Plenty of you have read of my recent character builds, many inspired in part through two anime programs: Sword Art Online (SAO) and Log Horizon (LH). Both shows are now airing a second season.
These two programs, based on light novels, aren’t quite like the usual fantasy, supernatural, mecha or other anime plot themes. Both are heavily influenced by MMO gaming design and concepts, including monsters, character classes, terminology, strategy and relationships to current technology.
Both second seasons have illustrated gameplay in ways that, I think, would be a great primer to people who are new to the multi-multiplayer online format, and new to Dungeons & Dragons game design in particular.
How these characters play is critical if DDO ever implements the concept of the mythic raid/quest. We can talk about the idea, but these game-inspired anime series already live the idea–and show how desperately they fight despite cohesive teamwork.
What makes both shows interesting is that the players aren’t sitting behind a computer screen while at play. Either they are connected into the game by a special brain wave interface that makes the Oculus Rift seem like a 1970’s Atari console joystick (SAO), or for reasons unknown, the game has turned life inside out, and they live as their avatars (LH) within this alternative reality.
Both series (their 2013 first seasons and their 2014 current second seasons) are available to watch, free, at the Crunchyroll web site, with a slower release on Hulu Plus. Mind you, the LH season 2 English subtitles are atrociously poor on Hulu, wrought with typos and gross mis-translation, so I’d recommend Crunchyroll for your viewing.
Sword Art Online character classes, in the original death game story arc, were generally based on your preferred weapon training. The original game world, Aincrad, was a magic-less world where weapon skills formed your character. There were no archers or mages or magic in general; you could use daggers, spears, axes, and swords of all kinds. Save for the protagonist, Kirito, no one could dual-wield swords (and the protagonist received that ability through no action of his own). Character levels were less D&D based and were more exponential as seen in games such as World of Warcraft.
By the second arc, “Fairy Dance,” a new game world based on the SAO game engine introduced flight as well as magic. Characters could choose a fairy-like elven race, each with specific specialties, such as elemental, healing, shadow arts, summoning, gadgeteering, beast taming and the like. Unlike the first SAO, character levels mattered less; rather, mastery of magic and weapon skills as levels were emphasized.
As the SAO engine became a de facto open-sourced game engine, many games developed, even overlapping and allowing import or transfer of character data with in-common information between games. Imagine being able to move a WoW character to DDO or Lord of the Rings Online and back. Game items would not transfer, but your basic stats and skills would move with your core character.
Log Horizon, in contrast, is much more heavy throughout its program on character classes. In fact, the game that’s become a new reality, the fictitious Elder Tale, is a DnD-like game world, set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, half the size of the actual one.
The players, pulled into this reality as living avatars after a major game update, still interact with the world’s game mechanics (levels, spells, weapons) through a diegetic interface (as do the digital avatars in SAO). The light novel’s author has acknowledged the book’s inspiration from DnD and other games.
LH has four class-type categories with 90 subclasses that can supplement fighting or non-combat or tactical prowess.
- Guardian: A high HP Fighter-style shield-and-sword tank with Intimidate aggro-controlling and damage-mitigation
- Samurai: A high HP shield-less fighter that sacrifices some defenses for greater attack combinations.
- Monk: A high HP unarmed fighter that works remarkably similar to the DDO version, with many attacks with very short cooldowns.
- Assassin: Abilities very similar to the Rogue Assassin with high sneak-attack and very high weapon damage at the expense of defense and a required element of surprise. Depending on the subclass training, can use stealth tactics to move and travel and teleport short distances soundlessly.
- Swashbuckler: A dual-wielding fighter, with average defenses. Their swift attacks can damage enemy stats and saves to weaken them. Can use light weapons or swords with many variations.
- Bard: Very comparable to the DDO Bard. Uses song magic to buff and augment allies and weaken and charm enemies. Can use a limited weapon set or no weapons at all. Types almost match the pre-Update 19 prestige enhancements.
- Cleric: Very similar to the current DDO implementations. Highly regarded in the LH world as healing options appear strictly limited to this and other healing classes. All other classes have to focus on evading or mitigating damage and cannot battle-heal.
- Druid: Very similar to DDO versions. Has (destructive) animal companions, rooting and dismissal spells and is a strong healing class.
- Kannagi/Shrine Priest: Less comparable to the Favored Soul, this class is designed to block damage to allies before it happens, including buffs, with some weak attack spells and some healing options.
- Enchanter: A wizard-type class that specializes in magic to greatly augment allied attacks, root or bind enemies and debuff them, with a few weak direct attacks. The central protagonist, Shiroe, is this class. Combined with his knowledge of the game and mastery of calculating enemy and allied combat data ahead of time, he is highly-regarded by his friends as a master strategist that can take a small force and wield it as if it were a raiding party against a superior force.
- Summoner: Creates summoned beasts or spirits creatures to battle for them.
- Sorcerer: Highest offensive magic user, at the natural sacrifice to HP and defense. Combined with a Bard, a Sorcerer’s attacks can be augmented substantially.
Both programs show elements found in many MMOs.
In both universes, player-versus-player combat has restrictions. In the original SAO, you can’t be killed in towns but combat creates a terrifying knockdown and fatigue effect. SAO variations with territorial/racial boundaries would allow races of a territory to kill those of other races who are present in their towns, with the foreign race unable to defend or fight.
