Game Review: Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4)
30/12/2015 Leave a comment
Japanese Role-Playing-Games come in all shapes and sizes and while some will explore vast civilisations in need of help the world created within Sword Art Online: Lost Song tends to focus on a different linear path that actually feels like it doesn’t offer a story at all.
What we have here is a sequel to a videogame that did not need one; and yet here we are exploring the caves, dungeons and open-world locations within Alfheim Online. This is Sword Art Online: Lost Song and its different to what you may have been expecting.
The pretence here is that following the events of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, or if you’ve played the PS4 variation Sword Art Online: Re-Hollow Fragment, Kazuto (Kirito), Asuna and Kazuto’s younger sister Suguha, known in the game as Leafa, decide to try out the new Virtual MMORPG experience known as ALfheim Online; a virtual world that was created on the foundations of Sword Art Online that they previously escaped from. Unlike the events that transpired in the source material Kazuto and Suguha are not entering ALfheim Online in order to rescue Asuna; instead they are just entering the world in order to enjoy what it has to offer – a brand new expansion pack known as Svart ALfheim which sees new islands in the sky to explore, new monsters to defeat and new friends to be made.
To an extent the story is a bit vague; as immediately upon starting there is no clear goal in sight other than to explore what the world has to offer and conqueror dungeons; however within a few hours of exploring the game you will soon find that a story is on offer and it involves a relatively famous idol-come-scientist known as Seven. I won’t explain the specific details, mainly because that will spoil the fun of finding it out for yourself, but it is one that provides purpose to the game – as you will continuously drive yourself forward in order to see more of what this story has to offer.
Story concepts aside Sword Art Online: Lost Song, much like its previous instalment Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, is designed as a virtual-massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game but plays more like a combination of action and adventure with RPG and visual novel elements. For starters the story is progressed through visual novel dialogue sequences and playing the game itself is done through hack-and-slash styled sequences whereby button presses can be mashed together for a more ultimate attack while stronger attacks (as well as magic abilities) can be used when pressing multiple buttons together. The RPG element comes in the form of being able to purchase and upgrade weapons, change outfits and levelling up your character – all of which are traditional elements from an MMORPG let alone an RPG. New introductions, such as the ability to fly in open-areas, add a whole new element to combat and further redefine the Sword Art Online experience; but while this new mechanic opens up new areas to explore, such as flying high in the sky, it cannot be used in a dungeon which is where you will spend majority of your time.
In order to actually progress through the story then players visit designated areas allocated on the map; to which the story will progress and unravel more of what the game has to offer. Of course this being a VMMORPG players can choose to ignore the ‘main story’ and opt to take part in side-quests and missions; majority of which will see players defeating a number of enemies or finding a selective item. It’s pretty much how you would expect an MMORPG to play; a safe zone filled with shops and characters to interact with as well as a teleport device to transfer the player to the nearest enemy zone, or field, if you prefer.
These fields are quite expansive and welcome the player to explore what they have to offer. What they have to offer however is not only a large (but limited) open area to explore but hundreds of monsters waiting to be defeated and numerous dungeons just left wide-open to explore. The combination of numerous ‘on-screen’ enemies and dungeons being left to explore further creates the illusion that you are in a massive MMORPG world rather than a standard offline game; this illusion is further locked into your brain when you not only receive messages from other characters of the game (such as Silica, Phillia and Klein) but you can also see other ‘general characters’ fighting monsters out in the field; it’s uncanny but realistically life-like in a virtual videogame kind of way.
Interestingly enough however Sword Art Online: Lost Song can be played online with other players; and as such by going online you can create a party of four players and explore the world in an attempt to defeat more missions and quests; just like you would in a traditional MMORPG. The illusion of a MMORPG, as well as online integration for selective number of users, makes Sword Art Online: Lost Song a great experience whether you just to play alone or with others online.
As previously mentioned Sword Art Online: Lost Song is a game that distinctively follows the events of Kirito and his friends; but amusingly enough you do not have to use Kirito if you do not want to. Every main character from the Sword Art Online franchise, including new ones discovered in this game, can be unlocked and used as a playable character throughout the game – and if that’s not enough after short time you will then be granted the ability to create and customise your own character; just like in Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. Whether you choose to play as Kirito, any of the cast or your own created character is up to; but the story will always progress as if you are controlling Kirito. Furthermore any character you choose to play as can be fully customised with different magical attacks, weapons and abilities – just like any other playable character in the game – all of which will aid in your conquest of the story.
Truth be told i was expecting Sword Art Online: Lost Song to be over-complicated and shrouded in numerous progress able content just like Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment; but in actuality what this game offers is a great introduction to the ways of MMORPG with a compelling story that wants you to keep going; however some limitations can be found. For starters the exploration, as vast as it may seem, is quite limited and while the areas are generously sized they are bland and overflooded with monsters (especially on the PS4 version) which means it is easy to become over-run by respawning enemies. That’s not all; as the amount of loading screens between locations (such as town, fields and dungeons) is borderline frustrating and as such to explore one dungeon will see you welcomed with at least three loading-screens; which isn’t something you would not expect from a PS4 title.
Compromises must be made when playing Sword Art Online: Lost Song and while i thought it was going to be the relationship building, or limited visuals, that i had to overcome it’s actually the amount of loading screens, the bland environments and the long drawn out approach to the story. Put short you are here for the long haul and while this may put some people off Sword Art Online: Lost Song is a great MMORPG experience that isn’t just for the fans; its for everyone that’s looking for a decent RPG experience on their PS4. Sure enough the visuals aren’t “Dark Souls” quality; but it offers an entertaining experience from start to finish thats well worth exploring – especially if you are a fan of the Sword Art Online franchise.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song is now available for the PS4 and PS Vita within the UK and Europe.