Sword Art Online: Lost Song is a game I’ve waited a long time for as a big fan of the series and, unlike the shaky Re: Hollow Fragment, Lost Song takes to the skies and goes above and beyond its predecessor.
Lost Song is everything a sequel should be – it’s better in every way and you can tell that developer Artdink listened to complaints about the first game and did their best to fix them here. Lost Song takes place in the fairy world of Alfheim, another MMO that Kirito and his friends are playing after the shocking game of life and death that happened in Aincrad, and features and much more lighthearted storyline where they simply want to have fun together and conquer the MMO’s hardest quests.
I actually prefer the world of Alfheim and it doesn’t disappoint here, and a lot of the issues I previously had with characters and story aren’t present here. The characters in Hollow Fragment felt very fan-service orientated and not true to themselves, whilst they feel a lot more true to source here with a better written and paced story – it came as a relief after playing its predecessor which struggled in a lot of aspects, despite my having fun with it. The new characters blend in perfectly with the current cast, and the roster of playable characters is now huge and it’s difficult just picking who you wish to take into battle with your party of three!
The combat has had a notable overhaul from Hollow Fragment with the auto-attack being removed entirely to opt for more controlled combat, with basic attacks being possible alongside your stronger skills. It’s far better – much better than I could’ve imagined based on my experience with its predecessor – and proved to be very addictive. It still has its MMO-inspirations where equipment, loot and actions and skills are set and used, with many being assigned to a shoulder button and a face button, and dungeons needing to be cleared to find the best equipment and weapons. You can upgrade them via a blacksmith, also known as our trusty Lisbeth, although I usually opted to defeat enemies for new equipment.
Another welcome change is that the ‘switch’ system has been removed too and, for those who don’t know, ‘switch’ was when you ran out of stamina and had to switch characters so that the stamina could be regained and you attacks would become stronger again. This is completely gone, which I love, as it was a hassle that didn’t add much to the game bar representing Kirito and Asuna’s trademark move from the anime but, as fans know, the games let you play as whoever you want. The dungeons sadly are quite bland which can become a bit of a drag when you need to backtrack or search for something, and the open-world suffers a similar problem to a lesser degree but the game is so fun that these are easy issues to overlook.
The visual novel elements are better than ever with the characters being better written and flowing more naturally, and the romance options have been rid of in exchange for a more friendly bond system which I prefer. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship is better respected here and so there’s no taking other girls to bed thankfully, and it really does feel as if fans were kept in mind for this installment. There’re plenty of side-missions and extra bosses to fight alongside the already lengthy main story which is roughly 25 hours long on its own, and with so many characters to play as, it’s easy to find reasons to revisit the world of Alfheim.
The 3D visuals aren’t quite up the par with many PS4 titles, mainly because it’s also a Vita title, but it looks far better than Hollow Fragment and captures the essence of the anime well. Again, characters and the central hub are much more fleshed out than the battle environments which are vast but relatively empty – although there’re plenty of enemies about and a few places to explore – and there are multiple outfits for most characters ranging from entirely original outfits, anime outfits, outfits based on the God Eater series and more. There’s so much more content in Lost Song and it’s certainly something to boast about.
The Japanese voice cast reprise their roles from the anime – as far as I can tell, all of them do – but there’s no English Dub available. Having no English voiceover isn’t an issue but there is a lot of dialogue in the game and, knowing how popular Sword Art Online is, it’s odd that Bandai Namco opted to not dub it. The OST is excellent and isn’t left behind by the brilliant voice-acting, and the mixture of rock tunes and calmer, soothing tones are delights to listen too. Sound effects have been taken up a notch too when compared with Hollow Fragment.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song is a game that should, by all rights, please fans even if Alfheim isn’t as popular as Aincrad. One thing Alfheim has over the other arcs is the ability to fly which handles wonderfully here once you get the hang of it, and it’s great fun soaring around to explore and travel, and having air battles allows for more variety in fighting and, again, handles smoothly. It’s easy to get into, it’s a good place for newcomers and it keeps fans in mind and delivers a truly joyful game that lives up to expectations. It’s leagues beyond Hollow Fragment and if they’re able to make this much of a difference, then I’m excited to see how Artdink handle the next game in the Sword Art Online series.