After being trapped in Sword Art Online’s Aincrad world for the inaugural video game adaptation Infinity Moment, gamers have since found themselves in situations such as delving into ALfheim Online and, most recently, Gun Gale Online – the latter as part of Fatal Bullet. Now though, there’s a new virtual realm to discover, one that’s adapted from the third series of the massively popular anime. Can Bandai Namco’s Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris capture the essence of the anime as well as deliver a thrilling action-RPG?
Well, while Alicization Lycoris possesses a lot of the necessary traits that would ordinarily enable it to be considered a worthy adaptation, these enticing aspects are marred by a host of technical issues, odd game design decisions and questionable pacing, to say the least.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is set in the VR world known as Underworld and follows main protagonist Kirito who awakens there, with little recollection of what the place is and why he’s actually there. Unable to log out, a new adventure begins after Kirito comes across a young fellow named Eugeo, who’s desperate to find a childhood friend that was taken years before by an Integrity Knight – the law enforcement around these parts. The whole situation seems eerily familiar to our hero, but nobody could predict the real reason why or who’s responsible for the missing memories.
There’s more to it than that though, with a narrative very similar to how proceedings play out in season three of the anime series. Sure, certain plot points are skipped over, but on the plus side there’s an interesting sub-story involving a brand new character and when it goes off on a tangent, you’ll already be submerged enough that it won’t matter. It’s great to see Kirito’s personality shine through as he consistently tries to do the ‘right thing’; especially in a place that has rules that allow some awful acts to go unpunished because of hierarchy. There are some really dark moments to contrast the uplifting triumphs too, which is what makes it fascinating to experience.
The action-orientated cutscenes using the in-game models, as well as the still images featuring anime style artwork, are simply wonderful to look at. In truth, filler is the only considerable downside from a storytelling standpoint, with a few too many occasions where interactions and conversations drag on. You’ll see a considerable amount of time lost as a result of meaningless chatter being bookended by stupidly long loading screens – get used to lengthy waits while things load because this is prevalent throughout.
Controlling Kirito in third-person perspective is the order of the day in regards to the gameplay as you’re let loose to roam various, fairly large, environments and take on any main or side quests available there. It’s quite cool that a range of creatures and beasts inhabit these lands, such as creepy spiders, dangerous foxes, gobbletoads and tortoises. The only minor drawback is that many regions of Underworld can only be explored if a main quest gives purpose to do so.
Partaking in the main missions will generally lead to encounters with the more powerful creatures and one-on-one duels against skillful Integrity Knights. While the challenge is a welcome one, it’ll make you work damn hard to drain the health bar of these enemies; especially when the crux of the combat – and the most effective approach – isn’t explained very well at all. Without a proper understanding of this, it’s like you’re swinging a paper sword around, barely doing any damage.
The combat consists of regular attacks, skill moves, finishing manoeuvres and the magical Sacred Arts spells. Don’t be mistaken, the sheer number of options is brilliant, and transitioning from a penetrating sword attack to then casting a fiery blaze or a healing light is great. Better yet, there’s also the availability of whips, maces, bows and more, each with an upgradeable tree of skills. This is all meaningless if you don’t grasp the need to chain moves together and create combos by getting the AI members of the party to attack in sync.
Realistically though, the AI is as useful as a chocolate teapot and will often stand around like a spectator. Even party orders appear to go straight over their heads, meaning you’ll have to manually switch between characters on the fly, mid-fight, to try and ensure a hard-hitting combo is instigated. It’s all rather complex and convoluted, perhaps better suited for when human companions are present. You’ll be waiting a while to experience that, but we’ll come back to that shortly.
When you aren’t fighting though, it’s quite relaxing to just go around collecting resources from the land, which are useful for crafting and often come in handy as part of fetch side quests. The crafting system allows you to manufacture weaponry and armour, while a visit to an apothecary lets you create potions. Meanwhile, a good camping spot is ideal for cooking up some grub to boost your stats. Sadly, these aspects are quite limited during the opening chapter, which would be fair enough under normal circumstances; but this isn’t your average game and the first chapter – of six – takes around 15 hours to complete.
Honestly, it’s a real slog to get to the heart of Alicization Lycoris, with the narrative making up a huge proportion of proceedings before then – you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a visual novel. There are a few exciting boss fights mixed in there, involving fiery beasts and Knights wielding bows and epic swords. The placement of these being one after the other is questionable in terms of pacing, but more concerning is the downright awful auto-save feature. You can progress through hours of story scenes and multiple boss battles without a single save-point – not even a manual one. Therefore, it’s possible to fail and have to replay a decent chunk of the game again due to the most recent save being so long before. To make matters worse, the auto-save will happily kick-in on such pointless occasions like going up a flight of stairs or crafting a cheap sword.
Nevertheless, you could say persistence pays off eventually when you’re able to recruit familiar characters, and real people via multiplayer, to your adventuring party. There’s a comforting feeling about the arrival of Asuna, Sinon, Leafa, and a selection of Kirito’s other friends. And if you build up affinity with any characters, romance could be on the cards. As for questing and beast hunting alongside fellow humans, it’s the best way to get the most out of the gameplay – presuming you find people to party up with in the sparsely populated online side.
It pains me to admit it, but there are a whole load of issues preventing Alicization Lycoris from being a worthwhile venture. The biggest of which involves bugs that arise in innocuous situations and complete crashes during important encounters. Imagine being more fearful of the game screwing you over than a large menacing crab with lethal pincers; it’s just not right. Furthermore, the environments throughout general play are an eyesore due to the constant drop in frame-rate and objects regularly pop-in as it struggles to render them. There’s literally a list of issues and irritations as long as my arm, including camera woes, character models merging into each other, and becoming randomly stuck in water until you drown.
All in all, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris on Xbox One is hindered tremendously by far too many problems and it’d be a tad foolish to consider a purchase until it’s had a much-needed patch, or two. Only then will the exciting combat and the infinitely more enjoyable multiplayer aspect be appreciated; if you can stick it out during the weirdly long ‘tutorial’ style first chapter, of course. In its current state, the storytelling and anime visuals are the enticing bits, but that’s not enough, is it?
Give it time and wait to see if the expected patches fix the majority of Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris’ issues. For now though, save your money.