After being trapped along with 10,000 other players in the virtual reality gameSword Art Online, Kirito and Asuna must continue to battle their way to the top of Aincrad in this thrilling new retelling of the original Sword Art Online story.
After defeating the boss of Aincrad’s second floor, Kirito and his companion Asuna journey through the third floor and become embroiled in a campaign quest which forces them to navigate the world of both NPCs as well as their fellow players. Teaming up with the dark-elf Kizmel, Kirito and Asuna set off to complete this quest but in the process must confront a sinister new enemy who threatens to break apart the fragile alliance between the top leveled players working to clear the game.
How Was It?
In the afterword to the first volume of Sword Art Online: Progressive Reki Kawahara promised that the major focus of the series’ second volume would be campaign quests and he definitely delivered in this regard, with this focus being one of the major highlights of this volume. After saving the dark-elven warrior Kizmel from a dual with a forest elf, Kirito and Asuna quickly become embroiled in a longer and multi-tiered campaign quest that starts on the third floor and continues all the way to the ninth floor of Aincrad. They soon find that Kizmel has a fully-formed personality and resolve to fight with her to complete the quest, and this quest really strengthened the narrative in a number of ways.
Kawahara gives an excellent explanation of the way campaign quests are usually used in MMOs before proficiently incorporating this into Sword Art Online in a way that both made sense and really benefited the story. Kirito had previously cleared this quest during the beta-test but soon finds that the early events of the quest were not locked as he had thought, and his and Asuna’s success in saving Kizmel completely changes the layout of the quest. In addition, Kawahara deals with the concept of multiple groups working to complete the same quest on multiple timelines, as a key part of the quest is an early choice between siding with the Dark Elves versus the Forest Elves. Kirito and Asuna side with the Dark Elves but in their own versions of the quest others side with the Forest Elves, forcing the groups to come into conflict as they work to complete the quest. I found the incorporation of these mechanics extremely interesting as it was engaging following the players racing to complete the quest from different stages in the same quest.
A big theme of the Progressive series so far has been the tenuous relationship between the various groups making up the front-line players working to clear the game and the campaign quest served as an excellent backdrop in highlighting these tensions. It would have been easier for Kawahara to simply mail it in plotwise and create another formulaic story of Kirito overpowering another boss, but I really appreciate the way Kawahara stuck with this focus and put a lot of effort into continuing to explore the relationships of the players on a deeper level to the benefit of his readers. I hope that this continues to be a focus of future volumes as this aspect of the series has really set it apart from both the original Sword Art Online series by deepening the plot in a logical way and with a pleasingly consistent coherency.
As a result of the campaign quest, another significant component of ProgressiveVol. 2 is an examination of the roles of NPCs and if they really have a distinct humanity. I felt that this was a strong aspect of this volume both because of the lightly philosophic questions asked as well as for the opportunity it provided for Kirito’s development. We never receive clearly defined answers about Kizmel’s nature but I found Kirito’s speculations to be quite interesting without being preachy, allowing me to come to my own conclusions about her nature within the game. Kirito continues to be characterized much more effectively in this series and never feels unfairly overpowered, even acknowledging that Kizmel is much stronger than him and the major reason for their success in the quest. I really liked that Kawahara continues to emphasize how much his party in Asuna and in this case, Kizmel, contribute to his effectiveness as a player and this helps to flesh out Kirito as more than just a one-dimensional character to the benefit of this series.
Another wonderful aspect of the Progressive series that this volume continues to create is a genuine sense of adventure as players explore each successive floor in attempting to clear the game. It some ways, this a welcome relief from the intensity of their predicament, helping to convey the fact that Sword Art Online is still a game and there are moments of wonder even during these players’ imprisonment. The campaign quest in general really helps to convey this through the sense of urgency it provides and Kirito, Asuna and Kizmel’s journey as they race to complete to quest before the others really felt like an adventure in itself and I enjoyed that aspect of this volume. As mentioned above, I really enjoyed Kawahara’s attempt to mix things up in this volume in many ways, with Kirito’s dual against the mysteriously hooded player Morte an interesting and well-executed departure from the usual boss battles thatSword Art Online delivered both in the main series as well as in the first volume of Progressive. Overall, Kawahara’s effort to really try and deliver something different with the volume paid off and as a result, this was the most fresh feeling volume of Sword Art Online I’ve read so far.
The only aspect of this volume I found a little bit lacking was the execution of the final act of the book, as it felt like this the plot was leading towards some sort of big confrontation or revelation that never quite came. I was left mildly surprised when I realized that the climax of the book had actually been 30 pages or so earlier, and this was really the only thing that put a damper on my time reading this volume. I would have liked a little more closure in this volume but I can excuse this because extends the plot strands from this volume into the next volume, however it would have been nice to have had a more exciting and dramatic end to this book. I get the feeling that Kawahara’s focus here was smoothly carrying the plot into the next volume, and while I still the found the end satisfying because he was able to do this effectively, this lack of a climax left me a little bit wanting.
Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 2 is by far the freshest feeling volume this series has produced as Kawahara’s decision to change things up by focusing on campaign quests paid off in creating an extremely enjoyable sense of adventure. This volume manages to effectively maintain a balance of building its world through the emphasis on campaign quests and player politics while still delivering the pacing and exciting action fans of this series have come to expect. Sword Art Online: Progressive continues to be the definitive version of this series with volume 2 being another very entertaining entry in the series.
Sword Art Online Progressive Vol. 2 was published by Yen Press on June 30th, 2015. Authored by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by ABEC, the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. First published in Japan on December 10th, 2013, three volumes have currently been released, with volume 3 scheduled to be published in English on October 27th, 2015.
Date of Publication: June 30th, 2015
Translator: Stephen Paul
Author: Reki Kawahara
Publisher: Yen Press