The Sword Art Online franchise is joining Ghost in the Shell in the realms of virtual reality, with a new massively multiplayer online game experience sponsored by IBM Japan. An official website for “Sword Art Online: The Beginning Sponsored by IBM” has been opened, and the company has started taking pre-registration for 208 brave selectees to take part in an alpha test in Tokyo from March 18th-20th. Applications for this SAO fan’s dream will be open until March 4th.

The website details that the prototype uses IBM’s cognitive computing system IBM Watson and its high-speed cloud service SoftLayer, allowing participants to be scanned as a 3D avatar, then enter a virtual reality space where they can interact with other players, and even characters from the franchise. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Haruka Tomatsu and Kanae Itō are all returning to their roles as Kirito, Asuna and Yui, so players will truly feel part of the game within the game.

Update 17/03/16: In the hours before those 208 lucky alpha testers, chosen from the 100,000 who registered, set off for their VR Sword Art experience, Inside Games  give the rest of us weebs our first peek with some screenshots. As you would expect, it looks like game will let us get up close and personal with (or beat a hasty retreat from) some rather large beasties.

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