Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is the latest installment of the Sword Art Online series of games. Following the story of the Alicization Arc of the Anime series, this JRPG is an action-packed game with a beautiful world to explore and fierce enemies to destroy. While it has its quirks, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris (Lycoris) is a fun game once you get past them.
Alicization Arc Story
Based on the popular light novel/manga/anime series, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris starts you off at the beginning of the Alicization Arc with Kirito arriving in the middle of a forest, unable to log-out. I was expecting it to follow the story, but not as faithful as it does. Both pleasantly surprised, and annoyed at the same time, I progressed through each high point throughout the story leading towards the ultimate fight with the Administrator. I say annoyed because, to be honest, Chapter 1 was boring. I say that in no disrespect to the story, because the story is great in my opinion, it’s the way the story is presented that annoyed me.
The story is played out in an anime fashion with characters on a scene talking back and forth. It reminds me of the Tales series cutscenes, most notably Tales of Vesperia. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you, as I truly enjoy it. The problem I have is each scene is preceded by a load screen, and I do mean each scene. An example of this is entering a black screen with dialog stating the Kirito was thinking something, leading into another load screen taking you to the cutscene. The characters talk for a bit, and it’s back to another load screen, leading to either another cutscene, or allowing you to control your character.
The events in Chapter 1 progress rapidly, often leading into multiple cutscenes at one time without having much control over your character. Combine that with excessive load times, and you can see a clear problem of annoyance. What’s worse, is the story follows so faithfully to the original, that I already knew everything that was happening. I needed to know, if only for myself, if anything had changed, or been added. Suffice to say, only a new character was introduced, Medina, to ultimately been left on the sidelines for a majority of Chapter 1. Only reappearing somewhere towards the second half of Chapter 2. Expect Chapter 1 to take anywhere between 10 and 13 hours, depending on how fast you read or let every scene play out.
As faithful to the story as Lycoris is, things shake up right after the fight with the Administrator. If you’re a fan of the series, you know after this happens Kirito utilizes the console to connect to the outside world, but due to the assault on the Ocean Turtle, gets jolted and ends up incapacitated for the duration of the Alicization Arc. This is the point where the game diverts from the anime into its very own story. So far, the original story stands up in quality to the original, so there is great potential on that front.
Meat and Potatoes
The meat and potatoes of just about any RPG, are the mechanics. How does it handle, how’s the combat, what else is hiding under the hood? Lycoris both delights and disappoints at the same time in this department. While some of the systems are great, others just present you with a total WTF moment, like what were the developers even thinking?
Starting with exploration, the maps you partake in are beautiful. They are well thought out and really help set the tone of the story. Being able to visit key locations from the anime was well thought out and enjoyable. Sadly, the developers decided to lock you out of these locations once you’ve visited and left. Once you progress your story out of a certain area, let’s say Rulid in Chapter 1, you won’t be able to return there unless your story quest takes you back there. I’ve had a yearning to return to Rulid to take out some of the mobs I wasn’t high enough level to take on the first time we met. There are chests to be opened, and quests to be done, yet I cannot go back.
There’s even a fast travel option, but you’re locked out of it. Yes, you return to Rulid later in the story, but what about now? It’s a pretty bad design flaw they put in place preventing you to return to any location you want at any time. All these beautiful maps and you’re only allowed to visit them when the game wants you to. Such potential wasted for nothing.
Combat is fun, albeit a little slow for my liking. They really toned it down compared to Fatal Bullet, a fact that I don’t care for. It truly feels as if the entire play field is but a pool of butter, having to sludge through every square inch to do anything. This is exponentially more evident in the character and enemy animations, such as death animations. Once you kill an enemy, say they flip over to die and then vanish, that flip over is in super slow motion. It just looks awful and needs to be tweaked quite a bit to even look somewhat normal.
Combat shines in the action-based combat system where combos are key, you want to keep a combo going as long as possible doing skill connects and party combos resulting in massive damage being done to the enemy. The problem with this is it’s not really explained through the tutorial. It’s one of those things that you basically have to figure out yourself. Sure, it tells you about skill connects, but does very little to show you how to do a skill connect. It’s fairly simple, in the simplest form, and I’ll link a video below to explain it way better than I can.
Combine this system with the fact that you can wield any weapon you pick up is awesome. Which leads into the next point: skill trees. In order to do these combos and skill connects, you must have the skill tree unlocked and have points into specific abilities. If you don’t have, say Bows unlocked, when you get Sinon in your party you won’t have any Bow skills for her to use. It somewhat makes your choices matter to a degree, as I’m sure you only have a finite amount of skill points. Plan wisely! Shameless plug here, Bows are my favorite right now. Yes, I have a Bow wielding Kirito.
Certain skill trees must be unlocked by visiting a specific statue on a specific map. Which statue and which map is unknown, and only vague hints are given. To unlock Berserker, for example, you must progress your story into Chapter 2, almost midway or more, to go to Lakeshore. So keep an eye out for different looking statues, it pays to explore!
