SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection Review
The Sword Art Online videogame series dates back over 10 years, and although they’ve received mixed review scores, the sales numbers (around six million across all titles) prove that there are people who enjoy these action RPGs. But, with the release of SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection, will we finally get a stand-out title that even those who aren’t fans of the anime and light novel should play?
Whilst it may be tempting to jump into this latest SAO game without having played the previous ones, be warned that the story is very much a sequel to SWORD ART ONLINE Alicization Lycoris. Considering that Last Recollection is being touted as the culmination of the videogame series, that’s potentially a lot of time to invest. Think of it as similar to watching Avengers: Endgame without seeing the previous films first. Sure, it may still be a bit of mindless enjoyment, but you’ll have no idea who anyone is or what’s going on!
For those of you who are up to speed with the plot, then this tale begins right after the finale of the previous game’s DLC; with the defeat of Quinella, tensions in the world are at an all-time high, so there’s no rest and relaxation for Kirito and friends! As they prepare for the dark forces that will inevitably begin to invade the human kingdom, we’re introduced to new character Dorothy; a Dark Knight with an offer of peace from a number of the Dark Territories rulers, the Ten Lords. Naturally, it’s up to Kirito and his party of characters returning from previous games to venture into the Dark Territory in order to broker peace.
As plots go, this unfortunately isn’t the gripping tale I’d expected for the final chapter of such an in-depth “what-if” original storyline. Whilst the initial mystery of Dorothy and her unexpected peace offering had me curious for a time, it takes a sharp nose dive off a cliff and doesn’t pick back up again until much later into the campaign. Dorothy is an interesting character at least, and although the majority of the cast doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, her overarching plot, whilst being fairly cliché, was still entertaining as I watched her grow as a person throughout my roughly 30-hour journey.
Whilst a game's visuals aren’t the most important factor, Last Recollection is virtually unchanged from Alicization Lycoris, although since you spend the bulk of your time in the Dark Territory, the environments are a lot less pleasing to the eye. Whilst charred, barren wastelands are good for a while, to have the majority of the game take place in such a bland world (with the maps themselves featuring little to do) made me just rush from one objective to the next without stopping to explore. What’s doubly disappointing is the amount of animations, character models, and even music that has been recycled from the previous game, and makes this occasionally look like a lazy cash-grab to sell off a few more copies of a waning franchise.
However, it isn’t all bad. Despite the reused animations, battles are flashy and frantic, with so much going on at once, it can be hard to keep up. Thankfully, the frame rate does keep up, as very rarely did I ever notice a drop in frames, and even those were barely noticeable. The voice acting is fantastic, as most — if not all — of the anime’s cast return, with fully voiced scenes throughout the game, coupled with a well-translated script, the voice actors really put a great effort in here.
As an action RPG, Last Recollection doesn’t stray from the tried and true formula of “get quest, fight bad guys, finish quest”. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but when the previous titles in the series have all done the same, fatigue definitely sets in. There has been a lot of content cut or simplified (such as the removal of life skills and a much more basic talent tree) and whilst some of this makes for a more streamlined narrative, the game definitely doesn’t benefit from taking away these systems from the player.
Perhaps my favourite thing about Last Recollection is the combat. Selecting up to three other party members to accompany Kirito from a roster of 45 (that’s an impressive amount!) the battles are silky smooth and not only visually appealing but fun to engage in. There is a noticeable improvement from Alicization Lycoris’ combat, and is by far the most polished in the series. It may initially seem like mash the square button to win, but it doesn’t take long to start unlocking skills, being able to chain attacks with team members, and issue orders on the fly. It was a bit of a let-down to see that the majority of the playable characters all control the same, but with some flashy abilities and big monsters (with even bigger health bars) to take down, I didn’t find it boring despite some long play sessions.
The introduction of the Tactical Arts system allows you to fine-tune how your AI controlled companions act in battle, and it’s not too dissimilar to the Gambit system from Final Fantasy XII. Whilst you can switch characters mid-battle, with just how hectic combat can be, taking the time to set up who does what and when definitely eases some of the stress of a high-stakes battle. You can even praise your teammates for a job well done, which, despite being rather adorable whilst going up against a group of snarling beasts, lets you issue further commands in the heat of battle and eventually leading to a high-damage dealing team attack.
Although you’ll be spending a lot of time in combat, you will explore the rather linear areas of the Dark Territory, tackling sidequests or just going from one story beat to the next. These optional quests are as generic as they come, featuring such classics as “bring me X amount of items” or “kill x monster”. Sure, they can offer some nice rewards such as alternate outfits, but they don’t offer any additional world-building or fun side stories, and just end up being forgettable.
Whilst SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection isn’t a strong contender for “must-play action RPG”, it certainly has its enjoyable moments. Although the story is underwhelming and content has been removed, the lightning-fast combat is enjoyable enough to keep fans invested until the credits roll. It’s one of the better Sword Art Online games, but when you look at past titles, that isn’t exactly high praise.
SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
As the “final chapter” in the SAO gameverse, Last Recollection is a disappointing end to a subpar series of games. A tight, fun combat system aside, this is one for die-hard fans only.