously wrong. See, this kid, who takes the username of Kirito, was a beta tester for SAO, and now that the finished game is released (and the sold-out crowd of 10,000 players jumps in simultaneously) he finds that he's hot shit in a world of blind one-legged frogs. Just a few hours after logging in though, everybody in SAO starts to get a little nervous seeing as there is no "Log Out" option in their game menu. That's when the creator of the game, a sociopath named Kayaba Akihiko, appears in the sky above the Beginners City and tells everybody there "Nah, bitches, my game ain't broke! LOL! I've set it up so that the only way to log out of this shit is to whammo-blammo beat all 100 floors of this tower quest and take out the final biggest baddest bossest bossman evar! You's all in a coma in real-world shit, and if a family member tries to remove your helmet, well holy shit, yo! You be dead! Yo helmet will all fuck yo brain up if not logged off proper-like! Oh, and if any of you N00Bs dies in this virtual world, your VR helmet will short circuit your real brain like a candy-ass cheap toaster, smoke and all! Thank me later, bitches! I did it for the LULZ! Peace out!"
And 10,000 players collectively shit their pants.
I have to tell you, I was wary of this story at first. It sounded like a dot Hack slash rip off, but the characters, the world, the mysteries, and most especially the tone of SAO made me change my mind rather quickly. Kirito soon finds that the virtual world he's in — although fantastical in nature — is a pretty scary/awesome mirror world of real society. After being stuck in the servers for months and months, guilds pop up (some for good [like those white knight players], some for dickish purposes [like the assholic Laughing Coffins]), a complex economy slowly builds from nothing, people fall in love, take vacations from the front lines, and people die. LOTS of people die (from suicide, monster attacks, boss fights, game traps, and backstabbing murderers). The tone of SAO is refreshingly dark. I mean, there are little kids trapped in this thing because their neglectful parents bought them this new game system without thinking anything but "Whatever... Junior will be out of my hair for 3 hours today so that I can fuck the milkman."
Anyway, that's all I'm willing to talk about without being spoilery. Now I AM going to be spoilery for those of you who have no intention of seeing it, those retards who don't care about having a tale ruined for them, or for those of you who already have seen SAO but just want to see if I address certain aspects of the series that you may have some issues with.
SPOILERS OUT THE ASS
So Kirito is a bad ass loner in SAO, seeing as he doesn't want to be responsible for the deaths of any panty-wetting noobies, and he's pretty bad ass because of his beta-days in the digital world. He gets to see a lot of the depravity of the general SAO population, but he's heartened by the overwhelming solidarity of most of the online population. Most amazing of all for him though is that he finds companionship, and eventually love in the shape of the cute teenage girl named Asuna (Oh, and the Game Master Kayaba Akihiko took away all the avatars of the players and made them all look like their real world faces and bodies because he's a dickhole. That would piss me off so much considering I would have probably chosen a chick body for my character).
The floor bosses of SAO are tough as fuck, and it usually takes a large guild and anybody else they can scramble together (of a certain high level) to take them each down in a dirty and bloody fight. After two years of this (being stuck in the game), Kirito finally figures out a huge piece of the mysterious puzzle that is Sword Art Online, and he skips to the end boss and nails his ass in a private one-on-one fight.... Then there's another 10 episodes left. This is when my absolute love for the series got slightly damp.
No, I didn't have my affection for SAO turn to hate, but the second part of the story just lacked the overall *Oomph!* of the first. The drama, the stakes, nothing was as important as what was going on when 10,000 lives were on the line in the first game. That's right, after Kirito defeated the end boss in Sword Art Online and freed all those brain-trapped geeks, he finds his Asuna in the real world (after helping the police with their investigation into the whole affair), but she's in a coma (along with about 300 other poor sap gamers who never awakened from their captivity), and her dad's business partner is a slimy douchebag who plans to marry the slumbering teenager and bang her while she's still outside of her body... I... I don't know how this "twist" was thought of as a good thing by anyone involved. It just makes no sense on any level how it would be allowed to happen (by law, by Asuna's father, or by ickiness factor).