The AI system leaves a LOT to be desired. I truly think it’s broken, and I don’t think I’m alone. Most of the time the AI just stands around doing nothing. Attacking at random times, and only really doing anything if I order them to do so. Some of this has to do with setting the proper role to a character, because if you have it set to Buffer, or Healer, they won’t be doing very many attacks. Yet that aside, even set properly they generally did a whole lot of nothing. I expected them to go all out and help me murder everything in sight, which would have been fantastic, but no. I remembered something about Fatal Bullet and a bug that caused AI to wig out and stop working properly, so I did some searching, and looked like I was right. Going into the graphics settings, only accessible through the main menu by the way, I turned on a setting called Set 30 FPS. This locked the game into 30 FPS and resolved many of the issues with the AI, and the game in general, such as load times. Now my AI attacks, but still not as much as I want. A feature I truly hope gets much needed attention.
There is a part of the AI system called the Art Codes system, which allows you to set priorities to your AI. It’s a simple priority list that the AI runs down to decide what the AI should do, many of which are recorded from your gameplay and automatically entered. You can change them however you like, but the system isn’t as straightforward as you might expect, I basically looked at it, decided it was too daunting right now, and put it on the back burner for the time being. I can see the benefit, and it might make the AI more helpful, it’s just not a simple system and will take some time to get used to. As I said, you could simply ignore it, it will record your actions and populate it automatically, it just won’t be perfect.
Outside of the combat and exploration (or lack thereof) you do have crafting available to do. The crafting system I wouldn’t say is required, but most definitely a great thing to do as you get some of the best, if not the best, items available in the game. You start crafting via an NPC through a crafting order, basically having the NPC make the item for you. Once you craft the same item a few times, you unlock the recipe to craft it yourself. The items you personally make are substantially better than the items the NPC makes. This creates a sort of mini-game and grind, due to the sheer amount of materials required to obtain a single recipe.
Then the dating simulator comes into play. It wouldn’t be a Sword Art Online game without romance. This is an area I have not touched yet, as I wasn’t prepared mentally for the long cutscenes and then duels that come afterward. I did try to use one of the date locations with Asuna, who promptly told me she wanted none of that in public.
The duels I mentioned above are part of the affection system, as well as the story. These are hard, some almost impossible. My first fight with Alice took me close to an hour to finish, after I died four times. The duel system is a great idea but implemented very poorly. The problem with it is that the AI will almost certainly block 98.9% of every attack you throw at them. They have perfect dodge and perfect block. The break system where you cross swords and have to press a button at the precise time is almost impossible to win against the AI, and you will ultimately get knocked into a down status and get absolutely curb stomped. I truly like the idea of the mechanic, it would be insanely fun to duel the different characters, but it's just not fun when they block everything. Sadly, you seem to duel each character the first time you interact with them for the affection system, which means a LOT of duels. Suffice to say, I only did two.
Optimization and My Hopes
I truly expected a polished game going into this. After playing Fatal Bullet and enjoying it, I really thought they’d have this one nailed down. Unfortunately, my hopes were destroyed as if Thanos himself just erased them.
Lycoris was created for the Playstation 4, that is an undeniable fact. This explains why the PS4 controller works so well with the game. Unfortunately for PC players, this was a direct 1:1 port from the PS4 to PC. This directly translates to zero optimization. A simple search will show many threads complaining about the poor optimization, and how people couldn’t recommend buying it until the developers fix it. I’m not of that mindset, and while the optimization is clearly not there, I only had minor issues with performance overall, none game breaking.
Yes, I had to enable the 30 FPS lock to get my AI to work somewhat properly, and it also seemed to fix my load times, which were horrid before. But I couldn’t deem any of it game breaking, and I still enjoyed the game. I’ve been playing this on my 55-inch 4K TV hooked to my PC, at 4K resolution, I have had no issues with frame rate, with few exceptions. For the most part it just ran fine, in some intense scenes it slowed down some, but it was still very playable. My largest complaint was 1-3-minute load screens on an NVMe drive. That wasn’t acceptable to me and made Chapter 1 insanely irritating due to the constant load screens, again fixed by utilizing the 30 FPS lock. I do hope they do a proper optimization for PC players, because it is definitely needed.
Going into Lycoris, be prepared to use a controller. Keyboard and Mouse controls are there, but basically nonexistent. I expected to control the camera fully with the mouse, not with Q and E. Just a heads up for anyone expecting to use Keyboard and Mouse, I highly advise against it. It’s definitely not Fatal Bullet, and I truly think it’s unplayable without a controller.
There are graphical issues on certain maps where shadows are superimposed on your screen where they shouldn’t be. It’s strange, and really distracting to the point that sometimes you can’t even see where you’re going. This should be a simple fix, but a nuisance, nonetheless.
So far in my playthough, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris has its share of flaws, it’s not a perfect game. Many of these flaws seem to be driving players away from the title. I’ve not seen most of these issues as reasons not to play the game, but I do enjoy the story and setting of Sword Art Online. I tend to look past certain issues if I find the gameplay and story acceptable and enjoyable.
Would I say the gameplay was mediocre? Not exactly. I find that it’s a rather generic RPG, with a nice paint job portraying it as Sword Art Online. It’s not great by my standards, but it’s not exactly just mediocre either, rather it’s somewhere in between. I think it has the potential to be the perfect Sword Art Online game, if only Bandai Namco steps up to the plate and addresses some much-needed attention to certain aspects of the game. As someone who does enjoy the game, one can only hope they do just that.