Sword Art Online: Alicization Rising Steel Review – The Gacha JRPG We’ve Been Waiting For

    Title: Sword Art Online: Alicization Rising Steel
    Developer: Bandai Namco
    Release Date: November 20, 2019
    Reviewed On: iOS
    Publisher: Bandai Namco
    Genre: RPG

Next to some of the anime giants like Pokemon, Attack on Titan, and Naruto, Sword Art Online (SAO) is probably one of the most recognizable names in the West. We all remember that iconic opening theme from when SAO first came out, drawing in millions of fans from across the world.

Spawning anime adaptations of the insanely popular light novel, movies, merchandise, and video games, SAO comes with their latest mobile game Sword Art Online: Alicization Rising Steel from Bandai Namco out now on iOS and Android devices. For me, many of the other SAO games were a bit of a hit or miss, but this mobile iteration of the most recent anime arc holds its own as a great JRPG even with its gacha elements.

Sword Art Online: Alicization Rising Steel closely follows the storyline of the anime, with a few exceptions of some original content. If you’re not familiar with the SAO story, I’d highly suggest watching the anime all the way through as it’ll help you get a full idea of what Kirito, Asuna, and the crew have had to endure up until the events the game takes place in. For the uninitiated, there are a few side stories that briefly touch on what happened in the past, but for the most part, this game focuses on the most recent SAO adventures.

During the story, artwork and cutscenes are taken straight from the anime, which in itself is already beautiful. When it comes to presentation, Alicization Rising Steel pushes what you’d expect from a mobile title. This gives it a layer of anime quality that is missing from the other video game adaptations.

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The main campaign takes players through the Alicization arc. During the game, players form a team of four characters who will soon be subject to a traditional turn-based JRPG battle system. Each level of the campaign introduces a new battle, and players will have to navigate a map while collecting items to progress the narrative.

Your team can include a variety of characters who have several skills available, including Assault, Enhance, Break, Heal, and Charge. Assault is a high damage move, Enhance gives a buff to your team or an individual character, Break is an attack that lowers an enemy’s Incarnate meter, Heal is self-explanatory, and Charge quickly raises your own Incarnate meter.

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Each member of your team has their own Incarnate meter that’s shared among everyone. You can even activate a special Switch combo attack like in the anime, where after the initial Incarnate attack happens, the rest of the team attacks the opponent. If your characters are low on HP and have no way to heal them, you can rotate in two other characters or a supporting character from your friend list.

The battle system feels like it borrowed much of what you’d find in a classic JRPG experience with a layer of SAO style. This is something that I felt was missing from the SAO video game universe. Don’t get me wrong; each SAO video game improves upon the last, but I think like Sword Art Online: Alicization Rising Steel commits to this genre, and the gameplay benefits from it.

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In typical JRPG fashion, enemies will get more robust, and you’ll have to make sure your team is fully equipped and leveled up to take them on. This adds a layer of strategy to the battles, so you can’t just use the same sword skill over and over again. You have to think about how to approach each fight, which team members you want to use, and when to switch out.

This means that the incentives you get from completing the challenges each mission has will come in handy during the late-game battles. However, the good thing here is that you don’t have to complete them on your first run. Players can retry missions to focus on completing the challenges when they are more equipped to handle anything the game throws their way.

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Being a mobile game, you can expect there to be gacha mechanics, and there’s plenty of them in here. With special diamond cubes you earn from completing specific challenges, you’ll be able to draw different characters from the SAO universe. All your favorites are here like Kirito, Asuna, Silica, and more. Newcomers to the show like Eugeo and Alice are also available. Surprisingly, there are even obscure characters from the show like that one girl who had a crush on Kirito who died in the first season after two episodes. Remember her?… me neither.

That said, character draws aren’t all that bad. I was able to land a 4-star Alice, a 4-star Asuna, a 4-star Ronie, and 3-star Kirito, Lisbeth, Agil, and Yuuki. Although, it took quite a bit of a grind for diamond cubes to even get those draws. There are also draws for equipment as well with the same idea. I got the Blue Rose Sword (used by Eugeo) only after about 300 cubes. You don’t have to pay any actual money to get diamond cubes as there are many opportunities to get them through merely playing the game. With various side missions to obtain EXP items, equipment, and even new characters, you won’t have to worry about any pay to win aspects. I don’t even mind the grind since the game is just that enjoyable to play.

Sword Art Online Alicization Rising Steel

Sword Art Online: Alicization Rising Steel might not be for everyone, especially those who haven’t watched the anime. But if you were ever looking to get into the series, now is the time to binge-watch it and then get into this game. This is one of the few JRPG gacha games that’s achieved a perfect level of strategic gameplay, story, beautiful visuals (granted it’s taken directly from the anime), and fair gacha mechanics.

I’ve enjoyed every minute of this game since it feels like something that I’ve always wanted in a mobile gacha JRPG games. The game loop of heading out on worthwhile adventures with an engaging and strategic turn-based battle system provided constant entertainment, and I couldn’t have asked for more. I’ll be looking forward to spending many more hours playing this unique mobile title.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brock Jensen

Saebyeolbe is the Tom Brady of Overwatch. MOBILE GAMERS ARE STILL GAMERS. Send me stuff [email protected]