Now that Sword Art Online is finished, I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about one of my favorite elements about the anime. If you follow me on Twitter, you likely already know about my passion for the Guild Wars franchise. Since Guild Wars 2 didn’t come out until a month after Sword Art Online, the anime helped hype me up for my upcoming re-immersion into the online gaming world. I had of course participated in the beta, but knowing that my characters and progression would be completely wiped before the official release made it was hard to take it seriously.
But then the game came out, and with my head start access, I rush leveled my first character, a Sylvari ranger, to the max 80 within the week. It wasn’t until that point that I took a breath and looked more carefully at all the possibilities around me, like jumping puzzles, explorer achievements, and crafting. I opted for Leatherworking (armor for medium class rangers, engineers, and thieves) and set out again on hitting the cap at 400. I found the progression in crafting to be just as enthralling and rewarding as pushing my character through the storyline and maps, since it was the very first time I had ever experimented in that area. When SAO episodes featuring “Liz” the smith and Asuna’s cooking abilities aired, very early in the series, I was extremely excited as a “fellow” craftsman and more appreciative of the anime’s authentic gaming environment.
Of the first of the two instances, Lisbeth’s craft is more familiar to me. Weaponsmithing is often the poster child of crafting, along with armorsmithing, since players are both practical and often vain. Not only are the higher-tier weapons better stats-wise, but they usually have fancier skins. In Kirito’s case, the sword Dark Repulser beautifully represents the dragon’s crystalline ingot from which it’s made and also roughly equals the strength of his other sword, the Elucidator. This episode also reveals the difficulties to getting the ingredients necessary for these types of weapons. Although Liz’s skill enables her to craft higher-tier weapons, she has yet to do so as her actual floor level is several floors below her crafting ability. Her shop is on the 48th floor, while the crystalline ingot is on the 55th. If not for Kirito, she could have easily died in the attempt to retrieve the material for the Dark Repulser.
Asuna’s real life and in game love for cooking reveals itself in the following episode when Kirito happens upon the legendary monster, the Ragout Rabbit. Despite its silly appearance and weak armor, the rabbit is also the quickest monster in Aincrad. Most players have never even seen one, much less eaten it. Like with weaponsmithing, cooking, too, is an in-game skill. More complex and flavorful foods require higher cooking stats, and the Ragout Rabbit requires the highest chef rank of all. Luckily for Kirito, Asuna is one such player. Although like with Liz, the rarity of the ingredient means that Asuna has never before cooked with her maximum ability.
My one gripe about the cooking, however, is that there are no seeming perks given from the food in SAO. It appears that the only benefits from meals are the tastes and pleasures received by those who eat them. Having lived two years in the game, Kirito is blown away when he tastes a flavor concocted by Asuna that mimics real-life soy sauce. It seems like there could be more depth given to these foods if they also increased specific attributes for an allotted period of time. For example, let’s say that Ragout Rabbit stew increases speed/agility by 50 points for one hour, or that a yakisoba sandwich means +20 in strength. There would be more incentive for players to level their crafting abilities, and battles could be prepared not only with weapons and armor, but also with rations. Instead of winning the final battle through sheer will alone, maybe Kirito could have chomped an okonomiyaki for additional health! :p
In the end, though, my love for the crafting inclusion in SAO but disappointment in its subsequent lack of depth paralleled my feelings on the show as a whole. There were many great ideas and directions that it could have taken, but most of them were dropped in favor of meaningless romantic twists, inexplicable plots, and sexual fantasies. If you’ve seen Sword Art Online and could pick one redeemable trait about it, what would it be?