Sword Art Online (SAO for short) is the world's first VRMMORPG. It utilizes Full-Dive technology, allowing complete and total immersion in the game. Full-Dive was previously only used for puzzle games and other casual-style games, so the release of SAO was exciting to many.
Sword Art Online was developed by Argus, with Akihiko Kayaba as director. After the bankruptcy of Argus, the game's servers were taken charge of by RECTO Progress Inc.
A 1,000 player closed beta began in August, 2022 and ended in September. The game was officially released on November 6, 2022, with 10,000 copies printed for the first and last time. Service officially ended on November 7, 2024.
The Death-game Incident
On Sword Art Online's day of release, November 6, 2022, the game's 10,000 online players became trapped within the game, unable to log out. The individual responsible for this was the game's own creator, Akihiko Kayaba.
In-game, Kayaba explained to the players that the disappearance of the Log Out button was a feature, not a malfunction. In addition, no one in the real world would be able to shut down or remove the NerveGear headset from an individual player's head, else a transmitter inside the NerveGear would emit a powerful burst of microwave radiation, destroying the player's brain and killing them. Following this information, Kayaba informed his audience that 213 players had already died from individuals attempting to remove the NerveGear from another's head.
Kayaba informed the players that they could no longer respawn when killed. Once a player's HP reached zero, their avatar would be permanently erased, and at the same time, the NerveGear would destroy their brain. He challenged players to defeat the final boss on Aincrad's 100th floor and clear the game, with the trapped players only being freed after this was accomplished.
As a final act, Kayaba altered every in-game avatar to reflect the real-life appearance of its player, using data collected from the NerveGear's initial setup process. When giving his motives, Kayaba stated, "My goal has already been achieved. I wanted to create my own world that I could observe and admire. That is why I made Sword Art Online. And now, it has been fufilled.".
Kayaba signaled an end to the "tutorial" for the official Sword Art Online launch, and wished his captives the best of luck. At this moment, his in-game avatar disintegrated and disappeared.
News organizations across the world began reporting on this incident and its many deaths immediately. The vegetated bodies of trapped players were gradually transported to hospitals as a safety precaution, though their minds remained in the game. Attempts to apprehend and arrest Akihiko Kayaba were unsuccessful, as he had gone missing.
Over the next two years, players worked to clear the game in order to free themselves and others. Several in-game guilds gradually formed, cooperating together to clear floor bosses. The game was officially cleared on November 7, 2024. Of the game's initial 10,000 player count, 3,853 died over the course of the two year period as a result of deaths, player-killings, and suicides. Of the 3,853 deaths, over half occured within the game's first month.
The incident led to the bankruptcy of Argus, SAO's developer. Argus sold SAO's servers to another company, RECTO Progress Inc. For the well-being of the trapped players, RECTO Progress maintained SAO for the remainder of the death-game. In the midst of this, the company developed a newer, safer version of the NerveGear called the AmuSphere. They also developed a new VRMMORPG, ALfheim Online. Both were released about one year into Sword Art Online's death-game.
SAO takes place in a fantasy world called Aincrad (full name An Incarnating Radius), which is made up of 100 floors. Each floor can have a different type of enviroment, such as a dungeon, a town, a field, etc. Every tenth floor holds a powerful boss that must be defeated before any players can proceed onto higher floors. These bosses are extremely difficult to defeat, and it is highly suggested to fight them with a group of players. Bosses later on are so powerful that they require the cooperation of multiple guilds working together to defeat them.
Although not an advertised feature, following the game's release, any players who died in-game would die in real life.
As the title suggests, SAO is a game centered around sword-fighting and Sword Skills. Players may use a variety of different blades in the game, such as daggers, shortswords, longswords, rapiers, etc., along with a shield in their off-hand if they desire. Players cannot dual wield, however. The game also does not have a magic system.
Aside from sword-fighting, there are a vast number of General Skills that players can learn and improve, such as blacksmithing, merchanting, cooking, etc.
The game has a food and sleep system. During gameplay, the player will naturally feel hungry or tired over time as they do in real life. Players can cook food and meals with ingredients using a simplified version of real-world cooking. Players can spend nights at inns to sleep, or, if they are wealthy enough, purchase their own home on one of Aincrad's floors.
Like many MMOs, SAO includes a guild system. During the game's run, a number of guilds made themselves famously known within the game. Below are a list of some guilds.
Knights of the Blood
Considered to be the top guild in SAO, they resemble knights decked in red and white. Though they only consist of 30 members, they are powerful and organized. They are led by commander Heathcliff and vice-commander Asuna. The Black Swordsman Kirito was later coerced into joining the Knights of Blood and remained with them for the rest of the game.
Their headquarters are located on the 55th floor of Aincrad, in the steel city of Grandum.
A sadistic player-killing guild who often tortures their victims. They often wear hoods with masks.
Aincrad Liberation Force
The largest guild in the game, consisting of 3,000 players. They were initially organized as an army to clear the game, but later became incompetent extortionists. Their headquarters are located on the very first floor of Aincrad. Their founder was Thinker, who was later overthrown.
The Full-Dive system is operated with a virtual reality helmet called the NerveGear, designed by Akihiko Kayaba. It controls a player's brainwaves and simulates all five senses within the game world, allowing for complete in-game immersion. It is the world's first mass-produced VR product.
The NerveGear is used by wearing it on one's head and lying down on a preferably comfortable surface, most likely a bed. As the NerveGear initializes, the player must say "Link Start" to begin the game. The NerveGear has its own internal battery source and memory which is capable of storing data locally.
One major flaw with the NerveGear is the inability to exit the game or power off the hardware manually. The player can only quit through an in-game menu, so if there arises an issue where this is impossible to do, the player's mind will be trapped within the game. This flaw would later be corrected with the release of the AmuSphere, a second-generation Full-Dive headset co-developed by RECTO Progress Inc. which sacrifices gameplay immersion for safety. Unfortunately, as the AmuSphere was released in the midst of the death-game incident, the safer hardware could not have been taken advantage of by the SAO players confined to the NerveGear deathtrap.
The NerveGear was likely retired immediately after SAO's launch because of Akihiko Kayaba's death-game.
SAO was initially available as a closed beta for only 1,000 players for two months.
Only 10,000 copies were printed for the game's initial full release, which were highly sought after. The game officially began service on November 6, 2022. It ended on November 7, 2024.