Things have definitely changed from the beta edition of the game, and Kirito knows that very well. However, he certainly did not expect the fourth floor to be a completely redesigned level, entirely filled with water. Having arrived at the floor’s town, Kirito and Asuna soon realize that they will need their own vehicle to traverse the rivers. The two set out to gather materials for their own boat, but the simple task might be more challenging than they expected…
This time in Progressive Volume 3, the story decides to take a more lighter tone than before, expanding on the scenery of Aincrad. The waterways is another RPG element that gets its own interpretation in Sword Art Online, introducing swimming and vehicles. However, the canals aren’t just used to explain game elements. Reki Kawahara uses this opportunity to expand on various physical characteristics of the level design; carved landscape, river currents, lake views, and castle interiors. The whole floor layout makes this a very natural process, as Kirito and Asuna travel down the river to the labyrinth.
While it may seem as if the setting of this floor is the main focal point of this volume, the budding relationship between Kirito and Asuna takes up a majority of events in the story. Ever since the first volume, there have been scenes where it purely talks about the food Kirito and Asuna has had or the inns where they stayed. While nothing deep in content happens during these parts, the affinity between the two slowly increases. The growing relationship is expressed in two ways; how they cooperate together as a battle duo, and how they act as young teenagers. This content in this volume is more of the latter in terms of how meaningful it is to the plot. For example, when the two arrive in town, Asuna expresses her interest in the gondolas and it turns into a very light-hearted conversation about the city of Rovia.
Speaking of Asuna, this volume highlights how much her character has changed from the first floor. She goes from a solitude ice queen in the first volume to a more friendly and relaxed person. There’s tons of moments where Asuna comments her enjoyment of baths or food on a normal basis, but this volume shows off more of that cheerful personality showcasing her interest. In fact, there’s a scene where Asuna points out the player houses on sale and she expresses her desire to get a house with a view of a lake. (cough cough)
The character designs for Kirito and Asuna in this volume are slowly start to change from the first one. They appear younger and more child-like, fitting both the age of the characters and the tone of the volume. There still are illustrations for the more serious scenes, but the happier drawings stick out much more. In my opinion, the color illustrations are the best ones in the series so far , having more lighter and colorful environments. Something noteworthy to mention is the cover artwork. the picture displays Kirito and Asuna on a boat from a top down perspective and it’s a nice aesthetic compared to the plainer backgrounds in other covers.
If you were looking for something like the last volume, something a bit darker in tone and featuring action scenes. you’ll be a bit disappointed in this installment of Progressive. However if you’re a fan of the relationship between Kirito and Asuna, you’ll really like this volume and what it has to offer. This still is a pretty good and enjoyable addition to the series, taking the more happier route when focusing on our two main characters in the Sword Art Online Progress series.
Author: Reki Kawahara
English Publisher: Yen Press