Would you enter the world of Alfheim Online?
That’s the question I found myself asking once episode nineteen finished and it’ll be the theme of this post. Follow with me and as we take a look at ALO as a game. Let’s forget about Kirito, Leafa, Asuna, and all the other characters and plot and just look at the system. ALO suffers from some hideous balance issues, but there are also appealing aspects to the game that sometimes get forgotten amidst all of the problems. Unlike the death-trap that was Sword Art Online, ALO offers a large world to safely explore and adventure in. The ability to fly is also a tremendously appealing aspect of the game that offers a completely new experience from real-life.
I am probably in the minority for saying this, but I really liked just how seriously everyone was taking their roles in-game. The faction dynamics in-game remain largely unexplained but what we do know is that the factions can interact on a larger scale than just the individual level and that players can play a big role in impacting the experience not just for themselves, but for entire factions. At the end of the episode Kirito and Leafa set off to stop one faction from ambushing and killing the leaders for two of the other factions.
Plot issues aside (what happened to rescuing Asuna again?), what we notice is that this isn’t just a computer quest, but a diplomatic meeting between two different factions. And until the show explicitly tells us otherwise, I’m even going to say that the leaders of the factions are in fact players elected to their positions by the general playerbases of their respective factions. Anyway, the idea of the faction leaders being players adds of level of depth to the game that is really intriguing. For example, how would they get their positions in the first place? Maybe one faction’s leader was the winner of some kind of gladiatorial tournament. A different faction might require some kind of challenge. And what about the political strife that occurs if some faction members don’t like their leader? This is something we are seeing a little bit of with the nefarious plot going on in the background. But, more importantly, what this indicates is that ALO is a system that is defined by its players.
Making players in the game the faction leaders also opens the door to countless other possibility that come from interactions between different factions. A diplomatic meeting is only the tip of the iceberg, for as long as there are humans behind the characters and not NPCs with pre-determined quests, the possibilities are endless. With that in mind it is hard not to imagine people taking their adventures in game seriously. When people enjoy things, when they become passionate about it, they will naturally take it more seriously, especially with the added layer of realism that comes from the game being in a virtual world.
The appeal of ALO is that it isn’t a game where players group together to interact with a computer, but that it’s a game where players interact with each other. The game, the world, the factions, together all of these things make up the stage, but our focus is on the actors that play their parts upon it. I was originally skeptical about the idea of there being no levels in the game, but it actually makes sense because it takes away the game’s emphasis on grinding levels, and, therefore, interacting with the computer. In essence, ALO is a microcosm and ironically is closer to the image of “living in a virtual world” than the original game, SAO, ever was.