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Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris

Posted by GG Goblin On July - 22 - 2020

A JRPG based in a VR MMO.

 
Sword Art Online, the anime series, really does come across as the perfect vehicle for video games, largely because the entire series is based around being inside a virtual reality online game. Given the popularity of the anime, it makes sense that there have already been a number of games tied in, and it is not going to stop anytime soon. Bandai Namco and developer Aquria’s latest is Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris and, much like the title, it has a lot going on.

 


 
The biggest Sword Art Online fans will likely already know roughly what to expect in this latest entry in the video game series, but even they may be a bit surprised as Alicization Lycoris makes some changes to the previous formula. What they will recognise though is the story, which follows relatively faithfully a more recent arc from the anime, at least to begin with. Newcomers to the games on the other hand, including those who do not follow the anime, will not find this the easiest JRPG to get to grips with.

 
In Alicization Lycoris, the player will take on the role of Kirito, a young man who wakes up in a forest with no idea of where he is. Obviously, he understands straight away that he is in the virtual world, as is the theme of the Sword Art Online games, but he has no access to the usual menu, and the other characters in the world seem unaware that this is just a game. He also has memories of a past in this world, which are amplified when Kirito comes across Eugeo. Deciding to play the part of a native to this world, Kirito teams up with Eugeo and, after a little bit of story to and fro, head off to find another character that appeared in these memories.

 
So far as stories go, it’s a brilliant set up and one that only gets more interesting as the game develops, especially when the actions start to have an impact on the real world. Through the course of the game, the two friends will meet a large number of other characters, some of which will end up joining the team, and all of them seem well written. The early part of the game, as it runs into double figure hours, follows the anime story arc quite faithfully. However, it is after this early part where a lot of things happen, including the story branching off in different directions, which will keep the fans guessing.

 


 
Problems do arise in that first ten hours or so though, and a large part of this comes down to the pacing of the game. As the player is introduced to the various characters and their predicaments, there are some fairly lengthy conversations. These blocks of text can be hard going to work through, leaving the player desperate to just get out there and play the game, and while it is possible to skip sections all together, the potential of missing out on important information is always there. Add to this that the loading times can be overly long, and players will be just screaming for some action in a very short time.

 
Which does lead to another potential roadblock to enjoying the game. Combat in Alicization Lycoris is a complicated beast. The player is thrown into combat at the very beginning of the game, complete with a large number of pop up windows explaining the various mechanics. These windows are all too easy to skip over and ignore, and doing so will lead to an incredible uphill battle to even become competent at the combat. The combat plays out in real time and the player is free to move around the battlefield and target whichever enemy they choose. There are two basic attack buttons, along with a block, and these will be enough to take care of most of the grunts in a battle. However, when it comes to the more competent adversaries, these simple attacks will barely chip away at their health, which can lead to some very, very long combat encounters. This is where the combos and the special attacks, which are performed by pressing R1 along with the face buttons, come in, as they can cause much more damage. Once the player is joined in battle by companions, there are also co-op special moves to think about, as the player is able to switch between controlling different characters at will. While some players will click with the combat straight away, others will really struggle to bring all of the systems together in a satisfying way, and this could turn them away from the game very early on.

 


 
Which would be a shame, as once that first ten or so hours are passed, the game really opens up. There is a massive open world to explore here, and it is really appealing. Sure, it is not the prettiest looking game in the world, but with different places to visit and explore as the player sees fit, along with some handy fast travel options to save on wasted travel time, it is quite immersive. Main quests are bolstered by side quests that will give plenty of opportunity to grind and become more powerful. There is an involved skill tree to explore as the player levels up, which is perhaps not laid out in the most friendly way, but will still give players plenty of ways to customise their character. It even becomes possible to customise the characters looks, which is important as in a first for the series, online play is possible. This is kind of a big deal, considering the game is essentially about an online game, and it makes a really big difference when being able to play with other, real people.

 
Not having to rely on multiple dungeon crawls for grinding, the wide open world of the game, which is really nicely populated with things to find, makes a big difference to how the game feels. The inclusion of online play is also a game changer. However, to reach all of this freedom, including the freedom to really adapt the combat to something that works more for the player, there are those long ten plus hours to work through first. It is a long introduction to the game, and is probably the biggest flaw in the game. Sure, the movement feels a bit slippery, the camera doesn’t always co-operate, and sometimes the game struggles with frame rate. But once the player gets through that first part of the game, everything becomes so much more fun.

 


 
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is like playing an MMO which is not an MMO, until it kind of is. It is a weird one, that’s for sure. Early pacing and complications, along with limited gameplay options to begin with, will put off a lot of players. However, those who have patience and persevere, will find an enjoyable JRPG that has quite a lot to offer, especially when played with others. It may not be quite the masterpiece that Sword Art Online fans have been waiting for, but Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris tries something different and is worth checking out by fans who can put in the hours.

 

 ★★★★★★½☆☆☆ 



 

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