By the year 2022, humanity had fully developed a Virtual Reality Mass Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (VRMMORPG). On Sunday, November 6, 2022, Sword Art Online (SAO), the highly anticipated and renowned online fantasy game of the year, had already sold 10,000 copies in its first batch with players forming huge lines at every game store four days before the sale of the game even began.
A young fourteen year-old male player accessed the game at 13:00, the moment the game was officially launched. Using the commonly known helmet game console known as the NerveGear, he entered the online virtual world of «Aincrad» using his game avatar «Kirito» from his beta-version gameplay after the «NerveGear» had finished calibrating his virtual body.
Once inside, he found himself in the main town of the 1st Floor, the «Town of Beginnings». Kirito maneuvered rapidly through the city's central market while heading towards the city gate, until a new player, called Klein, noticed his knowledge on the layout of the city and asked for Kirito's help in learning the game's mechanics after deducing that Kirito was a beta tester.
Traveling to the west field outside the Town of Beginnings, Klein experienced some initial difficulty fighting against a level 1 monster called a «Frenzy Boar», and had been reminded that the player could not feel any actual pain. Instead there would just be an unpleasant feeling in its place, alongside the depletion of the player's hit point gauge when hit. Kirito expounded to Klein about the necessary motion for the use of «Sword Skills», the essential feature of SAO, and demonstrated one such Sword Skill. Klein carefully listened to Kirito's explanation before finally killing the Frenzy Boar, much to his delight, though was surprised when he learned of the monster's actually weak power level.
Several hours later, the boy invited Klein to continue hunting, but the latter declined, due to feeling hungry. Even though eating virtual food in the game world would eliminate the unpleasant sensation of hunger when playing, it did not dispel the hunger in the real world. Therefore, Klein decided to log out as he had ordered for a pizza and ginger ale for 17:30. However, when Klein opened his menu, he was surprised to find that the «LOG OUT» option was no longer there. Dismissing the log out option's unavailability as a glitch, the man attempted to contact a gamemaster (GM) but could not receive any response. As the town bells from the 1st Floor's central town started ringing at that moment, all players were forcefully teleported to the «Town of Beginnings».
On the virtual screens at the sky, there was a system announcement that drew everyone's attention. Suddenly, a giant, robed, faceless figure appeared, identifying himself as Kayaba Akihiko, the creator of the game and the only person with control over the game. Addressing the problem of the missing «Log Out» option, he announced to the players that he had purposely removed it from the game as another one of its features and thus, trapping them in the game.
While all the players were alarmed by his announcement, the Game Master continued on, revealing that attempts to forcibly remove the NerveGear would result in its transmitters dealing lethal thermal damage to the player's brain. When Klein voiced his doubts on the situation, Kirito confirmed that the NerveGear's signals essentially functioned like microwaves, thus it was indeed plausible for them to cause lethal brain damage if the safeties were disabled. Kirito also explained the helmet had an internal battery, which rendered Klein's proposal to disconnect it from its power source meaningless. Meanwhile, Akihiko declared that despite him having informed the outside world of the situation beforehand, friends and family members of some of the players had already ignored the warning, causing the death of 213 players.
Akihiko also told them that he had also removed the revival system in the game. Therefore, when a player died in-game, their game avatar would be forever lost, and, at the same time, the NerveGear would fry the player's brain, thus killing them. He then told them that the only way to escape the game was to complete it, which meant clearing all 100 floors of «Aincrad» and their bosses, much to the players' shock.
As he finished his announcement, he left a "gift", a «Hand Mirror», in everyone's inventory, which they took out. At that moment, a huge blinding light changed the players to their true appearances, sharply dropping the number of female players by revealing that many male players were masquerading as female characters, though some female players were also masquerading as males. Afterwards, Akihiko revealed that his only goal was to create the game and intervene in it. Finally, Akihiko vanished after his «Tutorial» was finished.
As everyone stood in silent shock after Akihiko's departure, Kirito, hallucinating the papercut on his finger he had acquired just prior to entering the game, decided that since Akihiko was the genius behind the creation of NerveGear and SAO, everything the man had said had to be the truth. Dropping her Hand Mirror, a young girl reacted in fear and bumped into the player next to her, prompting everyone else to finally start panicking. While many of the other players pleaded to be released from their newfound prison, Kirito quickly took action and tried to bring Klein with him to the next nearby village, stating that the surrounding resources would soon be limited. However, Klein told him that he could not come with him, as he has some friends in real life somewhere in the plaza, and he did not want to leave them behind. Kirito realized that he could only protect one player at a time with his current skills, meaning that if Klein or one of his friends died, he would be blamed for their deaths since he was the one who had suggested to leave.
Klein noticed Kirito's worries and politely told him that he should go ahead by himself, as he planned to go back to lead and protect his friends with the lessons that Kirito had taught him. He then tried to cheer Kirito up with a joke about his slightly feminine appearance, to which Kirito retaliates by stating that Klein's unkempt face suited him better. They then parted ways. Alone by himself with no one else to depend on, Kirito ran through the town and outside the gate, vowing that he would survive in this game world and be free from the virtual imprisonment while swiftly taking out a wolf standing in his way.
By December 2, 2022, approximately a month later, 2,000 players had already died, their departed name being crossed out on the Monument of Life simultaneously, while the 1st Floor had yet to be cleared.
- Kirigaya Suguha (Cameo)
- Kirigaya Midori (Cameo)
- Kayaba Akihiko (in his game master avatar, and on the magazine)
- Asuna (Cameo)
- Silica (Cameo)
- Lisbeth (Cameo)
- «Small Sword»
- All Players
- «Hand Mirror» - Received from Kayaba Akihiko
Known Sword Skills
- «Reaver» - Klein
- Kirigaya residence
- Aincrad Floor 1: Town of Beginnings - Teleport Gate plaza, central market, alleyways; West Field, Path to Town of Horunka
- Adapted from Volume 1, Chapters 2 and 3
- The anime did not mention that the release of the SAO game was still limited to Japan, and not yet allowed global.
- Kirito's explanation to Klein on how the players' inability to log out would not reflect well on Argus and the VRMMORPG genre was omitted.
- In the anime, the players were just wondering what happened when they were teleported back to the city. In the novel, a few were angry when they were teleported back.
- In the novel, Kayaba Akihiko announced to the players that the NerveGear would fry the player's brain, killing them in the real world, if any of the following occurred: being disconnected from a source of electricity for ten minutes, cut from the system for more than two hours, or dying in-game. He also informed the players that his crime was being broadcast all over the world, with the location of each player disclosed, thus the authorities would be moving them into hospitals to put them in better care during the two hours he had allowed the players to be disconnected from the system. In the anime, he only informed the players that upon reaching zero hit points, the player would die. Akihiko does not mention anything about moving the players into hospitals during his "tutorial", although it is shown later on that he did spread the word to put the players into better care.
- In the novel, there was no invisible barrier preventing the players from leaving the plaza until the end of the tutorial.
- Kirito, in the novel, had reached the 10th Floor during the beta testing period rather than the 8th Floor as mentioned in the anime. However, originally the number of floors passed was six, and the number was later retconned to ten in the Progressive novel, thus this is more of a change in continuity, than an error in the anime.
- In the novel, the players' mass panic occurred immediately after Akihiko's disappearance. In the anime, their hysteria was delayed until triggered by Silica's frightened reaction, who was not shown in the novel.
- The design of the Monument of Life had been simplified in the anime. Unlike the novel version, the anime version did not include descriptions of each player's death.
- The name of Aincrad's currency, Cor, was misspelled as Col.
- "In this world, a single blade can take you anywhere you want to go. And even though it's a virtual world, I feel more alive in here than I ever did in the real one." - Kirito
- "Make your way through each dungeon and defeat the Floor Boss, and you will advance to the next level. Defeat the final boss of the 100th floor, and you will clear the game." - Kayaba Akihiko
- "Why would Kayaba Akihiko, the creator of Sword Art Online and the NerveGear, do all this? My goal has already been achieved. I wanted to create this world and intervene in it. That is why I created Sword Art Online." - Kayaba Akihiko
- "This is a game, but it's not just something you play." - Kayaba Akihiko
- "If I die in this world... I'll die for real." - Kirito
- "I'll definitely survive... ...in this world!" - Kirito