Review: Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

sword-art-online-lost-song-review-banner

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3 (Asia)
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Sword Art Online: Lost Song
Format: Blu-ray Disc / Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (PS4 5.36 GB) (PSV 3.0 GB)
Release Date: November 17, 2015
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Artdink
Original MSRP: $59.99 (PS4) / $39.99 (PSV)
ESRB Rating: T
Sword Art Online: Lost Song is also available on PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Sword Art Online (SAO) probably doesn’t need an introduction, as the anime/novel franchise seems to grow bigger by the year. But for those who aren’t familiar, SAO is set in a world where VR has evolved to the point where people can put on a helmet that simulates all five of their senses. Naturally, MMORPGs are one of the first things implemented in VR and the franchise is named after the first VR MMO, Sword Art Online.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song picks up shortly after the end of the game Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment. Hollow Fragment diverged from the original novel/anime version of the story (see that review, caution: spoilers for the anime) and Lost Song continues on that divergence. Although Lost Song is loosely based on the ALfheim Online arc of the original story, the tie is so loose that for the most part only the setting and characters are retained.

In the wake of the SAO incident, Kirito and his friends have picked up a new VRMMO to play, ALfheim Online (ALO). Though based on SAO’s (the in-universe game) core code, ALO has made additions which allow players to use magic and fly around in a Norse themed setting. Lost Song takes place as ALO is getting a new expansion, Svart Alfheim, added to the game. Being the gamers they are, Kirito and pals log on to explore the new content.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151129140215Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151201204713

And… that’s about it for the story. The game is oddly devoid of a main story, especially in the early parts of the game. Most of the dialogue is almost meta in the way the characters themselves comment on the game they (and by extension the player) are playing and the main conflict is “we want to clear this new content.” As the story progresses, a central plot slowly emerges but it never really drew me in. The main story is also relatively short, at least by JRPG standards (and especially when compared to Hollow Fragment).

Naturally though, there is also side story content. The game has a lot of the named characters from the source material and many of them will have story events from time to time. Most of these rely a bit on players knowing both the source material and the events of Hollow Fragment though, so I imagine a fan of the SAO universe would get a lot more out of these side stories than most other players. The few that do dive deeper into character’s backstories also include a lot of spoilers for the source material.

… Dodge no longer has a cool down …
Gameplay:
In many ways, Lost Song feels like it tries to differentiate from Hollow Fragment as much as possible. One way is that the combat is faster and more akin to an action RPG than before. The face buttons are now set and cannot be changed. Square and Triangle are a light and heavy attack, respectively, while Circle is a dodge button. Cross is now tied to a jump button.

The dodge is the biggest part of what makes Lost Song feel more like an action game than an MMO like its predecessor. Dodge no longer has a cool down and it feels more responsive. As a result, it’s now much easier to dodge well-telegraphed attacks and the game seems more designed around players taking advantage of that.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151121080246Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151129145102

Special skills are accessed by holding R1 and then pressing Square, Triangle, or any of the D-pad buttons (for access to a total of six skills). Since ALO also has magic, characters can also access magic spells in the same way, only by having their weapon sheathed before holding R1.

The world design is also a big change from Hollow Fragment, and for good reason. Hollow Fragment was mostly designed with a lot of small but interconnected maps, probably due to the limitations of it originally being a PSP title. Lost Song, however, has fewer overall maps which are huge hub areas that each have a number of dungeons on them.

… Controlling the vertical positioning while fighting is less than ideal …
The reason for these large hubs is clearly to support ALO’s flying mechanics. Pressing left or right on the D-pad allows the player to hover. This mode is pretty much akin to walking, just with the ability to control vertical positioning with the Cross button. For faster movement in the sky, pressing up on the D-pad changes into flight mode, where the player can fly around quickly. On its own, the flying mechanic is a fun addition. The hub areas are designed with lots of canyons and floating islands to fly around and exploring them is a breeze.

However, fighting enemies in the air, on the occasions where required, can be slightly annoying. Getting attacked will knock the player all the way to the ground, although the player is given a window to recover without falling all the way. Controlling the vertical positioning while fighting is less than ideal so fortunately locking onto an enemy and moving toward them in hover mode will also change the player’s vertical position. This makes air combat mostly manageable for a single enemy (such as a boss), but less enjoyable for mobs of enemies.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151130212918Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151203205849

Overall, the combat in Lost Song is pretty decent. It’s faster than the other SAO games which makes it feel less like an MMO than those games. With the more responsive dodge button, it’s much easier to quickly avoid enemy attacks and that plays a bigger role in the game’s combat.

Content wise, Lost Song is decently big although it seems to pale in comparison to Hollow Fragment. Each of the hub areas is large enough to take a couple of minutes to fly from side to side and house a few secrets here and there. Sadly the secrets (chests and such) seem far too few and for the most part, the hub areas feel sparsely populated. Not necessarily in number of enemies but definitely in terms of stuff to do.

In addition to the hub areas, there are the dungeons. Most of the dungeons are story related, and locked until needed for the story. There are only half a dozen or so on each hub area. Plus the dungeons are typically only a single small map area or two and don’t feature a whole lot to explore.

