Sword Art Online: Lost Song Review

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Title: Sword Art Online: Lost Song
Developer: Artdink, Namco Bandai
Game Type: PlayStation Vita
Download: 3.0 GB
NA Availability: Retail | Digital

EU Availability: Retail | Digital
PSTV Support: Yes

There are many different Manga and Anime franchises that have had video games come from them.  Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, and even Negima have gotten games based on them, and many more.  Anime games are becoming a more popular and common trend as of late.  Even on the PS Vita, you see games like Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z and One Piece: Unlimited World Red popping up and the upcoming J-Stars Victory VS as well.

The one thing to think of are franchises that it seems appropriate to have video games based off of them or having both anime and video game content.  The one recent anime that makes the most sense for getting video games is Sword Art Online, because that anime is about the gaming world.  Last year, the world got one from it, in the form of the PS Vita exclusive Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, which served as an offline MMORPG.

This year, the Hollow Fragment story continues.  Namco Bandai has another RPG incoming for that universe, which isn’t due for release in the West for a few months.  Thanks to the Asia region and releasing a version with an English translation, I am here to present my very first import review.  Taking place in the Alfheim Online world, here is my official review of Sword Art Online: Lost Song!

Story

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The story of Lost Song takes place in the Virtual Reality game called Alfheim Online.  It is an original story where a new update comes to ALO, incorporating many new floating islands and dungeons.  Upon the release of this update, Kirito and his many friends and allies take flight in the aerial-based MMO environment to explore this new area, completely unaware of a hidden plot going on around them for their entire trip.

Despite what the developers claimed, Lost Song is very much a direct sequel to Hollow Fragment’s story.  The plot includes Philia, Sinon, Strea , and others from that game as well as recapping on origin stories from that game, such as using Leafa’s inclusion in Hollow Fragment as opposed to her inclusion from the anime.  Because of this it would be advised to recap Hollow Fragment’s story before playing Lost Song to avoid being confused upon being told spoilers from that game’s endings

Finally, let’s talk about the translation.  Without a doubt, the biggest complaint about Hollow Fragment was its “Engrish” translation.  Although this is the Asia version of the game, the translation in Lost Song is excellent.  I found little to no spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, word usage mistakes, or anything of the sort.  It’s just as good, if not better than most North America English translations.

Gameplay

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Lost Song is different from its predecessor in the fact that it’s a more Action-oriented RPG and less of an MMO.  Although the game still has many of the gameplay features the last game had, like leveling up, skill trees, weapon upgrades, quests, and party-based combat, there are a lot of differences in the game as well.

The first two major differences are playable characters and aerial mechanics.  In Hollow Fragment, you could recruit an additional character into your party, like Asuna or Leafa, but could not control them.  In Lost Song, you can put anyone as the party leader and control them.  Be it Kirito, Asuna, Leafa, Argo, Klein, Agil, or Sinon, you can choose who you wish to play, aside from a few character-specific boss fights that require Kirito or Asuna.

Flying is the biggest difference and joy of the game.  Since this takes place in the ALO world, every character is a fairy and has wings.  When you’re out in the large open areas, you can take flight and roam around as you wish be it hovering as you set up attacks or just soar through the sky for the fun of it as you move towards your next destination.  These areas are incredibly large and the flying mechanics are quite flashy and fun to work with.

Skills and Weapons are another change and addition.  Each character can only equip a certain number of weapon types.  Leafa, for example, can only choose to use a One-Handed Sword, Rapier, or Katana.  Each character can only equip one of three weapon types set to their character.  The same can be said about the custom character the game lets you make.  Each race, like Undine, Spriggan, and Cait Sith, can only equip set weapon types based on their abilities and have different abilities, like the Undine’s larger MP pool, and the Cait Sith’s use of familiars.

Magic is the biggest addition to skills.  Each character can learn Sword Skills that use their weapons as well as battle and passive skills that increase stats and certain situations.  But, they can also learn magic spells.  You can easily switch back and forth between Magic and Weapon Mode and each race has their own spell growth.  Undines emphasize on Water and Holy Magic whereas other races focus on other elements.  Magic can be elemental damage, buffs like MP Regeneration or faster movement speed, or healing properties like recovering HP and reviving fallen party members.

The game has a town that acts as a base of sorts with an Inn to Save and change party members, a Guild to accept quests and create custom characters, and shops to buy and upgrade items and equipment.  From there, you can find characters for story events as well as going through a teleport stone to go to one of the various environments for the game’s main progression.

