Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is an ambitious title that tries to accomplish too much. Based on the popular anime the game retells the story faithfully for the most part before taking the source material and running wild with it. Its attempts to deliver a thrilling narrative and compelling gameplay don’t quite add up and the end result is a game that does everything it can to actually stop you from playing it or at the very least, making it almost impossible to enjoy it.
The latest in the long running series of JRPG titles based on the Sword Art Online franchise, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris kicks things off at the beginning of the third season of the anime. The main character, Kirito, finds himself waking up in the Underworld, with next to no memory of how or why he is there. Quickly, he will make new friends and begin an adventure to find a missing girl named Alice, while also uncovering the mysteries of the Underworld and hopefully finding a way back to the real world. This premise is promising enough to keep your attention for a few hours but you’ll quickly discover that everything comes crashing down only to end up being an absolute slog to get through.
For the most part the game follows the plot of the anime without issue. There are some moments that are missing, over simplified, or just skipped all together, but players will be able to keep up with what's going on. Newcomers to the series will have a harder time getting up to speed on the universe however, as the game expects some level of prior knowledge for more series wide terms and themes. Getting over this initial barrier to entry though won’t be the only challenge, as the game also features some of the longest cutscenes seen in a game for some time requiring you to read a lot of subtitles.
Now this wouldn’t be too bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that as mentioned earlier the game does its best to stop you from playing it. There are sections where you will be given control of the characters only to run for no more than 30 seconds to enter a 20 minute long cutscene. Once over, you will then run another few seconds for, you guessed it, another long cutscene. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were interesting, but for the first 10 hours this loop continues without fail and normally without the option to save during the middle. One stand out moment was when the game put several bosses one after another, all with lengthy cutscenes between them, with no option to pause to recover or even save at any point during this, meaning if you died during this two hour section you had to start all over again.
When the game does let you play however, things start to pick up if even just a little bit. Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris offers real-time battles set within massive environments meaning there are no random encounters here, with enemies roaming the lands just like you. When engaged in combat you can make use of a wide range of skills, attacks, and a fairly reliable blocking mechanic to defeat your foes. The AI companions can be set up to fit your playstyle as well with numerous options to define their combat style. You can even send commands to them during battles, and make use of combo attacks and special finishing moves to really deal out the damage. There are even one-on-one duels where combat feels more personal and intense with the stakes being that much higher.
It’s a shame then that the combat system offers so much depth that it is still plagued with issues that make it difficult to fully enjoy. For starters, much like the narrative, combat has an odd pace to it wherever action feels like it doesn’t respond as you would expect it to. Good luck if you get launched into the air too, as the time it takes to return to the ground and regain control feels like forever. I would say that combat feels like it suffers from input lag, but there is definitely something about the timing of actions that do lean towards that feeling. If you can get to grips with it though and power through to the late game systems, there is plenty to enjoy here. It’s just not perfect and unfortunately, this is the only saving grace to the game.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris suffers massively from a range of technical and graphic problems that ultimately make the game next to impossible to play and enjoy. Even on a PlayStation 4 Pro, the framerate is constantly below 30 FPS in and out of combat, with incredibly long loading times. Not to mention this combined with the camera controls actually made me feel sick at times which is not something you expect in a third-person title. Menus also have noticeable input lag, the saving system is a mess, and numerous game breaking bugs were present during the time of playing for review. Add to this visually uninspiring environments, models, and low resolution textures and you have a game that’s not even fun to look at with the exception of the character models.
It’s worth noting that at the time of writing this review a patch was released to address a number of major issues, including performance and camera controllers. This patch, released on 22nd July, was played as part of this review but ultimately the changes failed to make any real difference to the above complaints and therefore, didn’t change the final score of this review. The patch did however add a bunch of new end-game content along with loot boxes that players could earn tickets for through daily quests. So, if that’s something you wanted, it’s there now.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris does also support online co-op but the feature isn’t made available to the player until beyond 15 plus hours of playtime. Considering this feature is a main selling point, it’s odd that it would require so much investment before being able to enjoy it. Once unlocked however, players can make their own avatar to replace Kirito and then venture online to complete quests with friends. If you are playing with friends or just opening up your session to a random person, both the guest and the host will be able to bring along an AI companion to help with battles and leveling them up, which is nice.
While the developers have promised more patches and post launch content for Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris, it’s hard to get excited about this when the current offering is so unenjoyable and filled with problems. While many might find the game opens up enough around the 15 or 20 hour mark, it’s hard to recommend putting yourself through that much suffering. As it stands, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is an unenjoyable and uninspiring title that falls victim to its own ambition. You won’t be missing out on much by skipping this one.
SWORD ART ONLINE Alicization Lycoris (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
The game is unenjoyable, but it works.
While Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is ambitious in scope it ends up being a largely unenjoyable title full of technical problems, bugs, and horrible pacing.