Since its inception in 2013, Sword Art Online has risen to become one of the most popular anime of the last decade; with its compelling glimpse into the world of virtual gaming. In each instalment, players use the advanced headpiece, Nervgear, to enter vast virtual reality worlds where they could not only live and compete but also hone their avatar’s abilities as well.
However, it’s usually never fun and games, as the technology itself has more than a few real-life applications that change the way humans view technology. From AIs to digitally sentient NPCs, Sword Art Online has introduced several technological concepts from the future that usually draw out antagonists looking to gain control, wreak havoc, or just earn a quick buck.
Based on Reki Kawahara’s gaming concept from the light novel series, Sword Art Online revolves around the epic online adventures of beta tester Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya and gamer Asuna Yuuki as they deal with various technological scenarios involving the virtual world. In the original story of Kirito and Asuna, players were trapped in a video game called Sword Art Online where players could actually die.
Since then, the anime has introduced us to several virtual worlds that are always full of online players who have proven themselves to be strong swordsmen and fighters.
Over the course of the anime, there have also been several NPCs that have exhibited their strength and intelligence in terms of the digital world as conflicts have forced them to go all out in accordance with their programming. Together with their human counterparts, these fighters are seen as some of the most powerful in the series. Let’s take a look at some of them…
The main antagonist in the first half of Sword Art Online‘s latest instalment (The Alicization Arc) Quinella, who referred to herself as Administrator, was the program responsible for overseeing the world of Project Alicization experiment. An all-powerful being capable of ruling the virtual world with an iron fist so effectively that she is actually able to sleep most of the time, Quinella’s perfect understanding of the world’s code made her functionally immortal, allowing her to exist for 350 years in the digital plane (which isn’t really that long in real-time).
As the main antagonist of Sword Art Online‘s Gun Gale Arc, Death Gun was one of the first villains to find a way to actually kill players in the virtual world. At first, thought to be an incredibly powerful player and accomplished killer, Death Gun was actually later revealed to be a group of killers operating under a single name.
Although this technically excludes “them” from the individual list of strongest characters, there’s no disputing that their well-planned strategy to combine their efforts into the form of an almost invincible killer made the name “Death Gun” a feared one in the series.
In Sword Art Online‘s ALFheim Arc, Kirigaya Suguha is the adoptive sister and cousin of Kirito and one of the most accomplished fighters in the virtual game, ALfheim Online. As a Sylph, Leafa specializes in wind and stealth magic; she can also fly and perform medical healing. She is also one of the five fastest Sylphs in the game, as well as one of their best fighters – thanks to her real-life Kendo training. Leafa has won several fighting tournaments in the virtual world and is seen as one of its greatest champions.
Another mentor of Kirito’s, Sinon was first introduced in the Gun Gale Online arc, and is shown to be an extremely capable player when it comes to projectile weapons. Her determination to rank up in Gun Gale prompted her to push her skills to the limit, which later helped her snag the rare sniper rifle, the PGM Ultima Ratio Hecate II. With it, she becomes an incredibly accurate sniper, and those skills carry over to ALfheim Online, where she is an archer who is able to shoot arrows further than should be possible.
Her visual acuity is stated to be twice as good as an average person’s; which makes her a strong long-range player.
In Alicization, she acquires a goddess form called the Piercing Sun Goddess Sinon which has increased the capacity of her powers.
But her true strength lies in her determination to overcome adversity, which is even exhibited in the real world as she started to play GGO to deal with her trauma around guns. Despite still having slight anxiety around real guns, Sinon has not only mastered her fear, but has proven on several occasions that she’s one of the best shooters when it comes to online gaming.
Another character introduced in the series’ Alicization Arc, Bercouli–also known as Bercouli Synthesis One–was one of the oldest Integrity Knights that ever existed.
As leader of the Integrity Knights, Bercouli was usually seen as one of the strongest fighters in the series and was said to be more powerful than Alice. Outside of his skills as a swordsman, his Time Piercing Sword, a Divine-Class object that allows interference with the perception of time in the Underworld – made him one of the most dangerous fighters in the arc.
Using the sword, Bercouli was able to calculate the time and his opponent’s movements and was able to slash them in the future accordingly. In addition, Bercouli was an excellent and composed fighter who maintained his cool during tense situations; even when he was on the verge of death. Though he no longer exists, the brief period of time fans got to see his skills were more than enough to earn him credit as one of Sword Art Online’s more powerful characters.
One of the newest characters introduced in the Alicization Arc, Alice was once a young girl with a talent for the sacred arts before she was raised to be one of the most powerful Integrity Knights in the season. She can take out entire platoons with her swordsmanship and powers; she’s even been shown to take on Kirito and Eugeo at the same time after the two had already defeated every other Integrity Knight in their path.
Alice is also shown to have a strong spirit, which is seen when she fights against the Administrator’s control and blows out her own eye to take Quinella head-on before preparing herself to make a final sacrifice to save Kirito.
Known as the King of the Fairies in the ALfheim Online Arc, Sugou Nobuyuki is an incredibly powerful virtual fighter who is considered one of the strongest players in the ALfheim Online game. He’s also one of the most influential characters outside of the virtual world. A rich, greedy, and extremely smart businessman, Nobuyuki was once able to capture the minds of three hundred people to use for his own experimentation.
During Sword Art Online’s first season, Asuna rose through the ranks to become one of the highest-ranking members of the Knights of the Blood Oath. Her swordsmanship skills put her on par with Kirito and serve as a great offensive strategy for her. One of the fastest fighters thanks to her incredible speed, Asuna’s nickname, “The Flash” is well known in several circles of the virtual gaming world as one of the best fighters ever to use a Nervgear.
Ah, the man who started it all. The main antagonist of Sword Art Online‘s first season, Heathcliff is seen as one of the strongest characters of the franchise for several reasons. As the real-life creator of the first Sword Art Online virtual game, Aincrad. Kayaba Akihiko inserted himself into his own project using the avatar Heathcliff to lead the Knights of the Blood Oath and became one of the game’s unbeatable players.
However, though Akihiko was also a skilled player, the majority of his advantage over other players came from his position as the game’s creator. He designed NerveGear, the Cardinal System, and the Seed, and was the orchestrator of the entire death-game that was Aincrad.
Extremely intelligent, Akihiko was a ruthless player that made sure that his presence was felt in the game; despite the fact that many of the players didn’t even know who he was in real life.
When it comes to the virtual world, there is no player that has more experience than Kirito. Originally one of the beta testers for Sword Art Online, he has moved through the virtual universe gaining almost unlimited power, and the kind of weaponry that most players could only dream of attaining.
You know that friend that is just naturally capable of mastering any game that you throw in front of them? Well, that’s Kirito. No matter what game he plays, he becomes ridiculously capable almost immediately; surprising many of his mentors, including Leafa and Sinon, when they first begin guiding him through a virtual world’s gameplay mechanics.
There isn’t a game or a virtual player that has ever proven to truly overpower Kirito. And as his experience continues to grow from game to game, Kirito only gets stronger and more proficient with his skills. Simply put, the odds of defeating Kirito in a fair one on one is…slim to none.