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Game progress has you traveling huge islands filled with monsters, chests, and dungeons to explore.  Upon reaching each island, your goal will be to survey the islands many locations and then tackling them in order, be it going to a dungeon to get a special item to unlock a door in another dungeon to find a boss or doing quests to get items you need to go forward.  All in all, it’s a matter of going through events and reaching bosses to get items to complete the island’s main quest and unlock the Final Boss of the area in order to unlock the next area.

Combat goes into two fashions: Ground and Air.  When you’re in open areas or in the middle of major boss fights, you can fight them on the ground or in the air.  Aside from using Spells and Skills, you will have different ways of fighting depending on whether you’re grounded or flying.  The combos with weapons go through in different ways so you’ll need to know what to do to make sure you can fight with the most efficiency.

The difficulty of the game varies.  There are three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal, and Hard.  Each time you re-boot the game to the Title Screen, you can change this.  This is useful for leveling your character.  You can gain experience and level up by fighting enemies but you also level weapon proficiency and skills as well by getting certain numbers of hits with each skill.  For leveling characters and unlocking magic, Easy Mode is useful, whereas Hard Mode is useful when you want to level up your skills.

Going through the game on Normal shouldn’t give you too much difficulty, overall.  Some bosses can push you around, but once you learn the system, particularly the flying mechanics and finding weak points on bosses, it is very doable and isn’t too hard at all.  Hard Mode is where things get challenging and you’re forced to learn every mechanic, when each boss can practically one-shot you.   Though it is worth saying that there will be a few cases where you’ll need to stop and grind for a bit of time for certain bosses.  Especially for getting higher skills.

One final thing to note on is online multiplayer.  SAO Lost Song is equipped with online co-op capabilities and PvP.  This online feature is region-free, no less, which means that if you’re in Europe or North America and use the Asia version of the game, you can still connect to the PlayStation Network and play with friends from all over the world.  I played the game with a friend from Singapore without any issues.  The online play also is smart to tell you connection strength for the people in your room or hosting rooms, so you can avoid low signal rooms that would have lag in the middle of the game.

All in all, the game should last you somewhere between 20 and 30 hours to clear the main story.  After that, there is a substantial amount of post-game missions, bosses, and story content to clear which will likely take you several more hours.  It’s not nearly as long as Hollow Fragment, but it’s got a good amount of content in it for an Action RPG.

Controls

Controlling Sword Art Online: Lost Song isn’t very hard to do.  One thing I will note is that you will be using pretty much every button the system has to offer as you play through the game, though the touch screen is optional for small text messages and isn’t needed if you play this game on the PlayStation TV.

Moving your character will be done with the Left Analog Stick and the Camera can be used with the Right Analog Stick.  You can also use the right stick to switch targets when locked onto an enemy.  The D-Pad is used to initiate various parts of flight mode, be it hovering, flying, or moving to the ground.  The face buttons are used for various movement.  X is used for jumping and adjusting altitude, and Circle is used for dodging and guarding.  Square is used for normal attacks and Triangle is used for heavy attacks.  R is used in combination with buttons for skills and the L button centers the camera.

The camera is the one thing about how the game controls that represents an annoyance.  There are many cases in the game, particularly when you are locked onto an enemy, when the camera will give you problems.  Since the camera is set to stay on the enemy, it will try to stay locked on as long as possible.  Because of this, it can easily get stuck on wall corners and make your visibility almost nonexistent.  The main solution for this is to remove the lock and aim manually.

Presentation

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Visually, Lost Song looks very good for a Vita title.  The environments look practically flawless and the character models are of a cell-shaded style where they do have a few jagged edges along the models, but it isn’t something that is overly apparent.  There’s a lot of detail in each model and animation, moreso than many cell-shaded Vita games.

The way the game plays is good but has its own downer point.  First of all, the game plays surprisingly well, especially considered how huge some of the environments are.  The load times are pretty short, not making you wait more than about 8 seconds to load an area, and even less to load shops in town.  The main thing bringing the performance down is the frame-rate.  While the game runs very well in most areas, some bosses and closed areas with multiple enemies can show the occasional drop in the frame-rate.  It’s similar to the issues in Hollow Fragment’s dungeons, but much less frequent.

Summary

Sword Art Online: Lost Song is the newest game based on the VRMMO anime series.  On the downside, the camera can be troublesome and there are occasional frame drops in dungeons.  Outside of this is a fun Action RPG with a lot to do, fully functional online multiplayer, and a translation far superior to its predecessor.

8/10

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