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Kayaba Akihiko (茅場晶彦, Kayaba Akihiko?), known as Heathcliff (ヒースクリフ, Hīsukurifu?) in Sword Art Online, was the main antagonist of the Aincrad Arc and a supporting character in the Fairy Dance Arc and Alicization Arc. He was the development director and Game Master (GM) of «Sword Art Online», as well as the designer of the «NerveGear», the Cardinal System, and «The Seed».
As his avatar Heathcliff, Akihiko eventually founded what later became Sword Art Online's strongest guild, the «Knights of the Blood». He was the owner of the first «Unique Skill», named «Holy Sword», and was considered to be strongest player in-game. He wielded the collective one-handed sword and tower shield called Liberator. He also was able to engage the boss of the 50th Floor in battle for ten minutes by himself, which earned him the title «Man of Legend» (伝説の男, Densetsu no Otoko?). It was also rumored that Heathcliff's hit points (HP) had never reached the yellow zone.
Sword Art Online Avatar
Kayaba Akihiko was the only player in Sword Art Online whose avatar did not match his appearance in the real world. As a result, Heathcliff, Akihiko's avatar, bore no resemblance to his true skinny body at all. Significantly idealized, Heathcliff was muscular, tall, and physically strong, with sharp scholarly features and steel-gray hair that had a strand hanging over his forehead. He was almost always seen wearing the colors of the Knights of the Blood, though the background and foreground colors were reversed.
At the start of Sword Art Online, Akihiko appeared to the trapped players as a huge faceless, hooded person with a cloak as his Game Master avatar.
Although Kayaba Akihiko appeared as his true form only a few times throughout the series, he was always very calm, soft-spoken, and had a cool demeanor. Despite being incredibly skilled, Akihiko was not boastful or arrogant, as when Kirito defeated him and cleared Sword Art Online, he humbly accepted defeat.
Akihiko seemed to be very sincere and thoughtful, as shown when he told Kirito of his dream about creating a floating castle as the basis for creating Sword Art Online.
Kayaba Akihiko had little to no empathy, with a complete disregard for human life, including his own, and instead was completely taken in by the virtual world. When he accidentally struck Asuna, which caused her apparent in-game death, he showed no remorse, and instead seemed rather amused, even though it caused Kirito an incredible amount of grief at the time. He chose to fulfill his dream by making a death game which cost thousands of lives, and simply noted that their minds were gone from both worlds. His fascination with computers was very much like Kirito's, with the major difference being Akihiko having no regard for the lives of others, and Kirito doing everything he can to protect them.
In spite of this, Akihiko had a level of honor and fairness. He designed Sword Art Online to be a beatable game by anyone who had the skills. He never interfered with the players' progress to keep them from advancing through the game; in fact, as Heathcliff, he was actually fighting on the players' side, helping them clear floors. The one exception to this was the fact that he made himself invincible until his battle with Kirito, although this was necessary to survive the game until the 95th floor was reached, where Heathcliff planned to reveal his true identity and become the final boss on the 100th floor.
In his childhood, Akihiko expressed an interest in reading books. He was not particularly engrossed in games and computers, but he participated in the Mathematics Club of his high school. Later on, in university, he did not participate in any circles because he frequently worked in and out of laboratories.
When Akihiko began developing Sword Art Online, he toiled for years to develop the game software. His main goal and dream was to "make Aincrad float" but after he did so, he was not entirely sure what his dreams, aspirations, or purpose were.
Akihiko's love interest was Koujiro Rinko, who assisted him for ten years of the game's development, and took care of his body whenever he had to FullDive during the course of Sword Art Online.
On November 6, 2022, Kayaba Akihiko successfully trapped approximately 10,000 players in Sword Art Online following the launch of the game's official service. After forcefully teleporting all players in the game to the Town of Beginnings, he appeared in his game master avatar and, during his tutorial, explained the new rules of the game, including the fact that the players would need to conquer all 100 floors of the game to be set free and that death in-game or any attempt to remove the NerveGear would cause the NerveGear to fry the user's brain. To prove that the game was their new reality, Akihiko changed the avatars of all players to look like their real life bodies and then took his leave.
