Sword Art Online is a popular anime series that received modest success with its original game debut, Infinity Moment on the Japanese PSP in 2013. After the series was localized and brought to the West with Hollow Fragment on the PlayStation 4 and Vita, fans have eagerly been awaiting the next instalment in the SAO series. Branded as an action RPG, Bandai Namco has published the latest entry Sword Art Online: Lost Song for the PS4 and Vita.
The events of this game take place directly after the Hollow Fragment but before the Hollow Realization. In the ALFheim Online game, Kirito, Leafa and Asuna are joined by others in a quest to clear the game as a group adventure with everything happening in an alternate timeline in the Sword Art Online universe. ALFheim Online is the most popular game in the world as Kirito and Asuna attempt to to finish the expansion as they are finally free of any life or death stakes in the floating continent of Svart ALFheim. Along the way, they meet interesting characters like Rain, an admirer of Kirito, Seven, an enigmatic scientist and Sumeragi, a bodyguard and member of the Shamrock guild. Those new to the Sword Art Online series may wish to watch, play or read up on the Hollow Fragment instalment to be brought up to speed with the plot as it can be quite confusing at the start with very few hints and details. Series fans are in for a treat as you are free to create your own character or choose from 19 characters equipped with their own unique abilities and strengths.
Combat consists of a three person party with tactics and strategies that can be assigned to the other two team members. You can run or fly to your targeted destination with the option of flying up high in the skies or hovering above the ground to get a glimpse of the natural terrain. Switching between flight and running on the ground is done by a single button press and allows you to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. Special skills can be unleashed by pressing R1 with other attacks and the ability to dodge or guard assigned to the standard square, triangle, circle and cross buttons. Specific weapon skills are limited to the weapon you use in battle that can unleash combos and unlock new abilities as you gain experience. Boss encounters are the highlight of battle that puts your reflexes, combat strategy and endurance to the test as you will likely find yourself in a tough spot where your allies are taken out, leaving you to fight the boss alone to ensure your survival. A Union gauge gradually fills up in battle that allows you to execute a switch attack with another party member to deal increased damage to your foes.
The controls take some time getting used to as its common to press the same button twice or dash if you wanted your character to attack and likewise. As spells and special attacks share some of the same assigned buttons, it can be a difficult situation in battles and especially if you’re in the midst of a tough boss fight. It should be noted that flight is disabled in dungeons and there is a height or altitude ceiling as to how high your characters can fly above ground. One issue the game suffers from is the reused environment assets that give a sense of déjà vu as the world seems to lack visual variety. The absence of voice acting will disappoint series fans who have grown accustomed to the characters voices from the game’s predecessor, Hollow Fragment. Dialogue and character interactions leave something to be desired at times as they happen without all of the characters on screen at once.
Multiplayer online is where the Lost Song shines the most with its four-party coop quests and person vs. person or PvP battles. A lobby of up to 16 characters can be set up with options to create your own party or to join one online to help other players with specific quests or boss fights. Further customization allows you to select not only the difficulty level but also the language of other players. Those who prefer to bypass all these options are free to select any room they wish and dive into an online game or PvP match for the fun of it. Strategic gameplay and quick thinking is paramount to your survival when playing against other live players who are smarter, faster and more deadly than the A.I. in the single player campaign.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song is a game with beautiful art and an engaging battle system that will keep dedicated series fans busy for many hours. Despite the intuitive control scheme and online multiplayer mode, Lost Song is regrettably brought down by the mediocre story, repetitive dungeons and bland world environments. Here’s to hoping that they keep the players’ feedback and constructive criticism in mind for the upcoming Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization.