Move over, Tinkerbell.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song on PlayStation 4
Games based on anime are an interesting type. They often have an established following which can be a good thing, but also their undoing. Having to straddle the line between fan-service and something that is accessible to a larger audience is a daunting task for any developer, and it never gets any easier. Yet that’s exactly what the team behind Sword Art Online: Lost Song has tried to do.
The first effort of this endeavor came in the form of Sword Art Online: Lost Song’s narrative. Just like its predecessor, Hollow Fragment, this game presents an original story with some brand new characters set in the world of Alfheim Online (ALO). Players will find themselves in Svart Alfheim, a series of sky islands not too far from the world tree that serves as the first expansion to the ALO universe. Kirito, Asuna, Leafa, Klein, and the rest of the gang are just joining the fray now at the launch of this new area and are intent on clearing it before anyone else can. This leads them to bump heads with what is easily the most powerful guild in the game, Shamrock, and from there, the story plots a course to mystery and adventure.
Once the story kicks in, players will start to see the primary differences between SAO: Lost Song and Hollow Fragment. Where the previous game made an effort to make the single player experience feel as if you were playing a genuine MMO, this one feels much more like an Action RPG. It still has that open structure in its hub worlds to a degree, but there is a story it is trying to tell, and at times it will pull you out of the game to make sure you hear it. It adds a bit of structure to the experience, but it can sometimes be a bit jarring.
You may have plans to beat a boss then further explore a dungeon, in the hopes of finding treasure or grinding the minion spawns, only to find yourself pulled back to the town of Sky City Ryne for a long discussion with your party. These bits do add a bit of extra insight to the whole affair, but will leave those who are new to the world and characters at a loss. The relationships between all of the characters in the game are well-defined, and while there are a few jokes in the game that help you draw lines between everyone, the deeper stuff is completely lost. The events of Sword Art Online are briefly mentioned, but it’s done in a way that removes a lot of the gravity of the situation. Which is unfortunate because it’s those very events that make everything else so intriguing. The fact that they faced death for two long years, and then still had to go back in to save other characters while having psychotic, egotistical scientists and programmers trying to thwart their every move is a big deal that is just glossed over.
Where Lost Song’s exposition seems to lose players, the gameplay (most notably, the combat) brings everyone back in. One thing that separated ALO from the original Sword Art Online game in the anime was the ability to fly. This opens up world exploration and combat in incredibly fluid ways. Players can dash on the ground to deal with a ground enemy and then, with the simple touch of a button, find themselves soaring through the air at full speed to take down some Wyvern that caught their eye. These transitions are easy and that encourages the constant flitting about and demolishing of enemies that one would hope for.