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I was fortunate to go into the Sword Art Online series with a clean slate.

I say that because I learned pretty quickly that the general viewing audience is pretty divided: Some really love it, some really hate it. I tend to enjoy the series.

But there’s a history behind the show’s story since its inception in 2012, and having at least a basic knowledge of the first story arc is almost a necessity for Sword Art: Ordinal Scale.

For a brief rundown of the first arc, Sword Art Online (SAO) is set in the future where everyone is excited to play a brand new virtual reality MMORPG of the same name, set in the fantasy world of Aincrad. Within the first few hours, the game’s true intent in revealed in a Battle Royale fashion, trapping 10,000 players in a game where in-game death translates to the real world, and they can’t escape until they clear the final boss of the 100th floor.

As time goes one, friendships are formed, enemies revealed, and a romance blossoms between to main protagonist players known as Kirito and Asuna.  The story continues over two further arcs set in other virtual reality worlds: ALfheim Online (ALO), and Gun Gale Online (GGO).

If you watch the first main arc, you’ll have the general background of everything, though you could probably wing watching the film off of the above description.

This film takes place in a new, but different type of game: An Augmented Reality game called Ordinal Scale. Think of this new concept as what is going on in the real world with Pokemon Go! – The concept is very similar, but now the real world is the gaming landscape, and experienced through a headphone/eyepiece combo.

The film touches on this new gaming concept, and how it affects the real world: Player events in specific locations, promotional food and drink coupons for achieving in-game goals, people treating reality as the next digital battlefield. People running around catching pocket monsters with their Galaxy or iPhone have already bought into this idea, and the possibility of seeing similar experiences in our own world is not that far removed from possibility.

But there’s a catch.

The game’s events feature a digital pop star known only as “Yuna” that randomly oversees event battles. While not unusual, familiar enemies return, and the original Sword Art Online survivors are suddenly suffering unexplained memory loss, driving Kirito to investigate this new game further.

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale provides a self-contained story, so even if you go into this film without the background story, you’ll be able to follow the main plot.  What will be missed is the number of fan touches and how the previous relationships and games were established. For fans, however, there are a number of nods to previous events, including a final battle that is action-packed for newcomers, and even more satisfying for those that have followed the main story.

The animation is good, staying on par with the quality of the television show, and as someone who has watched the show in Japanese with English subtitles, I prefer the original, non-dubbed voices.  There’s a good amount of humor, character interaction, and of course the romantic subplot remains one of the primary motivations throughout the film. I liked the newly introduced characters to the series, which provided a larger picture of the series world, and how some become forgotten.

I found the film enjoyable as a fan, though I do recognize that newcomers may be somewhat lost in areas. It starts out slow, and feels like a longer version of one of the episodes, but the concept of how Augmented Reality gaming presented in the story was compelling to me.  And the end battle really went all out to reward well-invested fans.

Is it worth seeing?

For fans, yes. I saw it during a special Fathom Events screening, and those are always enjoyable. For newcomers, take a few minutes to soak in the basic synopsis of the series, and your viewing should be fine with minimal “Who’s that”, “What’s that” questions.

All that’s left is waiting for our own Ordinal Scale level game…. Minus the side effects, of course.

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