Ironically, it’s actually fairly difficult to make a game set in the world of Sword Art Online. On the surface that seems illogical, it’s literally a story set in a virtual world that begins with the protagonist, Kirito, being stuck in a VRMMORPG (virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Where things start to go off the rails is when you figure taking place in a game might help the narrative, though it has no impact on the actual quality of the game. In some ways it hurts, due to the insistence that this experience is supposed to be groundbreaking and have impressive visuals, something that might be true for their reality, yet falls short here. Still, we’ve seen a good number of these titles and Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris hopes to bring the popular Alicization arc to life in the form of an anime accurate game. With a better vision and a long history of games to pull from, is this the first step to greatness or an underwhelming anime game?
The basic premise of Alicization is far from the original. Kirito finds himself in a new world, well aware said world is a game, with players that don’t seem to realize they’re in virtual reality. He realizes the only way to deal with his situation is to progress forward, though beyond the pointless tasks and world-building it’s a much larger narrative about Project Alicization, which both the arc is named after. This is a government project designed to create better artificial intelligence, leading to a much deeper and interesting narrative than the initial story might suggest. As a result, it’s slow to start but eventually does very well. However, the same can’t be said about the gameplay.
Before the adventure can really start, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is overly dependent on tutorials. It never hurts to mention how to use special attacks or different inputs but it breaks up the flow of progress and explains details ad nauseam. For example, there really shouldn’t be two windows explaining this game autosaves and when certain saves occur, yet it is randomly thrown in about an hour into gameplay. Another downside is that it really isn’t that unique or special of a game, at least in terms of presentation.
If you’re even vaguely familiar with RPGs, you can probably figure Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris out. There are resources to collect, basic combat techniques (jump, dodge, attack, special attack, etc), the aforementioned resources can be used to craft things, talking to characters reveal information or additional things to do and so forth. Not only is it all so familiar, but it also isn’t particularly engaging.
Regardless of whether you’re fighting a weird rooster or an administrator, combat feels floaty, weightless, and honestly weird. There is no sense of power to your attacks, no is there an element of weight to your moves, resulting in imbalanced combat experience. The best experiences give every action a realistic feel, yet this feels like someone wants an action RPG, without much regard to what goes into an action RPG besides swinging a sword or avoiding attacks. In some ways it’s hard to explain, just know it feels unnatural and, as a result, causes a lack of engagement, something far lower quality games handle much better.
Battles aside, even basic functionality is dubious at best. When exploring the first location, very little is done to make this world feel real. Kirito moves at an unnatural speed, complete with a jump that is probably 10 or so feet high, with many items appearing with no physical presence. I can walk through benches, NPCs, tables, yet trees, certain boxes and other random things have a barrier giving them a presence. It’s a weird experience that suggests a real lack of effort or care, which is unfortunate all things considered.
Performance is also surprisingly bad. Not only is this seemingly simple-looking game more demanding for my PS4 than a good number of games, the load times, motion, and more are rough. Add in all the aforementioned shortcomings and it takes away from what is still an interesting story and decent time sink.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris Review- Verdict
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris does little to step beyond using Sword Art Online to sell this experience. It’s poorly optimized, looks, at best, okay, tutorials have little forethought, subpar gameplay, and questionable effort was put into this experience. As nice as the Alicization experience is, there is nothing in this game that motivates me to play it over simply watching the anime or reading the source material. It’s unfortunate, as these games could really be engaging and have so much more to them than we’ve seen with this and other releases.
[Editor’s Note: Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]