Sword Art Online: How One Character Quietly Changed the Entire Series

In video games, it’s usually not hard to determine who the enemy is. In Sword Art Online: War of Underworld, however, the plane of virtual reality is more difficult to parse. The inhabitants of Underworld, the virtual world created by Rath, largely have their own will, meaning a designated “antagonist” isn’t as clear cut. One character triumphantly breaks free of his pre-written enemy role, proving the lines between good and evil in SAO can be successfully crossed.

Underworld was created in order to enact Project Alicization, which sought to foster AI soldiers to use as weapons of war. Thus, Rath added these overarching forces of “evil” by way of the Dark Territory, filling it with characters collectively seeking to invade the Human Empire. One faction of the Dark Territory holds the Pugilists' Guild, led by Iskahn. When the guild was called to fight in a battle with doomed odds of survival, Iskahn’s perspective on his life's purpose shifted, instead desiring peace and love.

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As a talented warrior and the Tenth Champion, Iskahn became the Pugilists' leader as well as a member of the Ten Lords Assembly. With such power, he had much control over the Dark Territory and commanded an army of his people in the battle at the Great Eastern Gate. Though Iskahn took orders from Emperor Vecta, he disobeyed his superior's commands when he realized the Pugilists had been sent on a suicide mission.

Enraged by the disregard for his peoples’ lives, Iskahn destroyed his right eye, which had used code to control his thoughts and actions to heed the human creators' intentions. Rid of such an imposing force tampering with his free will, Iskahn started to rewrite the Pugilists' role in the Underworld. Following his lead, other factions likewise broke away from Emperor Vecta’s command to join Asuna and the Integrity Knights as allies. This groundbreaking change later applied to the entire Dark Territory Army, as he became the supreme commander in the war's aftermath.

Iskahn’s redemptive actions stand as more proof that when AIs are given their own free will, they have just as much depth as those outside their virtual reality. The whole arc of Sword Art Online: War of Underworld bolstered this foundational theme, but the fact that humanity and friendship is so strongly extended to those once deemed enemies in the Dark Territory speaks volumes.

Iskahn’s uplifting influence on Sword Art Online’s story wasn't just his remarkable leadership instincts either -- his rapid character development and change of heart also left a lasting imprint on the series.

During his fight with Integrity Knight Scheta Synthesis Twelve, Iskahn showed off his impressive powers as a highly-trained Pugilist fighter with impenetrable skin and fiery fists. The muscular, bare-chested warrior initially looked down on those who wore armor in battle, but soon recognized Scheta’s remarkable skills in an ultimate clash against fist and sword. After the epic one-on-one fight, the two developed feelings for one another and became joined by the hip as the war progressed.

The spark of romance between Iskahn and Scheta may have been a bit sudden and unforeseen, but their union served to strengthen the alliance between his and Asuna’s armies. Moreover, the blossoming feelings revealed his character depth and reinstated his goals to live a peaceful life with someone he loves.

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