It’s hard to believe just how far the Sword Art Online craze has come in just six year. So far the franchise has encapsulated 16 light novel (plus spinoffs), several different mangas, 2 anime series, a film and 2 games which has now become 3. Sword Art Online: Lost Song breaks off from the main story arc and instead follows on from the previous game Hollow Fragment.
After surviving their traumatic experience within the virtual reality MMO of Sword Art Online, Kirito and his friends decide to dive straight back into the VRMMO scene. This time though they’re going for one that won’t put their lives in peril. The new game in question is the fairy focused Alfheim Online, a popular MMO with links to SAO and it just so happens to have received a rather hefty update. The plot is nothing fantastic as you just progress from island to island contained within the latest update, plus with the death in game equals death in real-life rule taken out of effect it means the plot doesn’t quite have the same impact as it once did. Regulars of SAO will instantly get a kick out of this new outing, as all of the cast from the series make a reappearance and they’re as enjoyable as always. For newcomers flash backs and details are given about the previous title and SAO in general but like the title they’re still likely to get lost under the lore of the franchise.
Unlike the last game which had a much more linear approach to exploration as you traversed Aincrad one floor at a time, Lost Song switches to open world as you have huge islands to explore complete with a number of dungeons. Due to the more relaxed narrative you’re free to traverse maps at your own pace and there’s plenty to be on the lookout for such as chests and points of interest (materials and money). To help in your exploration of these enormous maps there’s the game’s most interesting gimmick; flight. Pressing left or right on the d-pad sprouts wings on your character and lets you float around while pressing up switches them to full flight mode where you can move at much greater speeds. It’s one of the games best features as it helps create a good sense of adventure and it’s just fun to play with. That said the mechanic does take some time to get used to switching between flight, hover and walk.
The combat takes the form of a very enjoyable hack-n’-slasher where you mash the square and triangle buttons to pull off a couple of combos. To add a bit more interest you can also utilise magic and abilities by holding down the R1 button and combining it with the assigned button the skills attached to. Beyond that, a tactical dodge and guard though there really isn’t that much depth to overall combat it’s just a case of keep wailing on enemies till they disintegrate. One rather major issue that can take a lot of time to get used to is the aerial encounters. Take a heavy hit and you plummet to the ground, after a while it can become rather tedious having to recover and float back up to the action. Then there’s the camera which can be a little disorientating as enemies randomly whiz around you.
Like the last game new players may find themselves wondering why they have started on level 100. That’s all to do with the story of SAO and how the characters are transferred from the one game to this one. In fact here you can actually reach level 1000 and in the early stages you gain levels at a rather rapid pace. At times I’d enter the characters stats page and find them 10 levels higher than I thought they were at. It’s also not just your characters overall level that increases, it’s also your proficiency with a certain weapon which can unlock you new abilities and even the skills themselves which can get you higher damages or better usage rates. The levelling is all pretty standard stuff and can be a bit of a grind, but it’s pays off with some decent rewards and there’s a nice sense of progression each time you gain a fancy new ability.
Traversing the floating world of Alfheim is something you don’t have to do alone as you can select a couple of the regular cast members to accompany you. Each character fits under one of the games 9 races such as Spriggan (Kirito), Undine (Asuna) and Cait Sith (Sinon), each class then determines what weaponry they can utilise. While each individual character doesn’t have their own unique fighting style the extra movesets do add some much needed variety. The best thing is that you’re not forced to play as just the Black Swordsman and can experience each race’s fighting prowess first hand. The AI for the most part performs rather well, besides when fleeing battles when they want to continue fighting. Mix and matching your team setup is also fun as it can bring in some comical and interesting dialogues when out in the field which helps to hold interest and break up the otherwise repetitive side-quest exploration sequences.
Like all good RPG’s side-quests, are in abundance and are situated in the local pub the Tavern of Heroes. Missions fit into one of the two typical categories of kill and fetch, the first being kill a set number of enemies and the latter being material collection. They’re nothing special but they do offer up some good rewards such as new pieces of gear, weaponry or rare consumables. It’s later when the extra quests option opens up that brings the more challenging missions as you’re asked to take on previous bosses again. Outside of the quest counter there are also some more interesting quests such as finding the perfect family photo location which involves tackling a large quantity of blob monsters.
Lost Song also has multiplayer capabilities where you can create your own character and navigate Alfheims floating world with friends or the rest of the world. Unfortunately the whole process is a bit hit and miss. The character creator lets you select one of the nine races and very little else, just take the hair for example which only has two choices. The missions you can take on are boss fight encounters and like the main game they’re actually very enjoyable however that’s only if you manage to find a good group of partners who actually know what they’re doing.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song of course won’t appeal to everyone, fans on the other hand are sure to enjoy another outing with the likable SAO cast although they may be left a little disappointed with the weak story this game offers. The side-quests lack quite a bit of depth becoming a little repetitive over time and the unique flight mechanic makes for an enjoyable way to explore the vast floating islands but takes a lot of time to get used particularly when combat is involved. Given enough time though and you’ll find a fun and addictive RPG.
This review is based off a review code of Sword Art Online: Lost Song provided by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.