In LH, player combat is expressly prohibited, where NPC town guardians will appear and kill even the strongest adventurers for infractions. LH players exploit this in many ways without violating the combat rule, including handholds, kidnapping and limb locks, as well as even sexual assault (in the light novels anyway; the anime tones this element down for broadcast concerns).
Respawns occurred slowly in the SAO worlds. A single boss commanded access to the next floor of the castle-like world, each with unique environments and skies. In the original arc, the game’s creator trapped nearly 10,000 players in the game, unable to log out or be removed from the game from the outside. You had one life, and if you died in the game, you died in the real world. Save the towns, death was possible anywhere.
Later story arcs in the SAO series removed the death-game premise but cleverly adds a real-world consequence of some sort from game objectives that promotes a compelling story line in each arc.
In LH, respawns are part of the natural game mechanic and explained as a magical and natural function that makes enemies essentially immortal. That’s counterbalanced by the player as the Adventurer, who also are immortal and resurrect on death (though not without a price).
SAO sword attacks had cooldowns where players had to defend or escape before attacking again. LH attacks, spells or weapons, also had cooldowns that varied based on class. As you might expect, the more powerful or useful the attack or defensive action, the slower the cooldown.
The original SAO story arc had less emphasis on tanks, with no healers available. As the story arcs and new worlds evolved, the general tanker/damage/healer teams became more prevalent and helpful.
LH has always stuck to roles in combat. Teamwork is critical, no matter how small. Episode 2 of season 1 illustrates how good teamwork needn’t have a full party–just a smart one.
Here is where both shows could really teach a few DDO players on how things are done.
In the original SAO, a raiding party consisted of 49 people, seven groups into seven teams. LH raiding parties were four teams of 6 people for 24 players–twice that in a DDO raid.
While SAO episodes would only generalize the raid functions as front-line fighter and healer/mage support (if any existed), LH made exacting differentiated group roles: tanks, DPS, healers and support.
Where Sword Art Online’s writing emphasizes the character story at the expense of explaining game mechanics except for critical plot points, Log Horizon is superior at turning game mechanics into high drama. The show illustrates specific actions, such as attacks by name, cooldown limits, common MMO issues such as limited ammo, magic points, or weapon wear-and-tear, combined with enemy and boss attacks, their patterns, timing and ramifications for the Adventurers fighting them. Never has a party wipe seemed so realistically portrayed on-screen than in Log Horizon 2.
The episodes say and show what characters know and act, reach their highs and limits, with their communication to others virtually identical to what we’d see in party chat.
It’s the scope of organization that’s interesting to watch in LH season 2. The protagonist, Shiroe, is well-known for his strategist planning for battles large and small.
But even he finds a dreadful surprise when something very unexpected occurs in one raid battle that, in DDO, could only be classified as a game admin taking over a boss NPC and wielding it’s powers manually. In short, the boss goes off-script and adapts to the party attack. He calls in fellow raid bosses from other locations to kill the party. Imagine Aaretreikos from “The Shroud” calling in the Truthful One and the Stormreaver during part 5 of that raid, without notice.
The closest actual problem like this in DDO would be if a GM began to control the boss manually.
Both shows would be boring as hell if they portrayed their gaming as DDO does. We shouldn’t expect our raid bosses to throw something totally new at us each time we entered. But good drama allows these shows to work that premise into story with more than thrilling results.
Teamwork is the Key
Both game-based anime shows do a fine job of bringing a game world to life and keeping true to the MMO vocabularies and monsters such as kobolds or demons.
While SAO is ultimately a story about a male protagonist and a growing base of female players he has helped and who adore him, LH is a story about gaming, since the Adventurer’s lives are literally and fully immersed in the new game reality.
As one might expect, some LH and original SAO players decide never to fight, since it’s still a very scary experience to battle in first-person. In SAO story arc 1, the death-game, some opt never to play, and others go literally insane, forming a murder guild, one that player-kills for sport in a game where death is real.
But both shows emphasize teamwork and communication. Unlike DDO, tackling a raid boss alone is completely impossible (although SAO’s Kirito managed it a couple of times , once by overleveling and once with a special skill and sheer luck).
There are plenty of threads on the DDO forums where players complain that the game is “too easy.” To resolve that, I’d propose that the game difficulty be able as a “impossible” setting. No matter what the enemy is, they will be 5 times the level of the party’s strongest character. They’d have weapons that could slay you in a handful of hits, or even a single hit if you are not wary. No matter what weapons and gear you have, no matter your level, no matter your magic, only strategy and a full party give you a chance, period.
Your party can’t simply hack and slash at it. It might have a series of party-deadly attacks, even one-hit kills. Your team will have to watch the boss and his minions very carefully.
And, to make things interesting, the quests would have randomized weapon powers, effects, immunities and number of bosses. Some may intentionally target and prioritize killing your healers or tanks. Your team can’t simply stand out in the open.
And raid parties become much larger, say 24. And some might say that’s not enough.
Zergs would be impossible. Soloing would be impossible. Winning would be improbable.
The players would be forced to see why Dungeons & Dragons is the most popular game design. It’s not the gear, or the class, or the levels or the versatility. It’s teamwork. It’s always been about teamwork.
As the anime shows illustrate well, solid MMO play is ultimately in perfecting a team. Not everyone can or should be the “ultimate fighter.”
Want an illustrated example? Go to Crunchyroll and see LH season 2, episode 3, “The Abysmal Shaft,” to see how a raid party has to deal with a very, very complex raid boss–the first of many for them.