10 July 2020
Is there an anime more suited for video game adaptation than Sword Art Online? The different MMO settings of the show make for an ideal backdrop for a real world RPG. With a huge fan base worldwide, the A-1 Pictures production continues to impress viewers with its colourful cast of characters and dramatic overarching story. Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is the latest in Bandai Namco’s series of games following the show, covering the most recent arc of the anime.
Alicization Lycoris is set in the virtual world of Underworld, and follows series protagonist Kirito who awakens in the game without any knowledge of how he got there. With the help of his new friend Eugeo, Kirito soon realises that the other characters in the game are too advanced to be AI and must discover the dark secrets of Underworld. The game follows the story of Season 3 incredibly faithfully (from the cutting down of a giant tree onwards) but also adds plenty of new side stories that Sword Art Online veterans will appreciate as they go about their adventure.
The world of Alicization Lycoris is utterly vast, with multiple open environments waiting to be explored. There’s a lengthy main story to follow, but each area also has side quests, treasure chests and combat challenges you could spend hours discovering. There’s also fishing, cooking and plant gathering to sink hours into. You’ll need to keep up with this side content if you want to match up with the tougher enemies later in the game, and grinding quests to kill 8 spiders does make you feel like your playing an MMO. There are even high level areas dotted around each map, which bring that feeling of dread you get when you explore too far in WoW.
Combat in Alicization Lycoris is incredibly deep, and for the first five hours of the game you’ll have system on top of system thrown at you. As well as attacking and blocking, you’ll also need to use appropriate special moves to guard break the enemy, raise their hazard guage, and unleash sacred arts on them. It’s all pretty overwhelming to begin with, but the early battles are easy enough that a basic understanding should enable you to muddle through. Once you master the systems with little help from the tutorials, it’s an enjoyable (if a little sluggish to control) combat system.
If getting to grips with battles wasn’t hard enough for you, leveling up and equipping your characters with skills is even more complex. You earn skill points to put into the Skill Tree, which is full of passive skills, combat skills and weapon skills. The Skill Tree isn’t all contained to one set of branches though, and until 4 hours into the game I was unaware there was a separate Sword Art tree if I zoomed out and scrolled up. Setting skills is just an unintuitive, with slots for passive, combat, weapon skills and more dotted around a messy menu. Much like the skill tree, I wasn’t using equipping my skills effectively until hours into my adventure.
It’s worth mentioning that Alicization Lycoris is a slow game. The first 10-hour chapter especially is full of long sections of exposition broken up with almost unacceptably long loading screens. It definitely gets better as you progress further, but the opening is definitely a slog.
One of the most baffling design decisions of the game, is the locking of multiplayer until after the initial chapter. It’s a new feature for the series, but for the first 10 hours there’s no indication it exists. Recruiting a friend or three to help explore the land is actually very fun. There are some network issues that need ironing out, and it’s a bit fiddly to play the main quest with a friend, but for side questing it’s the ideal way to play.
It’s worth mentioning that I also had some technical issues when playing Alicization Lycoris. More than once I had my progress reverted to a save almost an hour back, with no option to load a different save. This only happened a couple of times in a playthrough of a huge game, but was obviously frustrating.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is an enjoyable RPG for fans of the series, but requires a lot of commitment from the player to learn its systems. The pacing is glacial at times, and the hiding of multiplayer baffling, but exploring the huge environments of Underworld and battling beasties is enjoyable if you can get past these issues.
The MMO like world of Underworld is impressive
The story is great for new fans and series veterans
Combat is enjoyable once you get to grips with it
Side questing is fun with friends
Long load times
Combat and leveling up is complex with poor tutorials
Very slow pacing especially early on
Multiplayer is only available after 10 hours of gameplay
An enjoyable RPG with some pacing issues, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is a lot of fun once you get to grips with its combat and leveling systems. The decision to lock multiplayer behind 10 hours of content is baffling, but once you unlock it you'll have a good time exploring the MMO-like world with friends.