|Sword Art Online: Lost Song
|Bandai Namco Entertainment
|November 17, 2015
|Action RPG, Adventure
|PS4, PS Vita
|ESRB – Teen or PEGI – 12+
Almost 3 years ago I first watched the Sword Art Online anime. After watching the anime I immediately became a fan, drawn to the action, setting and characters of the series. So when Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment was released in North America 2 years after that, I had to buy it to see if the game would live up to the series. I was not disappointed by the game one bit, clocking in 100+ hours of playtime. Now a year later, we have Sword Art Online: Lost Song, the successor to Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. I was chomping at the bit to try out the sequel. But there was one big question as I played the game. Was Lost Song able to improve upon the mistakes of its predecessor?
Unlike Hollow Fragment which takes place in the world of Sword Art Online (SAO), Lost Song takes place in the Norse mythology-inspired world of Alfheim Online (ALO). This means when you die in the game, you don’t die in real life, you just respawn somewhere. While the previous game in the series followed the Aincrad arc relatively closely, Lost Song starts to diverge greatly from the light novel arcs. Due to the events of the previous game, events which would normally lead up to other stories from the light novels, did not occur for the games. For example, the highly criticized Fairy Dance arc never occurs and the Phantom Bullet arc does not occur. The Sword Art Online video game franchise has begun to create a storyline completely separate from the light novels and anime.
The story begins with Kirito and his sister Leafa logging into Alfheim Online. A new area has opened up in ALO due to a new game update. The new area is called Svart Alfheim. So Kirito, the completionist that he is, is chomping at the bit to clear the new area before anyone else. But competing with his party is the number one guild in ALO, Shamrock. Shamrock is led by an extremely popular idol and VRMMO researcher, Seven (aka Dr. Rainbow). Ready to face the challenges ahead, Kirito and his harem (plus Klein and Agil), set forth with the goal of clearing Svart Alfheim before Shamrock and Seven.
I have to say, the story in Lost Song was pretty lackluster. Most of the story revolved around Kirito and his party clearing dungeons. They try to add a sense of urgency, constantly bringing up how Shamrock is on their tail or Shamrock is ahead of them, but so what? Unlike the previous game where the players’ lives were on the line, there really wasn’t anything that important on the line for Kirito and his party. There were many times when I felt the characters took clearing the game way too seriously, especially during those points where Kirito made those epic speeches about what being a true gamer is about. But there were interesting parts in the story, most notably when it involved new characters Seven and Rain. Learning about their backstories and their motivations for playing the game was a refreshing change from the usual “we have to clear this quest before Shamrock”.
Aside from the main story, there are numerous sub events scattered throughout the game involving Kirito’s interactions with his party. These events were far more entertaining than the main story arc and ranged from being dramatic to comedic and sometimes pretty ecchi. These general sub events usually involve all the heroines from the game. Some of your party members have side stories as well, such as Sinon and Asuna. Unlike sub events, these side stories are personal journeys each heroine experiences with Kirito, leading them to develop their relationships even further. These side stories are usually much more serious in nature when compared to the general sub events. These side stories would usually involve helping them complete a tough quest or defeating a boss. Sometimes I would just blaze through a part of the main story just so I could watch more of these sub events. These sub events are very easy to find as well, as there is a glowing dot that appears on your map telling you where it is. By the way, there is no dating aspect in this game, so apologies if this disappoints you.
The graphics in the game are definitely improved when compared to Hollow Fragment. The character models are faithful to the character designs in the anime and light novel. The large open fields in the game are beautiful and having the freedom to fly about these open fields is a joy in itself. Unfortunately, while flying around is great, I wish there were more landmarks to see, like ancient architecture created specifically for that field. Instead, most of the map is filled only with enemies, which is a shame as they could have done much more with these open fields, such as add more scenic locations. The dungeons, on the other hand, I felt were way too repetitive. Almost every dungeon recycled the same design and sometimes I wondered if I was actually in a new dungeon or just replaying an old one. You also can’t fly in dungeons which added to the drawbacks. Seeing the same dungeon design over and over can be pretty tedious, so being able to get back into the open field after completing the dungeon is a reward in of itself.
Now the soundtrack of the game isn’t anything to write home about. The only times special tracks played during fights were during boss battles, and sometimes those tracks were recycled from Hollow Fragment. The best tracks were the ones that played during the story events. These tracks really helped to convey the emotion of each scene, whether the scene is dramatic or comedic; the music was really well done for those events. I also enjoyed how they brought in Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna to create the opening and ending themes for the game. It bothered me in the previous game that the opening was just recycled from the anime. I loved hearing these songs specifically made for the game. These songs were also used as insert songs, most notably Aoi Eir’s song which was used for boss fights as well. Also, while we’re on the topic of sound, the original Japanese voices are included in the game, so if you’re a fan of the original voices, you’re in luck. Unfortunately there is no English dub, for those who are fans of those voices.
Before you set off on a story mission or side quest, you start off your preparations in the only town in Svart Alfheim. Here you can buy new equipment, take new quests at the tavern, upgrade your weapons and see most sub events. This is also where you organize your party for the adventure and where you save the game. Unlike the previous game, which auto-saved whenever you changed areas, you can only save your progress at the inn in town. Later on in the game, you can unlock the option to take multiplayer quests, create your character and battle against your party members in the arena.
The combat system for Lost Song is much different when compared to Hollow Fragment, which had gameplay like an online MMORPG. Lost Song went in a completely different direction, opting for the action RPG approach. You have multiple different actions which your character can perform in the game. In terms of normal attacks, you have a weak attack and a strong attack. The strong attack depletes your stamina bar while the weak attack does not affect it at all. You also have access to different types of special skills. The two types are categorized between Magic and Sword Skills. In order to use these skills, you would hold down the R1 button and press the button you assigned that skill to. In order to use Sword Skills, your weapon must be unsheathed and in order to use Magic, your weapon must be sheathed. You also have the ability to sprint and block, both of which deplete your stamina and block meter respectively. You are also able to lock on to your enemy. And, of course, the biggest additions to the game are the abilities to jump and fly. Flying has two modes, float and flight. When you’re floating you can still do your normal attacks and skills. While you’re in flight mode you move considerably faster but cannot use your normal attacks and skills, but you can however use a special dash attack which can inflict a significant amount of damage on an enemy.
While I found the combat to be more enjoyable than the previous game, there were some problems with it. My biggest peeve is due to the AI in the game. Most of the enemies can be defeated relatively easily, as you can just hack away at them without worrying too much. This makes combat get repetitive very quickly. Even later on in the game as you fight stronger bosses, it still is pretty easy to defeat them as they are just stronger recolored versions of the bosses you’ve previously fought earlier in the game. The lack of variety of enemies in the game makes combat get repetitive fast, which is a shame as I really enjoyed the combat system.