Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris Review – Not Your Average SAO Adventure

    Title: Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris
    Developer: Aquria
    Release Date: July 10, 2020
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Bandai Namco
    Genre: Action RPG

The Sword Art Online franchise isn’t going anywhere. The popularity of the anime and manga has branched over into other media including a series of video games. Up until now, the game adaptations have been companion pieces to the original story. It’s as if they exist in a somewhat similar, but different, universe. While I had a great time with a few of these titles, I’ll be the first to admit that the game flow of them was getting overused.

Thankfully, Bandai Namco is here to deliver a new experience based in the Sword Art Online universe with Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris. This time, instead of relying on endless dungeon visits and monster hunting, the team is focusing on following the story from the anime while taking a few liberties with the narrative. For the most part, this works wonderfully, but the leaps that the team has made in this entry cause a few bumps across the adventure.

Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris opens with Kirito waking up in a strange forest. He knows that he isn’t in the real world, but he is unable to access his online menu or log out. His only choice is to investigate the surrounding area where he meets Eugeo.

The two feel a slight bond between them, but it isn’t explained until after a near-death encounter that they share memories from when they were younger. However, a girl named Alice, who was a part of their trio, was taken after she broke the law, and Eugeo makes it his goal to save her.

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The first chapter takes around 10 – 12 hours to complete, follows this narrative. Those who have seen the anime will recall many of the interactions and story beats as it acts as a retelling of these scenarios. While the game takes certain liberties during some sections, they stick relatively close to the original story and even expand upon some relationships that make it easy to care more about a few of the side characters.

One of the most substantial new inclusion is the addition of Medina Orthinanos. She is a cold character who faces a troubling fate the more you get to understand her situation. Like other Sword Art Online stories, Medina’s storyline is full of dark themes that aim to affect the emotions of the player. While the conclusion of the first chapter sort of forgets that Medina exists, she does rejoin the group later on and makes up a big piece of the overall narrative.

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Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris opens up after the first chapter and even brings in recognizable characters to explore this new world with Kirito. The story doesn’t take a back seat either; you are continually progressing the narrative, which is just as gripping, even if it follows an alternative conclusion from the anime. I appreciated this as I was expecting the game to settle on old elements of running through countless dungeons and mindlessly hunting a specific number of creatures.

This new world is enormous and full of stuff to do. Luckily, players will never be lost thanks to a helpful guide marker, but one look at the large maps can be overwhelming. It’s not like the developers completely filled these large environments with things to do, but you can tell that they gave it their best shot. Each setting has a specific theme such as farmland and deserts, and everything within those areas matches that theme. It’s a huge step up from anything that we’ve seen in previous entries in the series that simply place elements in an area that they don’t belong to.

However, these luscious lands come with a set of issues. The load times are exceptionally long, no matter if you’re going into a small room, town, or open area, you will be waiting a while. Furthermore, the environments often load before your eyes, as enemies and NPCs appear a few feet in front of you. It’s such a shame that this happens as this is visually the best SAO game ever made. There’s a clear purpose in the creation of the new world, and it’s enjoyable to explore, but you’ll quickly notice the graphical limitations in the very first town, and that doesn’t go away.

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The battle system has also been overhauled to be a bit more action-focused then previous entries. Instead of trying to mimic MMORPGs, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris creates a few combo systems that only become easier with practice.

Trust me, you’ll be a little confused early on, but if you use the tools available, there’s a real fluid and addictive system here. First off, the menus are vast; each character has their own skills, weapon class, passive abilities, active abilities, and equipment.

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The problem here is that during the first chapter, you won’t really have the need to explore these options since you’ll clear everything easily. It’s during the second chapter that you’ll have to fine-tune your parties to get the most out of these systems. The developers provide some pretty in-depth tools for those who wish to get into the weeds with the battle strategy, but casual players won’t need to touch this.

Battles can take place during one-on-one duals and group fights. The duals are pretty interesting, but require you to rely on your dodges and blocks to get through them. Furthermore, you’ll need to understand your magic to assist you with defenses and added affects. Group fights, on the other hand, require you to combo everything and pretty much manage your entire team to chain together attacks. It’s an immensely satisfying feeling when you knock out a strong enemy in a couple of hits, thanks to a well-timed combo.

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Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris might leave you confused during the first 12 hours since it comes across as rather linear. However, once the original story elements of pick up, it finds its footing, and you begin to use all of those features that you’ve been ignoring.

The pacing here is disappointing because the best parts are unlocked after such a long time. This includes online play, party management, character customization, and relationship building. If this was the case, I felt like perhaps they should have cut out some of the more lengthy elements of the first chapter and condensed the story a bit.

Regardless, once it opens up, you are in for a great Sword Art Online experience. The writers know how to balance each of the character’s screentime, and more is learned about Medina as well as some of the knights who were once you enemy. It’s as if the game doesn’t start until these moments, but in some ways, it works given that you are already so invested in this world.

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Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris marks a new era of Sword Art Online games, both graphically and narratively. This is an adventure for fans and newcomers that truly builds upon this virtual world through new characters and hundreds of quests. The downside is that you may have to clear a lengthy first chapter to discover everything it has to offer, but luckily for those who do, there’s so much awaiting them. There’s still some quality-of-life work that needs to be done in terms of loading times and assist pop-ins, but as a fan of the previous SAO games, this entry simply blew me away.

Score:
8/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.