I had great hopes for this game before it was launched. Me being a fan of Sword Art Online, in general, contributed greatly towards my hype and excitement for this title. So, when the review code for Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris came, I made it a point to debate with my Managing Editor on why I should be the one to review this game.
“I have kept myself updated on the Anime Series and have played the franchise’s previous instalments, I am the right guy for the job so, give it to me!” – Me.
Turns out, I did not even need to argue my case. No one else wanted to review it anyway. I thought I had won the jackpot!
Problems right off the bat.
So, chapter 1 starts and understandably so, the game kicked off covering the Alicization arc portion from the anime. I sincerely welcomed this because newcomers to the series will be brought up to speed. The story introduces important characters like Kirito (the protagonist) and his bff, Eugeo, and sets the player on the path of finding Alice, the duo’s childhood friend. Chapter 1 was focused on their quest to find Alice and while it seemed fine at first, problems quickly became apparent.
Chapter 1 is 15-20 hours long and is in no way fun to play.
The game is separated into 2 bits, one is the part that actually lets you do combat and exploration, while the other is the passive Visual Novel mode that crowds you with too many cringey dialogues and cutscenes. And because the ratio of actual game time to the visual novel is equally balanced at 1:1, I have lost count how many times I have got my rhythm disrupted. Imagine feeling hyped and wanted to bash stuff in only for a 15 minutes long dialogues to kick in… It was a massive turn off. This would be the case for the 15-20 hours in chapter 1, where most of the game’s best features are not even available yet.
Which begs the question… why aren’t they available earlier?
Attractive features are locked until at least 15 hours later.
Simple features like character customisations are locked until Chapter 2 for reasons only the developers can fathom. Who honestly cares about appearance anymore after 15 hours? By the time I reached chapter 2, I could not care less about how my character looked anymore. I was more curious about the Sword Art finishing moves that ALSO ONLY UNLOCKS AFTER 15-20 HOURS OF GAMEPLAY.
Multiplayer, the staple function in recent SAO games is locked until chapter 2. I had just begun Chapter 2 and was 22 hours into the game by that time I decided to play some co-op with folks online. And little did I know, the multiplayer was broken. I joined an online session hosted by a player who was Chapter 3 in progression, and upon returning to my own session, I noticed that my own game was bugged, and my progression was then stuck at Chapter 3.
There was no way to reverse this effect except reloading the last saved file which happened to be from 6 hours ago. Why from 6 hours ago, though? Because of how the auto-save function works. So, not only did I have to wait for so long to unlock multiplayer in chapter 2, but now that I have unlocked it, the game kicked my progression back by 6 painful hours? I almost gave up, almost.
Speaking more on this peculiar autosave function, there are instances where it would not save for several hours straight, resulting in progress loss if your game crashes abruptly. There was a time where I died in the middle of a chain of events, resulting in me needing to restart the entire sequence all over again, which was about 30 minutes’ worth of game time – It was an absolute bummer.
Story and telling.
While I have many problems with how the game chose to tell its stories in chapter 1, I was okay with the story itself. They changed some bits from the original story in order to enable a gameplay possible scenario for later chapters – for example; characters like Eugeo and the Cardinal would survive their encounter with Quinella, therefore making it possible for the player to recruit them later as playable companion in the party. I was hoping for chapter 2 onwards to offer more excitement and eventually set the overall tone for the game, this is after all where most of the game’s features are unlocked. But just when I thought perhaps the game would start moving in a more enticing direction, I was wrong.
The game tells a different story but in the same exact flawed tone and telling. Players are once again forced into cringey dialogues and subscribe to consistently inconsistent stories and logic from thereon. For example.
One of the main characters, Alice Zuberg, upon discovering that the life she came to know was the result of a brainwash, despise using her authority to tell people what to do because she feels that she is imposing her will onto others.
She would then refrain from using her influence as a prominent Knight towards lesser rank NPCs to get them to provide more information, even when that information was crucial towards saving kidnapped children’s lives.
I get it that the developer tries to develop a personality for Alice, but they did it in the most unimaginable way that defies common logic. There are plenty of other story and character inconsistencies throughout the game to the point where I have just decided to ignore the dialogues and skip them where and when I can.
Visuals and game world.
The game has moved away from its traditional anime-ish graphics that used to be so full of vivid colours and eye-pleasing game world. While Alicization Lycoris still retains the franchise’s loved visual effects and animation during skill executions, the game world, however, greatly paled in comparison to the past. I was disappointed when I first started the game. Not only were the frame rates unstable, but the game’s graphics also looked like it was designed for the PS2. Or for those of you who downloaded Farm Simulator 19 from the recent free PS Plus free game of the month, yeah, the game world looks almost like that.
There are day/night cycle and dynamic weather system in this game. At night-time, some NPCs retire to their home and can only be visited again in the morning. Players can fast forward the time by resting at the campfire or their bed in the room. I was hoping to see more dynamic changes with the day/night cycle, for example, certain mobs only come out at night, or mobs becoming more aggressive after the sunset but that is not to be. It seems that the whole day/night cycle and the occasional rain are just for show and the worst thing is, the frame rates became even more unstable when it rains.