On October 15, 2023, Heathcliff was working in his room at the Knights of the Blood's headquarters on the 39th Floor when he was visited by Asuna, one of guild's vice commanders, for her report on the clearing efforts on the 40th Floor that day. When he requested more details on an issue occurring during the battle against the Ruthless Warder Chief, the guild leader was informed of how one of the guild's members had been unable to respond to Asuna's orders during the fight, prompting him to postulate that the boy was possibly suffering from a slight case of FullDive Non-Conformity as a result of the NerveGear being unable to process conflicting signals from the brain properly. Although doubtful that the matter could simply be solved with training, Heathcliff left the responsibility of deciding Nautilus's fate to Asuna, which resulted in the boy being excluded from the 40th Floor Boss raid.
On the late morning of April 23, 2024, Heathcliff received a message from Asuna, requesting him to join her and Kirito for lunch in order to discuss a matter. Upon meeting them in Algade on the 50th Floor thirty minutes later, the man was guided by the boy to a restaurant deep within the mazelike city, where he was informed of how a player had seemingly been killed within the Area the previous night. Debunking the boy's theories on how this could have been possible, the man recommended them not to rely on secondhand sources of information, before taking his leave.
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As a leader of the Knights of the Blood, Heathcliff was quite renowned for his general tendency to stay out of guild affairs, preferring to allow his sub-leaders to develop plans and advance the game. Apart from guild paperwork and battles, Heathcliff rarely interfered with the choices and actions of his sub-leaders. The only exception to this was when Asuna expressed her wish to leave the guild, and Heathcliff refused to allow her do so without challenging Kirito to a duel.
In the aftermath of the death game, Akihiko proceeded with his desire to die along with the collapse of the game, as he had decided before Sword Art Online even began. He thus used a remodeled FullDive machine to perform a super high-powered scan of his brain to transfer his consciousness into the virtual world permanently. This scan led to his brain cells burning out, killing his body.
Although the scan only had less than a 1 in 1000 chance of succeeding, apparently the scan was successful, as he reappeared in ALfheim Online, noting that his program was only recently awakened after hearing Kirito's voice during the latter's encounter with Oberon. When Akihiko saw Kirito giving up and submitting to the power of the system, he reminded the Black Swordsman about their battle, where Akihiko was forced to acknowledge the power of the human will, and encouraged Kirito to stand and take hold of his sword. After Kirito stood up and grabbed the fist of Oberon, who attempted to punch him, Akihiko revealed his administrator ID and password to Kirito, allowing him to access Heathcliff's account, which in terms of administrative power, outranked Oberon's and allowed Kirito to easily defeat Oberon. After Oberon was defeated and Asuna logged out, Akihiko returned to Kirito and entrusted him with the «World Seed» as compensation for helping Kirito. Although Akihiko wished to have the seed sprout, he left the choice of what to do with it to Kirito as he disappeared into thin air.
During Heathcliff's duel with Kirito in the 75th Floor boss room, the former easily blocked a Sword Skill from the latter and managed to open his opponent to counterattack. However, just as the confident guild leader was about to take advantage of the opening, his strike was suddenly interrupted by a glitch that appeared on his arm and spread to the air above them, compelling both of them to jump back. Stumped by the turn of events, Heathcliff was barely able to defend himself from the Black Swordsman's renewed offensive, as his equipment and avatar became more disrupted by glitches with each blow. After his defense was knocked aside, a stunned Heathcliff was stabbed through with Kirito's Dark Repulser, before being immersed in one gigantic glitch and disappearing from the boss chamber.
After the Clearers managed to reach the Ruby Palace and defeat Hollow Strea, Heathcliff appeared, clapping and congratulating them on their victory. Apologizing for his sudden disappearance and return, he explained that the accumulation of negative emotions from players' distress had overwhelmed one of the programs overseeing their mental well-being, Mental Health Counseling Program Prototype 002, codenamed Strea, resulting in a catastrophic error that infected the core of the Cardinal System. At the same time, outside interference from Sugou Nobuyuki and his associates had forced the system to assign most of its capacity to handle the new problem. Together, these two challenges had caused parts of Cardinal to malfunction and begin operating independently, triggering a system error that interrupted the duel. As the system reached a level of emergency, Heathcliff had been automatically reassigned to an administrative role. Due to being too preoccupied with mending the situation, he had been unable to inform the players of what had occurred.
