Asuna and Kirito’s journey through Aincrad continues on the waterways of Aincrad’s fourth floor in the hit retelling of original Sword Art Online story.
After leaving the dark-elf Kizmel behind on the third floor, Asuna and Kirito arrive on the fourth floor, discovering a lush forest filled with rivers and waterways. In order to navigate the floor they quickly begin a quest to gather the necessary materials for a gondola but find that getting one means they’ll have to confront a massive flame-throwing beast. Meanwhile, they stumble across a plot by the forest elves to attack the dark elves in the continuation of their ongoing campaign quest and have to decide what should be prioritized - clearing the game or helping their dark-elf allies.
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Kirito and Asuna’s journey up the floors of Aincrad continues in a well-paced and extremely enjoyable fashion, with this volume continuing the more robust quest-based story in a big way. The struggle to navigate the floor’s waterways drives the main plotline as our dynamic duo undertake a number of quests, and it was neat to continue to see a focus on the world of the game separate from their struggle to climb to floors. In my review of the previous volume, I noted that one of the best parts of the Progressive series is how well it conveys the sense of adventure of exploring an MMO, and this continues to be the case in this volume.
Kawahara does a fantastic job describing the scenery of this floor, conveying a sense of wonder and beauty which added a lot of depth to this volume. It was enjoyable to watch the players attempt to navigate and explore their way through this floor’s rivers and forests, really selling the idea of Aincrad as a completely immersive world composed of more than just a pathway to the next boss battle. Progressive continues to be more about the journey rather than the overall destination, and it was really nice to see this reflected in the setting.
Kirito and Asuna’s character development continues to be portrayed effectively in this volume as we get some additional insight into their growing relationship. This complements the main story effectively by showing these two lonely teenagers slowly finding that they can rely on each other as a source of strength in the face of Aincrad’s dangers. For example, Kirito goes out of his way to try to cheer Asuna up at Christmas in a sweet segment which is integrated into the campaign quest nicely. The of the major development is all done subtly and time spent building their relationship never feels overdone, building on the foundation set in the previous volumes to create a believable growth between the two. While there is a little bit of the “oops, totally didn’t mean to trip and have my hand fall on your boob!” that seems to be an unavoidable part of every light novel, Kirito and Asuna’s slowly growing relationship continues to be an engaging underlying thread of this series.
The forest-elf/dark-elf war campaign quest from the second volume makes an enjoyable return here, tying in well with Kirito and Asuna’s exploration of the floor. It was nice to see that all the focus on campaign quest in the previous volume continue into this volume as Kawahara has created an interesting internal mythology to the quest that makes the story entertaining to follow as our pair navigates this very different world. I’m still surprised at how engaged I was with a plotline that is at best tangental to the players’ quest to actually clear the game, and Kawahara deserves credit for creating an interesting mythos that never feels forced but complements the main story nicely.
The absolute highlight of this volume was how great the action sequences were, going beyond what I usually expect from the series to deliver a truly thrilling mix of action set-pieces. While the volume had your usual “group of players taking on a boss” type battles, I loved how well Kawahara took advantage of the water-based setting to deliver battles which were completely different compared to anything we’ve seen before in this series. Additionally, the characters never reach the point of feeling overpowered as Kawahara takes care to ensure that each battle feels dangerous and is resolved in an interesting and entertaining way.
Unique to this volume were two fantastic naval battles, the first pitting the frontline players in their boats against an aquatic field-boss. However, the second battle taking place during the climax of the book delivered wonderfully, as Kirito, Asuna and the Dark-elves defended a Dark-elf castle against a fleet of invading Forest-elves in a battle reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. Not only was it thrilling to see a full-out battle between armies in this world, but it was an excellent culmination of the continuing campaign quest on this floor. I hope that Kawahara continues to show this level of creativity in mixing up the action scenes as this volume really benefited from his willingness to incorporate different ideas into it rather than playing it safe.
Sword Art Online Progressive continues to be one of the best light novel series currently being published, combining an entertaining story with a wonderfully fleshed out world that impresses with its interesting underlying mythos and dazzling scenery. Kawahara’s willingness to mix things up really shone through with his inclusion of naval battles, culminating in one of the best battles I’ve seen in a light novel. Kawahara has really done something special with Progressive, and fans of light novels in general should be paying close attention this series.
Sword Art Online Progressive Vol. 3 was published by Yen Press on October 27th, 2015. Authored by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by ABEC, the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. First published in Japan on December 10th, 2014, four volumes have currently been released.
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Main Sword Art Online Series Light Novels:
Vol. 1, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5, Vol. 6
Sword Art Online Progressive Manga: Vol. 1, Vol.2, Vol. 3
Sword Art Online Progressive Light Novel: Vol. 1 , Vol. 2, Vol. 3
Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet (Manga): Vol. 1
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