Moar character development and symbolism.
ALO episodes are beginning to cover much more pages than SAO episodes. A typical SAO episode [with the exclusion of Murder Mystery & Aria] covered roughly 40 pages; this episode borders 70.
«Taming»: In Sword Art Online, taming was an aberration; Silica was one of the few who had the coveted ability. In ALO, taming is the trademark of the Cait Sith race. Once tamed, the animals can be given away. The Cait Siths provide the Sylphs with riding animals as acts of friendships. In doing so, the relationship between the two races has always been “strong”; common rumor dictates an imminent covenant between the two.
Combat Strategy: Combat in SAO is more difficult than it is in ALO. In SAO, you were limited to melee attacks; there was more skill in dodging, blocking, parrying, and predicting your opponent’s moves. More so, when fights occurred in SAO, it wasn’t for the possibility of losing a few items; if you died, you lost your life. Given this, players of Sword Art Online are typically much more “seasoned” in combat than the players of ALO. Suguha’s a rare exception considering her skill with the blade in real life, but an overwhelming majority of the fights in ALO are determined by gear. As we see in this episode[and as noted by Lyfa], the Salamanders are playing strategically and intelligently, but not very “honorably”; given their overwhelming numbers, they can continuous channel fire spells [their race's elemental affinity]. In SAO, large group numbers were thought to typically be a waste; since melee was the only form of combat, too many people on a single target would hinder the sword skills of the other members of the group [Imagine a situation in which five humanoids surround one humanoid; it's difficult for the members of the group of humanoids not to hit one another while focusing their attacks on the single humanoid].
Illusory Magic: As much as I praise SAO for being a show with complex characters; it’s still a “shounen” show in storyline. Although it lacks the use of dei ex machina [which is good], a lot of the developments are extremely “convenient” and exhibit a “holy shit, that was awesome” factor. For instance, take this episode; Kirito used illusory magic to transform into a behemoth — many would view this as extreme, a light novel reader would view this as a reasonable development, given that in the novel, Spriggans were known to be proficient with illusory magic [as Sylphs are with flight and as Cait Siths are with taming]. But there’s the debate of Kirito actually using illusory magic for the first time, and materializing a monolithic beast; even if it is explained [as it is], it seems like a brusque development. Do keep in mind the resemblance of the visage to the Gleameyes, it plays as important symbolism.
AmuSphere: When players are using the AmuSphere, they may be preoccupied with the occurrences in real life; given this, there is an inherent system of the emergency contacts list. In the case of emergency, contacts [selected at the player's discretion] who call will automatically hinder the linkage program of the AmuSphere, and allow the user to quickly pick up the phone. If a family member, the police, or any type of emergency service called, then Suguha would have been alerted immediately, but since Nagata Shinichi is
friendzoned not on the list, it doesn’t immediately show up.
«Hollow Body»: Recon’s niche; like his name indicates, his abilities are less offensive, and more defensive. «Hollow Body» allows him to become transparent, it requires a high hiding magic and covert action mastery.
«Pass Medallion»: Typically allocated to traders, «Pass Medallions» allow players to travel to another territory [outside their native one] without fear of being attacked. The examination to attain one of these is austere [considering its volatile potency], but Sigurd has the authority to issue these at his discretion. These cannot be traded away.
Kirito-Lyfa Interaction: We learned from the last episode that Suguha was Lyfa, but not that Kazuto was Kirito. It may seem a little odd for the sister not to recognize her brother. Let’s keep these facts in mind:
1. Suguha isn’t the type to play video games. She only ever began playing ALO when Kirito was still stuck in SAO to experience his dilemma a little more vicariously. To Kirito, Suguha’s his little sister; the little sister that tries hard at school, the little sister who constantly aspires to best the best at kendo, not the little sister who plays VRMMORPGs.
2. Kirito isn’t the type to resume playing another VRMMORPG. In Suguha’s mind, Kirito’s essentially a trauma victim; the trauma victim seldom returns to the site of trauma. When Kirito found out about Asuna and Sugou’s situation from the hospital, he went home and cried to Suguha; this made her assume that he wouldn’t touch VRMMORPGs again.
We’ll see Suguha slowly realize that Kirito and her brother shares numerous similarities; this distinct similarity attracted her to Kirito from the get-go. She isn’t as oblivious as it may seem; in the light novel, narration insinuates that she questions the resemblance, but she shrugs it off as mere coincidence [look at #2].
Kirito: In Sword Art Online, Kirito transformed from being an independent boy into a person focused more on companionship; although the point is debatable [as I will in a future entry], Asuna was the decisive factor in making him “keep” these notions. ALO is a story of how Kirito acts without the direct influence of Asuna; in this episode, we see just that. In Sword Art Online, he felt incredibly guilty for abandoning Cline; although it was a rational choice of his at the time, there’s the circumstance of what would have occurred if Cline had died. During the previous episode, we saw Kirito angrily lash out against Sigard for treating Lyfa as a tool [much like the ill-fated Army leader in SAO did]; the difference between then and now would be the result; in SAO, he saved the remaining members of the Army, but there was already a sunk cost [the death of numerous Army members at the hand of the Gleameyes]; in ALO, he avoids the fatalities all together [his initial choices tie in very closely with his being "introverted"; in the incident that resulted in the death of his guild members, he knew of the mercurial chest beforehand, but he didn't want to tell them immediately, otherwise it would ruin his facade of being "low-leveled"].