Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4 review)

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Kirito and friends are back and ready to take another full dive into the new VRMMORPG game known as Alfheim Online or ALO for short. Sword Art Online: Lost Song is a standalone story separate from the anime’s core story and fits in the timeline perfectly and could easily be considered canon. There is a good deal of fan service included, especially for those who have watched every episode so far and have grown attached to specific characters and their chemistry in the show.

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Gameplay

SAO Lost Song’s biggest improvement from its previous entry by far is the combat department. Hollow Fragment focused its combat around mirroring the look and feel of traditional MMO’s battle systems. While they did an admirable job of allowing your own customizing of any of your 50+ skills to face buttons, it wasn’t perfect and came across clunky at times. Lost Song, on the other hand, smoothed out the combat while still utilizing a very similar hotkey system for your spells and skills. Another big addition to Lost Song’s combat is the added magic spells, which is a component of combat that the previous VR game Sword Art Online didn’t have. Lost Song gives you two separate palettes, one for weapon skills and another for magic spells that are easily swapped between the two via a quick tap of the R1 button.

The game also retains its authenticity to the show by forcing the players who focus on doing damage from afar with spells to be creative and strategic. This is imperative, for once you begin chanting and incantation for any spell, you are unable to cancel your characters action unless you complete it or are interrupted by an enemy’s attack. This is authentic to the show and was explained in the anime, but isn’t in the game itself to my recollection from the game’s short tutorial.

Besides ALO adding the element of magic, you also have the power of flight whenever outside a dungeon. This is the preferred method of travel and many boss fights which will require that you have become competent enough to use it effectively when needed. It’s easy to learn and most will master with enough practice. Its difficulty lies in managing the camera controls and learning to use all 3 axis while in combat.

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Story

The story picks up shortly into the second half of season two of the anime. The entire cast is excited because a new expansion for ALO has launched with new areas to explore that focus on Norse mythology. Kirito and crew are solely motivated by the intrigue of clearing new dungeons, leveling up and finding new gear. At least this is how the story begins. Eventually new characters created for the games story are introduced and create new reasons for the players party to clear the game. Unfortunately, the story ends earlier than I would have hoped; however, the side missions that Kirito will undertake with many of the cast members will help captivate fans of the series.

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Criticisms

One of the biggest criticisms comes from the combat which is still one of the best elements of the game. While the combat is fast and fluid and overall successful, the lock-on and targeting system is by far its Achilles heel. The camera controls and which enemy you are currently locked on to are both controlled by the right analog stick, so nearly every time you try to adjust your view, you are almost guaranteed to swap targets and move your camera even more than originally intended. This can be somewhat bypassed by not using the hard lock on and relying on your own aim with the minor assists from the soft lock on when fighting groups of enemies. The lock on does a great job when there is only a single enemy such as the bigger boss fights; however, many of the sub-bosses bring their own friends, so it is often imperative to remove them first.

Another low point is the character creation system. You are severely limited in your options when creating your own character. Each of the 9 races are limited to only 2 options when it comes to hair style, color, skin tone and 3 options for their voice. Their combat styles are also completely predetermined by your choice of race. This often leaves many players stuck with either a character that doesn’t look the way they’d prefer or a play style that doesn’t match their preference. Combine the lack of customization with the ability to use characters from the campaign in multiplayer pretty much makes the create-a-character useless. To put it in perspective, after spending a little over 10 hours online, 90% of the players I played with chose campaign characters over the create a character like I had.

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Highlights

Graphically SAO Lost Song is right up there with the rest of Bandai Namco’s games when it comes to capturing the essence of their anime adaptations. The game is fully voice acted authentically by the original Japanese voice actors; however, this may be a turn off for fans of the American dub version of the show since it’s the only voice over option. The soundtrack is also done well and always keeps up with the current pacing of the story, whether you’re in an intense duel, exploring a new dungeon, or taking on one of the games giant bosses.

A huge bonus to this game is the accuracy to authenticity with its anime source material. While in the previous game, death in game meant death in the real world. Death in the new game, ALO, only sends you back to your last checkpoint instead of save point with minimal losses if your full party is taken down.

Online has also seen major improvements. Lobbies now hold up to 16 players. You can create parties of 4 to take on any extra missions that any of the players have unlocked. (This is done by completing missions in the single player campaign.) This is where you will find all the best gear and materials in the game as well as the greatest challenges to keep you interested after the main campaign. PVP is also available in either 1 v 1 or 4 v 4 formats. These fights are fast and frantic and give you the ability to settle those would win scenarios created by fans.

The A.I. for the game is hit or miss depending on the occasion but operates well more often than not. Allies will do everything you’d expect them to, utilizing the skills you have equipped them, resurrecting allies, and even using items to buff the team. Now while they will do all these things, its a whole different story when it comes to the urgency and efficiency of said A.I.  Often in combat, especially on the hard difficulty setting, you will be the first to fall due to odd mechanics where your allies take less damage to compensate for your lack of control over them.

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Final Reaction

Overall Sword Art Online “Lost Song” is the best entry in the series to date. The enhanced visuals easily evoke the feelings of actually sitting down and watching the anime, with the only difference being that you’re in control of what happens. The gameplay is the smoothest it’s ever been. Every sword strike, slash and thrust is accompanied by the correct momentum and weight that you’d expect when used. The story is a bit on the short side and lacks a bit of substance; however, it introduces some great non-canon characters to tell a story that fits perfectly in the timeline so far and helps get the heroes from point A to point B. The game features moderate replayability with a new game plus option with stronger enemies, so that you have an easier time leveling any of the 15+ playable characters and their skills all the way to the cap of 1000.

Sword Art Online fans should definitely find the time to pick up Lost Song as it is another title worthy of fitting right in with the anime. Lost Song is also great if you’ve been interested in the series but unsure of where to start, it has a great standalone story that benefits with prior knowledge of the series but is definitely not a prerequisite.

Sword Art Online Lost Song is available for purchase on the PS4 and PS Vita.

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Rating: 4.5/5 Atoms

NR 4_5 Atoms - A-

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