ANIME & MANGA - Article
11:00 - 15th January 2016, by NEO Staff

Lost In Svart Alfheim

In Norse Mythology, Svart Alfheim is the land of the dark elves, a place of danger and mystery for the Asgardian heroes who populate the tales of the Norsemen. Now, that legendary land springs to life in Sword Art Online: Lost Song, the third game based upon the bestselling light novel series by Reki Kawahara. The original story, adapted into an anime by A-1 Pictures, saw the hero, Kirito, trapped inside the virtual reality world of the MMORPG Sword Art Online. The only way out was to clear every single level of the vast dungeon at the centre of the game – 100 floors of traps, boss enemies and all. And to raise the stakes, death within SAO would mean the perishing of Kirito’s human body back in the real world. No reset button for him.

Now Lost Song sees Kirito exploring the first expansion pack for SAO, ALfheim Online, which opens up the new territory of Svart Alfheim for intrepid gamers to conquer.

Fly The Friendly Skies

Lost Song introduces a host of new features to SAO. In the previous instalments, there were dungeons to be probed, and Kirito always kept both of his feet firmly on the ground. However, Svart Alfheim is imagined as a land of floating islands, suspended in the sky (a bit like the planet of Pandorum in Avatar, but without all the semi-naked Smurfs everywhere). This might present a problem for an earthbound adventurer, but this time around, Kirito has a delightful pair of gossamer fairy wings and can fly through the air with the greatest of ease. In addition to making it much easier to flitter around Svart Alfheim, the new power of flight opens up the possibilities afforded by aerial combat. So Kirito can slice and dice his enemies even when he’s airborne.

Whereas in the first SOA, Kirito was up against the evil mastermind who had trapped everyone inside the game’s virtual reality, this time he faces a challenge of a different nature. Within the game, players can form guilds in order to pool their efforts to complete missions. And in ALfheim Online, the powerful Shamrock guild is determined to be the first to beat the expansion pack. Shamrock is led by Seven, who appears within the virtual reality environment as a youthful pop idol, but who is actually a respected sociologist in the offline world. Her approach is based on quantity, not quality. Shamrock’s members may not be the most powerful fighters within SAO, but there are so many of them that they are able to complete levels and defeat bosses by sheer force of numbers. So Kirito and his friends are in a race against time to beat the ALfheim Online game before Seven and her Shamrock lackeys can pummel it into submission, aiming to prove that skill and strategy count for more than Seven’s heavy-handed mob tactics.

Made In Your Own Image

While SAO is set within the world of an MMORPG, it’s not actually a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Instead, it functions primarily as a single player game, following a protagonist as they advance through levels and boss battles. In the previous games, players always controlled Kirito, but in Lost Song the options are much wider. There are 17 playable characters available in the game, and two more can be added to the roster through SAO’s Downloadable Content. The line-up includes familiar faces like Asuna, Klein and Agil, as well as new characters such as the leprechaun Rain (don’t even think about trying to get her Lucky Charms!), and Sumeragi, the strongest swordsman within the Shamrock guild, and Seven’s trusted bodyguard. Choosing a different character opens up new avenues for the story to take, but if none of the existing options appeal, for the first time in SAO, players can create their own characters from scratch.

Instead of facing each mission or battle solo, your chosen character is always accompanied by two allies, so you fight and explore as the leader of a trio of intrepid adventurers. Where classic JRPGs like the Final Fantasy series used turn-based combat to replicate the game mechanics of traditional RPGs, all three of the Sword Art Online titles use a real time combat system to keep the action flowing non-stop. That seems to be the way forward for JRPGs, with the latest Final Fantasy outings like Type-O HD taking the same path. While SAO may not be an actual MMORPG, Lost Song does have online multiplayer features, allowing players to team up or even take each other on in online battles that see four teams of four combatants slug it out to the finish in a Battle Royale.

The Norse Connection

The location of Svart Alfheim is far from the only piece of Norse Mythology to find its way into Sword Art Online. At the centre of the game’s virtual reality environment is Yggdrasil, the World Tree that links the fabled nine realms of myth – Asgard, home of the gods; Jotenheim, land of the giants; Nilfheim, land of ice; Alfheim, where the elves dwell; Svart Alfheim, where the dark elves reside; Midgard, the world of mortals; Vanaheim, land of the Vanir who are gods like the Asgardians; Muspelheim, the realm of fire ruled by the giant Surtur; and Hel, where the dead dwell, waiting for the apocalypse of Ragnarok.

There is some debate amongst scholars of the Norse myths as to the identity of the residents of Svart Alfheim, whether they are dark elves or dwarves. In JRR Tolkein’s Lord Of The Rings, which drew freely upon Norse mythology, the elves and dwarves are separate races, but if Svart Alfheim is the land of the dwarves, then there is clear suggestion that they are closely related to the elves of Alfheim. Gimli would be appalled.

Join Kirito and his friends in the race against the Shamrock guild when Sword Art Online: Lost Song comes to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita on 13 November from Bandai Namco Entertainment.

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