An in-depth look at Sword Art Online's gritty cyberpunk world
Settings are an important part of a story’s identity. Whether it be books, games, anime, or movies, where stories take place plays an important role in making them what they are. So, when a story offers a secondary setting for its narrative, it’s always a bit of fun to see what exactly makes this setting what it is. That’s the case with Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, which returns to a complete virtual reality video game world only visited for a short time during the main series. Interestingly, it turns out that the fictional video game world of Gun Gale Online is actually quite unique among video games in anime!
The video game Gun Gale Online is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. After a grand war, humans returned to a planet reduced to wastelands and ruins, filled with alien monsters and rogue military robots as a side effect of their conflict. Although Sword Art Online Alternative hasn't shown all of this world’s cards yet, we’ve still been shown a few locations that we know exist.
First and foremost is the capital city of Gun Gale Online, SBC Glocken, which is where we see LLENN running around in the second episode. This area acts as a safe haven for players where monsters can’t show up. Players can’t attack one another either, and it's is where new players arrive when they begin the game. The large metallic city is actually made of a space battleship on which humans returned to this ruined Earth. SBC Glocken is a cyberpunk city with buildings that seem to reach for the sky, neon holographic advertisements, and more than a shady looking stores – including the one where LLENN picked up her trusty P-chan.
Underneath the capital city is a ruined city of an ancient civilization that lived on the Earth before the great war that transformed it, which we see in episode 4 as LLENN and Pito hunt together. This city once stood in the area where SBC Glocken now is and is filled with a seemingly unlimited amount of hostile machines and mutant monsters who can be slain for treasures. Many players venture down into this dangerous city in pursuit of of valuable loot, despite the horrors that await them.
Outside of SBC Glocken lies several wastelands, deserts, caves, forests, and abandoned towns – all of which are also filled with monsters like the underground city. Among these areas is a desert area made completely out of pink sand and rocks with remnants of the great war scattered about it. While it's just a normal area for monsters to be hunted for loot like any other area, the main character of Sword Art Online Alternative, LLENN, uses it as a place to hunt other players since her pink outfit doubling as convenient camouflage there. It’s because of this that she even gains a nickname from other players – "The Pink Devil" – for being a danger in that area.
But the world which players can use to hunt monsters and occasionally one another isn’t all there is to the game. In Gun Gale Online, there are two major recurring tournaments, one of which is the Bullet of Bullets from the main SAO story and one of which is Alternative's Squad Jam, in which players are sent to entirely different maps to compete against each other. Just as you’d expect, these maps also have their own unique features while staying true to the identity of a post-apocalyptic Earth.
In Squad Jam specifically, the map is split up into eight areas that all represent a different kind of battlefield. The first area is a large grassy plain, leaving everyone there completely vulnerable and out in the open. The second area is an enormous forest that spans a majority of the northern portion of the map. South of the plains is the third area – a small marshy wetland. The fourth and fifth areas are an abandoned suburban residential area and large city respectively. The sixth area is a lake close to the marshlands. Areas seven and eight are a vast desert wasteland complete with stone ruins.
While a post-apocalyptic setting may not be unique to anime itself, it is a pretty original setting for video games present in anime. There are exceptions to the rule, but more often than not in anime players are transported into fantasy games, complete with magic, RPG stat trees, and fantasy monsters like goblins, skeletons, and dragons. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with typical fantasy settings, and plenty of shows have taken the idea of normal people inside of fantasy settings and created fantastic experiences – like the original Sword Art Online, which took place in a very typical fantasy setting. However, there is something to be said about unique approaches to known settings – and it's nice to see Alternative taking the time to give as a closer look at the world of Gun Gale Online than the Phantom Bullet arc of SAO proper did.
In Alternative's departure from fantasy settings from a series known for its fantasy settings, we get a look at an interesting ruined cyberpunk world as the first popular representation of the first person shooter genre in anime. We're pretty lucky!
What do you think of the world of Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online so far? Is it a game you'd like to play? Let us know down in the comments!