Anyway, Kirito finds a clue that Asuna's mind is somehow trapped inside a new VRMMORPG game that was released a year previous, while thousands of schmucks were still trapped in SAO (who in their right mind would jump in blindly to this new game after that homicidal trap?! Especially when it's revealed that the mechanics and basic rules were built upon SAO's programming). So Kirito puts his headset back on and dives right in because he's baller, but also because he has a boner that he needs Asuna to scratch. In this new world (a place where the gamers can actually FLY... Fuck yeah! Okay, I take it back... Even if a million people died in SAO I'd log into this new game just to fucking fly!) Kirito joins forces with a busty elf chick, saves some countries from losing their leaders to asshole assassins, storms the World Tree where Asuna is being held captive, and then... generic anime ending.
After all the excitement, and all the actual REAL lives on the line of the first part of this series it was just kind of a let-down when Kirito goes into the 2nd game and it's no big deal when he or anybody else kills another character. The first time someone was whacked in the flying-world game I was like, "Ooooookay, so there are no repercussions for murder in this world, and even the people getting killed laugh it off.... Goodbye emotional impact of anything from here on out." And the whole plot of the 2nd half of this show was just dumb... So Asuna's dad's creepy associate (whose company is keeping Asuna going while her mind is still wandering the nets) wants to pork her... Oh noes!... True, he is trying to use his business' flying world computer game to learn how to alter memories and emotions in her captive brain (which is bad and needed to be stopped), but nobody knows this except the psycho and Asuna. And really, his claim of marrying this comatose 17 year-old daughter of his business partner is just ludicrous. Was that just him tormenting Kirito? Is Asuna's father that retarded and uncaring to his daughter's emotional and physical wants and needs?
All that taunting though seems to just be for the audience's benefit seeing as it leads Kirito into plugging himself into the new game so that we'd have something new to watch for 10 more episodes. It brought nothing to the table, and in fact just made me miss the first story line that much more. And the very ending was just... weird. The real-world/VR-world sides of the story merged in a way that just felt "meh." There was a quick final battle (that had maybe 10% of the emotional impact of the battle at the end of the SAO world), and then life goes on.
So, in finishing, I would have totally preferred that they either ended the story just past the halfway point, or made the second part as intriguing, fun, and twisted as the first. I was still entertained by the series as a whole though, even during the second half, and I really liked the music as well. It was very Final Fantasy-y. Smiles.
I'm only half geek. At some point I was sorta almost "cool" and spent a lot of time doing things. In RL. So I'm playing catch up on my nerdism. And thus I am a nerd-noob. This is not to say that I am completely clueless. I have always loved anime, MMO's, and even hosted lan parties in college. I like to think my geekism is actually part of what makes me awesome (<-the Rossman calls me this I'm not COMPLETELY narcissistic >.>)
SAO was awesome. I demonstrated that I am somewhat/completely irresponsible. Even though they were trapped in a game that could potentially KILL them all I could think is YES! I would SO play that! And how firkin awesome would that be? Would it suck to die. Oh yeah. I'd be totally grinding on weak ash*t for a hot damn minute (like the South Park W.O.W episode "here piggy piggy") but AWESOME!
The story was great and it answered enough of your questions/desires that you ended with a feeling of satisfaction instead of a feeling of irritation. That's always important. Satisfaction. It was fun, traumatic, emotional, thought provoking and all the bullsh*t you really need to sustain a series. It had some serious creep factor (Hi creeper dude that likes to assault comatose girls).
Of course some of the linguistics of a game that hooks up to your brain are, well, stupid. Lets face it if things were so advanced that this was possible, the set up would be WAY different. Because by the time this was possible they would have gone through so many mandatory trials/testing that there would be so many g-darn safety features it would probably hinder game play/interfacing. My theory on that is based on all of the idiotic parental rating guides that they implement NOW. This hooks to your brain and we (the government) just figured that you (gaming corporation) will do the right thing because you should. HA! ..or we MIGHT add in a BIT of redtape..that doesn't sound like any governing body..
Holy shitnit, all you mo' fo's out there! If they ever created a VR system that made it feel like you was in a new world and could touch, taste, smell fucking everything around you, you just KNOW the first thing to ever be developed would be a VR Playboy Mansion Tour where you can fuck all da bunnies! Or a VR MET Girls BJ Paradise where you... well, you get the hint, ya bastards!
Sure, after the initial shock and awe of VR pr0n wore off (after 50 years), yo, we might get some developers comin' out with an amazingly realistic MMO fo' the kiddies... But only after an entire generation died from malnutrition and dehydration from never comin' out of the whole 'net thang.