… the character creator is very limited …
When not advancing the story, there are still a few things for players to do. Side quests run the usual gambit of “kill X of Y enemies” or “collect Z of T materials.” There’s also plenty of grinding available, if the player wants. Although character advancement (leveling up, gaining new skills) comes fairly quickly (another way this game differs from Hollow Fragment), the game’s high level cap and pretty extensive roster of playable characters mean there’s a lot to grind out for players who want to maximize everything.

That extensive roster includes an impressive number of the named characters from the source material and a few of the original characters that were in Hollow Fragment. If that’s not enough, there are also three slots for the player to create a character. Sadly though, the character creator is very limited. It has a number of races to choose from but each race only has two options in each of the categories of hair style, hair color, and skin color.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151129145518Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151204001623

Perhaps the biggest hit against the game is the repetitiveness of it. Side stories will often just reuse the same dungeons (or portions of the same dungeons) as the main questline. Enemies get reused and reused over and over, just with stronger stats. It’s even the same with bosses, as there seem to be only a dozen or so in the game, which get recycled often, as seen in the two screen captures above.

Visuals:
Anime tie-in games are often not all that visually spectacular and Sword Art Online: Lost Song is no exception. Especially since the game was a PS3 game in Japan, the visuals are not pushing the high end of PS4 games. Environment textures are the biggest offenders in that respect but a lot of aspects of the visuals feel “last gen”.

2015-12-02-2131082015-12-02-213411

Vita version screenshots

That said, the PS4 does really show its power in the pure number of on-screen enemies. The viewing distance on the PS4 version of the game is pretty good, allowing the player to see groups of enemies from quite a ways away. Given the huge environments, this means there can easily be a several dozen enemies onscreen at once and makes the world feel pretty expansive. This is especially evident when flying around the hubs at top speed, watching big groups of enemies pass by.

Unfortunately the Vita version takes a big hit in that department when compared to the PS4. Enemies pop-in much more noticeably on the Vita. Plus, not only are they not visible from as far a distance, there also seem to be fewer overall enemies in this version. Flying around on the Vita version doesn’t seem quite as amazing. Even the town, which is populated with a ton of faux-player characters on PS4 is much more sparsely populated in the Vita version.

… pretty good in motion on both platforms …
It’s not all bad for Vita though, player models look pretty good in motion on both platforms. Enemy models are also decent on both. After fighting a boss on the PS4, I loaded it up on the Vita to see if it looked significantly worse and was pleasantly surprised by how much detail it managed to retain on the smaller platform.

The game’s visuals are decent from a pure design point of view but once again the lack of content hampers said designs. The dungeons all feel the same and the enemies and bosses feel less and less special the more times they’re reused only with a different palette.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song_201511302201332015-11-29-212255

Comparison: Left image is PS4, right image is Vita

Audio:
The game is once again a Japanese audio-only affair. Almost all of the dialogue is voiced though and the game seems to feature the same voice talents as were used in the anime adaptation.

Music is the same kind of mostly generic RPG music that was used for the previous games. It’s not a bad soundtrack but not particularly memorable. That said, a few tracks seemed especially short and thus repetitive. Or maybe they didn’t expect players to really spend all that much time in the character’s room…

… much easier to coordinate different roles during battle …
Online/Multiplayer:
Lost Song, though mostly a single player game, does have a few online modes to explore. These modes are sequestered from the main game and have their own missions to complete. The first is, of course, a cooperative mission mode where players can take on special multiplayer missions. The second is a player versus player mode where players can compete with each other.

Cooperative play is not too different from the normal game. Lobbies hold up to sixteen players but each mission can only be tackled by a maximum of four, which isn’t too different from the three character parties in the main game. Unlike single player though, these are real players so it is much easier to coordinate different roles during battle. Lost Song even includes voice chat to facilitate this, although when I played this mode I just used the PS4’s built-in parties.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151204210226Sword Art Online: Lost Song_20151204213119

Multiplayer missions range from a single boss fight to a full dungeon crawl, some of which can be quite long and involved. One of the highest level missions I tackled, for which several players were somewhat underleveled, took the better part of an hour. Maybe even longer, since we eventually succumbed to a boss and were booted to the beginning of the mission.

The multiplayer is a pretty decent addition to the game and playing online was more fun than just pushing through with AI party members. Multiplayer missions can drop some of the strongest weapons in the game, and in fact helped powerlevel/equip my team which ended up making the story mode a breeze. Still, the game doesn’t actually have any new content here. Multiplayer still uses the same reskinned bosses and some minor remixes of the same dungeons as the single player.

… an enjoyable adventure to play …
Conclusion:
Anime tie-in games can often be less than stellar, but Sword Art Online: Lost Song does manage to break into the good category. The combat is alright and although the story leaves something to be desired, fans of the franchise may still find it an enjoyable adventure to play with their favorite characters. The main story doesn’t overstay it’s welcome (I’d estimate about twenty-five to thirty hours) with some end game and multiplayer content on the side.

For the seemingly ever-increasing Sword Art Online fanbase, Lost Song is a slightly flawed but ultimately fun romp through the world of ALfheim Online. Now I just wonder how the game franchise is going to handle Gun Gale Online, the FPS MMO that Kirito joins after the ALO story arc…

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature and the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Flag_of_the_United_States.svg

Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

Flag_of_Canada.svg

 

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook