Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online may be a mouthful of a title, but does it outshine its predecessor? This week, Nick and Jacob talk SAO vs. GGO.
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Hey Nick, have you heard about this new game called
GUN GALE ONLINE?
These are definitely the kind of anime that make you wish this level of technology was available in the real world already. I wonder how I would do in a GGO tournament?
Take solace at least that you're in the part of the franchise with no stakes.
I do! I've really been enjoying SAOA: GGO so far, which was kind of a surprise to me. While I wouldn't consider myself a "hater" exactly, I wasn't the biggest fan of Sword Art Online. Not even the "good" parts like its own GGO arc.
I don't have much attachment to SAO either way myself. I liked the first half of S1 well enough, but I noped out right around the time this happened and never looked back.
But considering that SAO is one of those anime that's managed to stay omnipresent for the better part of a decade, I do know the gist of what happens afterwards, including the arc where Kirito fights guns with a light saber.
How Dare He enter a completely new game and beat everyone the same damn way he did in the last two games. COME ON, son! There are some interesting elements of GGO's plot compared to the more boilerplate previous arcs, but it really doesn't take advantage of the potential inherent to its premise, and I guess that's what I'd say about original recipe SAO on the whole, come to think of it. Even though it takes place entirely within a video game, it's pretty unreliable when it comes to consistency or immersiveness of how that game would work. It's good for broad blockbuster appeal, but not great for nerds looking to nerd out.
Pssh, and people called Kirito a self-insert.
Go Big or Go Home, I guess! Anyone who's read Kino's Journey (or unfortunately seen its 2017 remake) knows that the man loves his things that go "pew pew." Personally, I kinda hate things that go "pew pew" in real life, I'm about as anti-gun as you can get, but I do enjoy watching people school each other in PUBG online, and SAOA: GGO hits the right happy medium in making its story more about the characters and worldbuilding than the gun fanaticism so far.
Granted, it does still have some of that fanaticism. Generally I'm fine watching these kinda shows, but there is something just a bit eye-rolly about this three-foot anime girl toting her hot pink SMG every episode.
Oh yeah. If you don't enjoy watching people shoot each other for fun (even in a game), this is not going to be for you no matter how entertaining the story might get.
But on the whole, GGO doesn't strike me as the kind of military otaku worship stuff that we sometimes get. It certainly likes guns a lot, but I don't feel like I'm watching a somebody fellate a sawed-off, at least.
And unrealistic or not, there's something to be said for how lovable LLENN is in the lead. (That's a lot of alliterative Ls!
Sigsawa has a talent for characterizing his protagonists in an immediately relatable way that just puts you right into their perspective with ease, but thankfully with LLENN, you get that charismatic feeling without the uncomfortable political baggage that followed Kino around as those novels progressed.
Right up front, LLENN's desires are pretty simple. She's a big gawky amazon, but she wants to be cute and petite. As a short guy, I can relate in the other direction.
Yeah, it helps that our protag gets into GGO not because she's obsessed with military hardware, but because the randomized avatar generator gave her a super-tiny body and the option to deck herself out like a My Little Pony.
My Little PUBG~
As somebody who may have bought Monster Hunter World just so I could futz around in the character creator, I know the feeling.
Now in fairness, this is the one place where the game mechanics don't make sense. There's no way these insanely expensive MMOs would ship without the ability to customize your character. LLENN only ends up in GGO because after trying 37 other games
, it was the only one that gave her an itty-bitty avatar.
That's because they apparently cut out the part where she had downloaded the demos of those games, which don't allow you to customize. Makes sense, she's not gonna buy 37 games when she's never even tried VR before and doesn't know if she'll like it.
Apart from that hiccup, which was really the anime adaptation's fault, SAOA: GGO caught my attention by just committing completely to the nerdiest possible details about How To Play VR PUBG, and with LLENN as our perspective character, I really dug it.
Compared to SAO, it's pretty impressive (and nerdy) just how much GGO focuses on the minutiae of game design. Most VRMMO stories just have that gimmick so they can put game stats in their power fantasy, but GGO really seems to care about depicting a real game.
Maybe my favorite tidbit is when they go into the logistics of how firing guns in VR isn't the same as doing it in real life. Rather than real physical objects, all the guns are just lines of code designed as hit scan weapons.
It's the kind of thing that Log Horizon does, digging into the gap between how games work as a system vs how we perceive them as an experience. And all just to tell us why LLENN's partner in the squad battle can hit people without a laser sight by not using computer assistance.
Right! It's exactly what I wanted from the main SAO series (and never really got), with the kind of propulsive dumb action that isn't present in Log Horizon (which I also love, but it's a slow burn comparatively). It doesn't have amazingly complex characters or thoughtful themes, but it turns the low-key pleasures of memorizing game mechanics, using your wits, and just being a big goddamn nerd into something that feels adventurous and fun. While SAO often reaches for melodramatic heights that it can't back up with lukewarm writing, SAOA: GGO just sorta aims for fun and hits the bulls-eye. It doesn't hurt that the show also has a refreshing sense of humor about itself.
Like, of course this is the tutorial NPC.
I do have to ask who designed that instructor. I know the answer is a horny dude but seriously, who pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into a VR game to arrive at "yeah our tutorial features someone's Street Fighter OC recreating Fullmetal Jacket".
Then there's the serendipity of LLENN's rise to fame in the game. Not being a gamer normally, she opts for style over function when selecting her camo, and other players snicker when they see a noob running around in bright pink armor. But wouldn't you know it, the level designers of GGO are less obsessed with gun-metal gray than expected, and LLENN eventually lucks right into a PvP paradise for pink players alone.
I do love that she fumbles her way into being an infamous griefer just because she takes Tutorial-chan's flavor text too literally and starts killing players in a desperate attempt to survive.
Details like that keep the story from being too dry or pandering toward gun otaku for me, so even though it's fluff, I'm glad I've been able to enjoy Sigsawa's storytelling after I came away so disappointed from his work on Kino's Journey 2017. Unlike a lot of seat-of-their-pants LNs, GGO seems to care a lot about setup and payoff, which is what makes the action feel tense and satisfying.
LLENN's lack of knowledge about guns gets set up, rectified with moments where she's taught how to take the safety off a weapon, and then paid off beautifully when she uses that against her teacher by flipping his safety on before he can betray her.
It's fun stuff, and when the show's just focused on the battle royale tournament or chronicling LLENN's rise to infamy, it's pretty entertaining! But sometimes I do feel like the anime's dragging its heels. A good half or more of episode 3 is just re-explaining stuff that was introduced effortlessly in episode 1, and it drags as we get a lecture on rules that anybody who's played any multiplayer shooter would know already.
For sure. It's not all comedy and action, and the incredibly nerdy flavor that makes the story stand out can also bite it in the ass if you're not into the lore tangents it's pursuing. And while I think LLENN's role as protagonist makes the story compelling where a standard game-breaking Kirito-type would have ruined it, SAOA: GGO still definitely indulges in some cringe-worthy "WHO IS SHE...?" histrionics.
Like, I was definitely reminded of this terrible old ShitThatDidntHappen.txt
nugget at her enemy's corny retort in episode 1:
Yeah, it's a bit uh....dumb, to be polite. Like dude, you've presumably played this game before. You know there's enhanced skills for speed and agility and stuff. LLENN's not a mutant, she's a MinMaxer.
But on the other hand, it's SAO. We knew going in that "dumb" was gonna be part of the appeal.
Ultimately I'm happy with the balance this take on the material strikes, and while I certainly hope it doesn't decide to get Really Serious in the future, the mild drama of LLENN acquiring confidence and self-acceptance by powering her way through a game in a body that fits how small she feels on the inside at first, but eventually makes her feel powerful and capable, well it definitely warmed the cockles of my shriveled black heart.
Overall it's a pretty harmless but charming show, and it certainly looks good when it needs to.
If you're in the mood for some lighthearted, well-animated, video-game-tinted action, you could do a lot worse. Really, I only have one big complaint with GGO.
For all its dedication to accurately depicting MMORPGs, the one glaring error I can't look past is that there's nowhere near enough furries to be believable.
Gun Gale Online: bringing a whole new meaning to the term "gun-bunny."