Admitting that things did not always go according to plan in worlds where human engagement was deep, Heathcliff declared that all the players had earned the right to leave Sword Art Online due to their defeat of the 100th Floor Boss. Listening to Kirito's outrage at the deviation in plans for the final boss fight, he accepted the Black Swordsman's demand to log everyone else out of the game, before resuming their duel. Impressed when the other players refused to leave and instead chose to fight with Kirito, Heathcliff wondered if he had created Sword Art Online to see people unite for a common cause.
After his defeat, Heathcliff commended the players for their triumph over him, confirming his intention to keep his promise to return them to the real world. When the Black Swordsman questioned him on his own status, Heathcliff revealed he would have to remain in Aincrad to abide by his own rules. Voicing his gratitude to the other players for contributing to his vision, he bid them farewell, before vanishing.
After the Sword Art Online incident, it was revealed that Akihiko had killed himself by frying his cerebrum with an ultra high power scan. Curiously, when the police found his corpse in a mountain villa in Nagano, they learned from his NerveGear's memory logs that this had transpired not long after his duel with Kirito on the 75th Floor.
Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online
|Holy Sword||One-Handed Straight Sword||Hand-to-Hand Combat||Heavy Metal Equipment||Battle Healing|
|Searching||Tracking||Spiritual Light (Hate Skill)||Immortality|
- Divine Sword
- Akihiko had an annual salary of more than 100 million yen (about 1,090,000.00 USD in August 30, 2013) at the age of 18.
- Aside from research and development, Akihiko's hobbies were cooking and playing Go (the board game).
- The first RPG Akihiko played was an old RPG known as Wizardry. It apparently played an influence on the development of Sword Art Online.
- Akihiko intended to reveal his true identity on Sword Art Online on the 95th floor, and become the final boss on the 100th floor.
- Akihiko admitted that he would not be able to win against Kirito with his actual reflexes.
- Akihiko had spared no attention to the existence of Yui and later regretted it, saying that it was a great opportunity that had gone by.
- The happiest moment to Akihiko during SAO was when Kirito saw through his true identity on the 75th floor, as Akihiko then realized that he (Akihiko) was nothing more than another player.
- Heathcliff is the only boss in Sword Art Online to have just one HP bar instead of multiple.
- Akihiko's avatar's name «Heathcliff» is possibly either a reference to Wuthering Heights or Phantasy Star Online.
- To hide his identity, along with his appearance, it was necessary for him to use his GM administration account to alter his voice. For this plot device, two voice actors were hired to voice him, with his original voice being used in the introduction and after he was discovered by Kirito.
- In the Aincrad manga, Akihiko participated at his announcement of the death game in the Town of Beginnings as his avatar Heathcliff among other Sword Art Online players, while a recording of himself explained the new rules that made Sword Art Online into a death game. Kirito was even surprised by Heathcliff's calm demeanour during the situation.
- In the non-canon game adaptations Infinity Moment and Hollow Fragment, a massive glitch caused by an overload of negative emotions cut Kirito's battle with Heathcliff on the 75th Floor short, and he vanished before Kirito could defeat him. Heathcliff reappeared on the 100th Floor as the final boss of the game. During the narration by Kirito afterwards, it was revealed that Kayaba Akihiko's NerveGear had killed him promptly after the battle on the 75th Floor, possibly meaning that the Heathcliff Kirito fought against was his afterimage.
- Volume 1, Chapter 12
- Material Edition 2
- Volume 1, Chapter 3
- Volume 4, Chapter 9
- Volume 1, Chapter 5
- Volume 1, Chapter 9
- Volume 1, Chapter 24
- Anime design art
- Episode 10
- Volume 1, Chapter 13
- Heathcliff's interview in third popularity contest held by Kawahara Reki as Kunori Fumio, 2005.
- Q&A session with Koujiro Rinko in the third popularity contest held by Kawahara Reki as Kunori Fumio, 2005
- Volume 7, Chapter 12
- Volume 10, Chapter 2, Part 3