Sword Art Online is largely an unknown to me. I know it’s an anime, manga, and videogame series about a group of kids who play a virtual reality MMO known as Sword Art Online. I also know they the main characters were stuck in this world fighting to the death (as if you died you died in real life). It’s a pretty heady storyline, but Lost Song is my first real dive into the world of Sword Art Online, and I’m left feeling like there’s a lot of great ideas here… backed by archaic and clunky execution.
I should start by saying that Lost Song is available both on the PS4 and the PS Vista, and if I had only seen the game on Sony’s handheld platform, I’d probably be a bit more lax on criticizing this most recent entry in the series. But the simple fact is that Sword Art Online: Lost Song is dated in visuals, gameplay, and overall presentation. Despite being in 1080p, there’s nothing stopping this RPG from having been made a decade ago.
The story of Lost Song is interesting enough. The narrative is that you (Kirito, the series’ main protagonist) and your friends are showing up in Alfheim Online for the game’s first major expansion update. There are new zones, new quests, and new mysteries to uncover. Along the way, you’ll uncover a more sinister plot behind the whole expansion of the VRMMO, and work towards the logical conclusion. If you’re a fan of SWO, Lost Song sort of retcons one of the series’ secondary narratives, but when all is said and done I’m not sure it was needed. Final Fantasy this ain’t.
You have a whole cast of characters to make your own party with, and the series’ fans will be happy to have pretty much every single major character available to swap in and out of your 3-person groups. You can even make your own character to play as, though for story purposes you’ll always be Kirito in cut scenes. It’s also really nice, though some may disagree, that the Japanese voiceover is default, and there are no English versions to be had. It’s an obvious cost-cutting decision, but let’s face it… the Japanese VO always seems to be better anyway.
The combat takes an action turn this time around, working more like a 3rd person action RPG than your traditional turn-based JRPG. The problem is, while serviceable, the combat is pretty dull. Dodge a lot, use your special attacks, and spam light and heavy attacks. You may die a bit at first, but once you have the enemies’ slow and laborious attack patterns down, the game’s combat becomes more of a chore than an exciting part of the gameplay. That’s a real shame too, as with any RPG combat is pretty much what you do 75% of the time.
You can upgrade weapons, get new spells, and tweak your party to your heart’s content, but the game’s story and action are still dull and repetitive. There’s no escaping that Lost Song is pretty much for the diehard fans of Sword Art Online only, and maybe those who are really aching for a new JRPG. But if that’s the case, I’d point you to Tales of Zestiria (also from Namco Bandai) much sooner. Perhaps Lost Song is worth the purchase on the Vita though, and if that’s where you’re going to play the game you’d probably be better off.
Lost Song is $39.99 on the Vita, and an unjustified $59.99 on the PS4. Unless I’m mistaken it’s not available on the PS3 in the US, but the Japanese version is on the PS3 as well. Here’s hoping the Sword Art Online series makes a true step onto the PS4 and the current generation of consoles soon. There’s something to love about the world and its characters, but games like Lost Song are more a hindrance than a help.