Most of the AI’s you will fight in this game are animals and creatures that are inhabiting the game world. They are not forces of evil, no. You would have to kill them for exp and drops, and while this is fine and not an issue, my beef is with the same type of creature appearing in repetition across all the maps albeit on different levels. As if zero thoughts and creativity was applied when placing the mobs in the game. If you saw a level 5 toad in an early map, you would probably see it again in a level 30 map. Sometimes with a different name, but still the same toad.
Combat is the best thing in the game but only because other areas have set such a low standard to begin with. Executing skills in quick succession while switching through multiple characters is fun at first until the frames start dropping and awkward camera angle kicks in. Combat in this game is fast-paced and most of the time, normal attacks do little to no damage on the mobs at all. Players are expected to land critical hits nor execute weapon skills to fill up the enemy’s hazard bar. Once the bar is filled, the enemy can be stunned and be more vulnerable to attacks. But because the process of getting the bar filled requires character switching while executing each of their skills in quick succession, the player cannot see what’s going on in the screen. You are just depending on your muscle memory to get the inputs out asap while keeping an eye on everyone’s HP bar. It gets boring after a while.
The ‘Sacred Arts’ from the anime made its way into the game. This system allows the player to call forth some magical skills of different elements (Wind, Fire, Ice, etc) to aid them in combat and exploration. Some of these skills act as buffs while some deal offensive damages. While the buffs can be useful, I hardly find myself relying on them other than the occasional “Wind” buffs that let me jump higher when scaling hills. The offensive skills are just impossible to use with the slow casting and the lower than low damages it deals. More than half the skills provided in the Sacred Art system are plain useless. I often wonder why they were there in the first place.
There is also a new battle system called Duelling. It involves a 1-on-1 fight with the camera locked and focuses more on technicalities like Blocking, Parrying, Dodging, at the right moment. I like this new system very much, but I hoped the AI were not as dumb. They would literally stand there for you to hit them 10 times before they attempt an attack on you. Like many other features in this game, this needs to be polished for it to be meaningful.
While this game’s crafting system looked impressive at first with the sort of items a player can craft, its primitive side would quickly be obvious. The game allows you to craft various categories of items like; Weapons, Armours, Alchemy (Potions), Food, and Accessories. You may craft them yourself or request for an NPC to craft it for you for a fee. To craft an item on your own, you would need recipes. And, while other games decided to distribute blueprints and recipes via questing rewards, or kill drops, this game decided to do it very differently. To get the recipe for Item A, you first need to ask the NPC to craft the said item for you 5 times, before you unlock the recipe. What about the materials needed? They are hard to source and the game does not indicate where each of the materials can be found or farmed. You need to remember each of the items you picked up in case you need to come back for more of it.
Loading time and side quests.
Loading between maps and starting the game is horrendously long but surprisingly, fast traveling within the same map is done in an instant. This makes farming and attending to side quests more than comfortable. I hope this instant travel is firmly kept in the developer’s mind when they develop (if any) a new SAO game.
There are plenty of side quests to be done in this game and while this is usually a cause for celebration, the content in the side quests, however, is not great. They are the typical “fetch me this” or “defeat this monster” quests and have no added value to the game’s story or lore. The rewards from side quests are rarely satisfying or worth the time. For a game that is already riddled with so many problems, the whole side quests thing felt like the developers’ attempt to say “hey, we have contents!”, though in reality, you won’t miss anything even if you skip them.
All in all, here is a list of what I like about the game, what I don’t, and ultimately my verdict.
What I liked –
- Instant fast travel within the local map is just ace. I was surprised the developers managed to pull this off despite the title being bug-riddled.
- Dialogues with other characters in this game are often humorous and offer a deep insight into Kirito’s relationship with them. For those who like Light Novels, this game would offer some fun reading.
- The sincerity and efforts shown in designing the maps is something the developer must keep up in their next SAO game. I really enjoyed this more realistic multi-terrain landscape design. The maps in previous SAO games looked boring in comparison.
- The crafting system looked appetizing and extensive, but it needs to be refined and become something the players would find approachable.
What I wished was better –
- One of SAO’s game attraction is the ability to play Multiplayer co-op. The bug issue I mentioned above effectively stripped this highly anticipated experience away. This is unforgiveable.
- Staple features should not be locked until chapter 2.
- Chapter 1 was 15-20 hours long and the storytelling and pacing in it made the whole experience even more unbearable, with an awkwardly long chain of events taking place one right after the other.
- The illogical auto-save feature must be fixed. Players should not have to restart the entire sequence if they crashed out or die in the middle of a chain event.
- Unstable frame rates and mood-killing long loading times.
- Side quests that are lazily written and put together.
- Overall inconsistency in story plot and character’s personality.
- Bad camera angle during combat is a turnoff. 70% of the time, I cannot even see what’s going on properly.
I came into SAO Alicization Lycoris expecting a heart-warming journey with loads of fun and action. The multiplayer part especially was something I wholeheartedly looked forward to. But in the end, what I experienced was a tiring, troublesome, and decisively disappointing game. I was so shocked by the quality of the game that I wondered if the developers had a competent team of QC.
As the next generation of consoles approaches, I have expected this developer to at least deliver an SAO game that is positively and meaningfully impactful to set themselves in the right track for the new era. Furthermore, this is the same developer who delivered two past SAO titles that I have so thoroughly enjoyed. But what is done is done, and I can only hope the developers take the negative response and criticism with an open heart and do some soul searching after this to improve their next game.
Final Score – 30/100