Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment and Infinity Moment took players through the world of Aincrad. The mysterious, 100-leveled tower forced lead protagonist, Kirito, and his friends to fight not only for victory, but for their very lives. The dungeon-crawling action, harsh learning curve, and attention to character details made those games a must own for fans of the Sword Art Online anime. But, fans of the series wanted more.
It’s not that anything was wrong with the world of Aincrad. Using Sword Arts and performing devastating combos with companions was amazing, but Sword Art Online had more worlds that offered more varied gameplay opportunities. One such world is Alfheim Online, a world where players had wings, used magic, and approached battles in exciting new ways. This is the world of Sword Art Online: Lost Song. And, after some hands-on time, it’s as if you’re playing an entirely new game in all of the best ways.
From the moment you even look at the game, the evolution between Sword Art Online: Lost Song and the previous entries is as clear as day. There are large, open areas riddled with tons of enemies for you to combat, and what makes this incredibly special is that they aren’t all on the ground. Panning the camera up towards the sky reveals dragons and other creatures flying overhead, waiting for some unsuspecting soul to fly a bit to high. And there are more than just enemies (which are all beautifully rendered, by the way), there are islands to be freely explored, as well.
Sword Art Online: Hallow Fragment was a dungeon crawler through and through. Even if you weren’t necessarily in a dungeon, the gameplay had the same restrictions on how you explored the world and engaged enemies. In Sword Art Online: Lost Song, exploration and dungeon crawling are vastly different. When out in the world, players have a full range of motion. Want to charge on foot towards a horde of enemies? Go right ahead and hit them with some physical or ranged attacks. Want to soar into the sky and and battle enemies from all angles? That is also an option with a seamless transition. Just hit a button and you go from running to flying.
The controls while flying were simple and easy to grasp, which was honestly a bit of a worry going in. As mentioned before, Lost Song’s predecessors had pretty tough learning curves which included a lot of controls to remember. But, Sword Art Online: Lost Song is simple in its approach while still offering the challenge of interesting enemies. Getting in and out of combat (whether on foot or in air) was a breeze. Transitioning between ground and air movement was also very easy, and the full range of motion made exploration feel much more rewarding than just walking in order to fully reveal a map.
During my time, I found myself shooting up into the blue sky to look down at the battlefield in order to know how I could better assist my companions. Darting from enemy to enemy, then planting my feet on the ground to pull off a dazzling Sword Art was a sight to behold, and proved that the developers were going for something a lot more engaging this time around.
Combat has seen a shift from just sneaking up and trying to get the drop on enemies, or luring one away (although these are still options). One of the weirder elements of SAO: Hallow Fragment was the fact that you couldn’t attack anything immediately. You had to get either really close or grab its attention first. Strategy is still a major component of battle in Lost Song, but it all feels more natural.
You can attack whenever you want out in the world, meaning you can jump into a crowd and let lose a devastating attack, pick enemies off from afar, lure, dash, or whatever else you can think of. There is no odd switch between combat and exploration anymore, it is all one and it is a great feeling.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song comes across as a more refined version of Hallow Fragment’s systems while it also does a great job of introducing new mechanics. The fluid nature of the gameplay, the beautiful delivery of its characters and scenery, and the more open approach to world exploration are absolutely wonderful. If you’re worried that the intensity of cramped dungeons is gone, don’t, because the game even keeps those in as well.
Lost song is a more complete SAO experience, and that’s something fans should definitely look forward to.