The End of the World (世界の終焉, Sekai no Shūen?) is the fourteenth episode of the Sword Art Online anime adaptation, as well as the fourteenth and last episode of the Aincrad Arc. It aired on October 6, 2012.
Kirito and the others continued fighting against The Skull Reaper, until Heathcliff noticed that the boss' life was nearing depletion, so he immediately told everyone to attack with full force, and shortly afterwards, they finally defeated The Skull Reaper.
As the exhausted Clearers rested from the battle, at Klein's inquiry, Kirito informed everyone that fourteen high-level players had died over the course of the raid. Shocked, the players began having doubts of ever freeing themselves out of the death game, since they still had twenty-five more floors to clear. While absently noticing that Heathcliff was not exhausted at all, Kirito's attention was suddenly attracted by Heathcliff's suspicious expression, which made him recall his duel in Collinia with him. Seeing the commander focused on his guildmates and his hit points (HP) still in the green zone, Kirito quietly collected his Elucidator, an action that only Asuna noticed, then suddenly attacked the off-guard Heathcliff with Rage Spike. Quickly reacting to the attack, Heathcliff attempted to block it. However, Kirito slightly altered the trajectory of the blow, allowing it to barely avoid the shield and continue towards his target's chest. Just before contact could be made, the attack was stopped by a purple «Immortal Object» shield, similarly to when Yui was attacked by The Fatal Scythe.
Asuna and the other players were confused at Kirito's attack, until, to their surprise, they noticed Heathcliff's status as an Immortal Object. As the system notice disappeared and Kirito sheathed his blade, Asuna questioned her commander on the new turn in events. Kirito explained that because of Heathcliff's status of protection under the system, his HP would never fall below the yellow zone. He also revealed that ever since the first day of the Sword Art Online official service and the transformation of the virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game into a death trap, he had been wondering where "he" was watching and adjusting the world to his likes. Stating his realization that the answer was childishly obvious, he declared nothing was as boring as watching others play an RPG and addressed Heathcliff as Kayaba Akihiko, much to everyone's shock.
After a few moments of silence, Heathcliff inquired Kirito on how he had determined the answer, to which Kirito responded that Heathcliff's block and attack that won him the duel they had had exceeded the limits imposed by the system. Casually commenting that overusing the system assist was a mistake on his own part and how Kirito's incredible speed and strength forced his hand, Heathcliff admitted that he was Akihiko and that he had originally planned to be the game's final boss at the 100th Floor, much to the other players' shock. When Kirito remarked that Heathcliff's decision to have the strongest player in the game become the final boss was cliche, Heathcliff divulged that betraying everyone near the end appealed to him, and that he believed it would have made a good storyline. Heathcliff also revealed his prediction that Kirito would have been the one to fight him at the end, as he had designed the «Dual Blades» skill for the player that he intended to be the one to stand against the final boss. However, he was surprised as to how Kirito's development exceeded his expectations, commenting that these sudden turns of events were what made RPGs "fun".
At that moment, one of the Knights of the Blood leaders attempted to attack Heathcliff in anger after realizing the truth, but Heathcliff quickly used his personal system console in his menu to paralyze his would-be assailant and, subsequently, everyone but Kirito. The latter asked him if he would kill everyone to cover his identity, but Heathcliff replied that it would not be fair to everyone, as then they would never clear the game. He then told the players that he would await them at the Ruby Palace on the final floor. But, as a reward to Kirito for discovering his true identity, Heathcliff offered a one-on-one duel with him, with no system assist and his immortality status disabled. If Kirito managed to defeat him in this duel, the game would be cleared, and he would free all the players.
Asuna pleaded Kirito not to accept the challenge and to fall back, but Kirito, having flashbacks of all of those who had died and not wanting any more deaths, accepted the wager. Kirito apologized to Asuna that he would not run away and reassured her that he would win and end the game. Agil and Klein also begged Kirito not to battle. Kirito then thanked Agil for helping the swordsmen from the middle floors level up, and apologized to Klein for leaving him on the first day. Klein retaliated that he would not forgive Kirito until he bought him a meal in the real world which Kirito agreed to. Before the start of the duel, Kirito requested Heathcliff that if he did actually die during their battle, he wanted Heathcliff to make sure that Asuna could not kill herself for a while. After a brief moment of surprise, Heathcliff smiled and accepted the request, while Asuna cried out for Kirito not to do that to her. Heathcliff then lowered his HP to match Kirito's and removed his Immortal Object status.
At the beginning of the duel, both fought at extreme speed. Knowing that Heathcliff was the one who designed the Dual Blades skill and that he would be able to block the pre-programmed combos, Kirito tried to use his own skills, without the help of any Sword Skills. Kirito started to corner Heathcliff, but he lost focus for a mere moment and activated «The Eclipse», a high level Dual Blades skill and was unable to cancel it midway. Heathcliff easily blocked each and every strike of the Sword Skill. With the last hit, Dark Repulser broke after hitting Heathcliff's shield and, just as Heathcliff was about to deliver the finishing blow to Kirito during his post-motion delay, Asuna jumped between the two, saving Kirito's life, while sacrificing her own life in the process, much to Kirito's shock and anguish. Heathcliff was surprised at this turn of events, saying that it should have been impossible to neutralize the paralysis on her own, as he had not programmed such a method.
