Back into the game.
Bandai Namco once again allow players to step into the game within a game setting of Sword Art Online, with this new title that serves as a sequel of sorts to Sword Art Online RE: Hollow Fragment, which only released on PS4 a couple of months ago. Sword Art Online: Lost Song takes place after the events of Hollow Fragment, but outside of the anime story arcs. This gives the newcomers to the series a good chance to step into this action JRPG without any prior knowledge, although a lot of the back story and character interactions will be lost on them. Once again, fans of the existing material will get the most from Lost Song.
The game is once again about Kirito plugging in to play an MMO videogame. Again, this involves actually going into the game and suffering in real life anything that happens within the game. In Hollow Fragment, this concept was incredibly compelling as Kirito was trapped in the game and unable to leave, meaning death in the game would result in death outside. It added depth and a level of peril. However, in Lost Song, it seems that Kirito is not trapped and is playing just for the enjoyment of it. To me, it seems implausible that someone would return to an activity that held so much peril before, but I am not judging the youth of today and their seeming lust for danger. Either way, Kirito and his companions are back in a videogame. This time around though, rather than fighting for their lives, the team are just fighting for the privilege of beating others.
The game that they are playing is Alfheim Online. Kirito and his buddies are racing to complete a new expansion to this MMO before a rival guild, known as the Shamrocks. It is not a difficult story to follow, although again prior knowledge of the subject matter will make it much more enjoyable. This is especially true when it comes to the often humorous interactions between the characters, much of the dialogue will be lost to those who are not already fans. There are flashbacks and the occasional reveal of past events through dialogue, but it is not enough to fully flesh out this world for newcomers.
The Sword Art Online games go to a lot of effort to feel like playing an MMO, and Lost Song really hits the mark. From the set up of the screen and the mobs of enemies, to the comments that appear and the fetch quests that turn up, the developers have once again done a great job of recreating an MMO in an action RPG. These little features may well slide by those who don’t usually play MMOs,but they go a long way to making the game feel as good as it does.
This new land in Alfheim Online is broken up into floating islands. While a freedom to explore is evident, progression from one island to the next works on a more linear basis, allowing the player to focus on moving forward. One of the most impressive changes in Lost Song is that the characters now have wings and can fly, making moving between the islands a piece of cake. Transitioning from being on the ground to flying is a simple press of a button, but the controls do take a little getting used to. The camera does not always work how it should, and it seems that while in the air this is at its worst. The camera is frustrating as times, but it doesn’t spoil the game.
The combat in Lost Song, which is plentiful due to the hordes of enemies that can be found both on the ground and in the sky, has changed slightly from Hollow Fragment. Whereas Hollow Fragment made the effort to emulate MMO combat to some degree, in Lost Song it is pure action. Different simple attacks can be launched from the square and triangle buttons, while blocking, dodging and using magic rounds out the combat experience. It lacks the depth of the previous game, and can come repetitive given the emphasis on grinding, but it is simple enough that anyone can step in and enjoy the action. A certain amount of skill will be needed for the more difficult boss fights, but for the most part button mashers will be able to hold their own.
This time around, players are able to control a variety of the different characters, rather than just Kirito. Three characters make up the party and, with the usual RPG mechanics of leveling up, gaining new abilities and equipping new equipment, players can build a custom team to suit their playstyle, switching between which character they control in any situation.
Aside from the single player action MMO experience offered in Lost Song, there are also a couple of flavours of multiplayer to enjoy. The co-op offering will see the player teaming up with others to take down powerful bosses, which can be enjoyable with a competent group of friends. For the more competitive, teams can face off against each other. Again, an enjoyable mode, but both of these multiplayer modes feel like time waters compared to the main game.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song remains a game that will be appreciated mostly by the fans. That said, the gameplay tweaks, new ideas and new setting do make the game more accessible to the newcomers as long as they don’t want much from the story, which is admittedly lacking anyway. Lost Song is bright and colourful, and quite easy to play. So if you happen to be in the market for an action RPG, Sword Art Online is worth considering.