In disbelief of losing Asuna, Kirito swung his sword with little effort, allowing Heathcliff to easily send his Elucidator flying and stab him. But, as his HP was closing to zero, Kirito remembered Asuna's words of encouragement, thus, the moment his HP dropped zero and the system deemed him as dead, Kirito, rejecting the system's order to die, used the last drops of his strength to stab Heathcliff with Asuna's Lambent Light, killing a surprised Heathcliff, who smiled as the blade pierced his body, before the system managed to delete Kirito, and the two shattered into thousands of polygons. As Lisbeth, Silica, Pina, Caynz, Yolko, Sasha, Yulier, and Thinker looked on, a voice of the system announced that the game has been cleared as of 14:55, November 7.
Kirito opened his eyes and found himself in the sky outside of Aincrad. He opened his menu and saw that instead of the usual interface, only "Final Phase" at 55% was displayed. A voice called out to him from behind, and Kirito was shocked to see Asuna. He told her that he was sorry for dying and not getting her back into the real world. They then hugged and shared a kiss, while watching the destruction of Aincrad. They saw their in-game house falling down, along with many other areas. Unexpectedly, Akihiko, in his real-life appearance, appeared, informing them that SAO's mainframe was deleting all its data and all of Aincrad would be deleted in the next ten minutes. He also stated that the 6,147 survivors had successfully been logged out of the game, but the other 3,853 players who died were gone forever. Kirito asked why Akihiko did all this, and he replied that he could no longer remember why he had created Aincrad, but he recalled a desire to create a castle that surpassed all laws and restrictions. He then congratulated Kirito and Asuna for clearing the game, and disappeared into thin air.
Kirito and Asuna spent their last moments together, telling each other their real names as they watched the last bits of Aincrad disappear. Kirito revealed that he was the sixteen year old Kirigaya Kazuto and Asuna was a year older Yuuki Asuna. Kirito cried and was apologetic that he was unable to send Asuna back to the other world. Asuna comforted him and told him that meeting and living with him were the happiest moments in her life and that she loved him. Kirito and Asuna then hugged each other and decided to kiss each other while waiting for the final moment to disappear as one. As Aincrad entered its final stage of deletion, Kirito and Asuna's avatars faded away along with it.
Kazuto finally woke up in the real world and found himself in a hospital bedroom. While trying to make sense of where he was, as he could not believe that he had returned to the real world, he remembered Asuna, bringing tears and life back into his eyes. He took off his NerveGear and grabbed the IV drip stand for support and slowly walked out of his room to find Asuna while calling her name.
Known Sword Skills
- «Rage Spike» - Kirito
- «The Eclipse» - Kirito
- Adapted from Volume 1, Chapters 22-25
- In the light novel, Kirito was still wearing the KoB's guild uniform during "The Skull Reaper" fight. In the anime, on the other hand, he was wearing his Blackwyrm Coat.
- Kirito's inner monologue on Heathcliff's skills and abilities that led to him deducing his real identity was omitted.
- Heathcliff did not mention that he was planning to help the players defeat the powerful mobs of monsters on the 90th Floors in the anime.
- In the novel, a KoB member attacked Heathcliff with a halberd after discovering that Heathcliff was actually Kayaba Akihiko. In the anime, the KoB member attacked Heathcliff with a sword instead.
- Heathcliff did not mention keeping Asuna in Selmburg after Kirito asked him to make sure Asuna did not kill herself if he died in the duel with him.
- The final part of "Warmth of the Heart", from Volume 2, and "The Final Promise" from Silica Edition were omitted in the anime. The anime did, however, portray the announcement being played over the game.
- Kayaba Akihiko's talk with Kirito and Asuna was slightly shorter in the anime than it was in the novel.
- "Something any kid knows. There's nothing as boring as watching someone else play an RPG." - Kirito
- "Yes, I am Kayaba Akihiko. And if I may add, I am the game's final boss, who would have awaited you at the top floor." - Heathcliff
- "Damn it, Kirito! Don't you dare apologize to me now! I won't forgive you... I won't forgive until you buy me a meal on the other side!" - Klein
- "This isn't a duel... We're fighting to kill. That's right. I'm going to kill him!" - Kirito
- "I believe in you, Kirito-kun." - Asuna
- "I wanted to leave the ground, to fly to that castle. For a long, long time, that was my only desire." - Kayaba Akihiko
- "No, it isn't. We're going to disappear as one. So we'll be together forever." - Asuna
- "I'm happy I was able to meet you, Kazuto-kun. To live with you. It's the happiest I've ever been in my life. Thank you. I love you" - Asuna
- There was a double animation error when Heathcliff is preparing to fight Kirito, a message appears that says, "Chaged Into Immortal Object". "Changed" was misspelled and "mortal" was accidentally written as "immortal".
- This is fixed in the English Dub.
- The size of the cross on Heathcliff's shield is inconsistent throughout Kirito's battle with Heathcliff.
- For a dramatic effect, the anime showed as if Kirito burst into polygons and then came back again, while in the next scene it showed the standing Kirito starting to glow. This was similar to how the anime portrayed Kirito's finger bleeding in Episode 1, while in the next scene it was shown that he was not actually bleeding. In the novel, it was said that the flow of time slowed down for Kirito and he was able to move his arm while his body was slowly breaking down, giving him enough time to pierce Heathcliff before the former's body shattered into thousands of polygons.
- The reason why Kazuto could immediately stand up, even after not moving his body for two years, is due to the usage of EMS electrodes.