After the resonating success that was Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, there was no doubt that Bandai Namco would bring the follow up, Sword Art Online: Lost Song, to the west following its release in Asia early this year.
One thing that was made pretty clear to me as soon as I jumped into the game was that this is not the best way for newcomers like myself to get their first taste of the Sword Art Online universe. This game does carry on from where Hollow Fragment left off and I would recommend that if you are looking at Lost Song as your way into the Sword Art Online universe to rethink your plans and start with either the anime or the earlier game before playing this.
Lost Song tales place on a floating continent called Svart ALfheim that appears in ALfheim Online – the VRMMORPG successor to Sword Art Online. The premise of the game is that you are racing against other guilds to clear the quests within Svart ALfheim – becoming the first to do so. Your main challenger in this race to be number one is Shamrock – a fan-club/guild that worships idol/scientist Seven, one of the new characters in the game.
Kirito returns as the main protagonist in Lost Song, but, for the first time in the series, he can be replaced by any of the other fifteen-plus characters – allowing for you to customise your in-battle party as you see fit. If you see fit, you can even create your own character to play through the story with, although the story will progress telling Kirito’s tale regardless who your ‘main’ character is.
The main hub area, the Floating City of Ryne, is where you can plan your approach before venturing into the different continents that fill Svart ALfheim’s world. In the hub city you can interact with other characters from time to time to begin individual character stories, visit Agil or Lisbeth for all your weapon and armour needs, choose your party of three at the Inn and even pick Side Quests and Extra Quests at the inn.
Once you are ready and equipped to take on the next quest, you will then travel to a continent and work toward clearing each of the dungeons that are located within that land. There are four continents in total to work your way through, Woglinde – the island of meadows, Wellgunde – the Valley of Sand, Flosshilde – the Ring of Ice and Nibelheim – the Rocky Wasteland (the final, dark continent). In order to progress to the next area you will need to clear the current one that you have unlocked – beating all the bosses in all the dungeons before you clear the final dungeon that plays home to a badass boss!
Travelling around these areas and battling the enemies that you encounter as you progress are two of the highlights in Lost Song. In keeping with the Alfheim Online setting, players have fairy wings and can fly around the continents in Lost Song. The flight mechanics feel great, with the PlayStation Vita’s d-pad allowing you to switch between ground-based traversal, hovering and full flight. It does take a few goes to get used to, but in next to no time you will be soaring the skies of Svart ALfheim (especially once the altitude limit is removed later on in the game). The only downside to the flying is that you cannot use this mechanic when in a dungeon – making fights against flying enemies a bit of a pain at times.
I also found myself wanting more from the dungeons and enemies that the game threw at me. Bar the bosses (which are glorious to look at and give off a menacing vibe) the ‘standard’ enemies that you encounter during the game re-use the same character models over and over – with each continent inhabited by the same seven or so enemies that have simply been re-skinned, re-named and had their level raised up a notch or two to add a bit more of a challenge then the last time you came across them. This means that after you have faced off with a certain enemy type a few times, you will begin to learn it’s attack pattern – meaning that you can almost pre-empt enemy movements which makes battles a lot less difficult.
The same thing can be said about the dungeons. Whilst the outdoor environments of the continents that you visit offer up bright colours and a variety of contours and locations that help you find your bearings – the dungeons leave a lot to be desired. Each dungeon looks the same as the last, with minimal differences such as the design on a door and some having multiple levels.
It’s a shame that both the dungeons and enemies come across as lazy reskins because, as I mentioned above, the boss designs are great in this game. Each boss is extremely detailed and looks like a force to be reckoned with. When you come across a boss battle and then see the health bar that you have to deplete – you know you are in for a good twenty minute slog!
Another series first for Lost Song is the action-RPG battle system in the game. Each character can wield three different weapons – with swords, axes and spears amongst those that are available. Pressing Square will see you attack and you can press Triangle for a heavy attack. Original Sword Skills (or OSS) return and are incredibly useful in combat and the more you use these skills the more powerful they become – levelling up as you progress through the game.
Alongside the phyiscal attacks available are magic spells – featuring the usual element-based spells that are common in most RPG’s. These attacks also level-up, so it is dividing your attacks between physical and magical attacks so that you can level both up together – ensuring that you do not have underpowered attacks later on in the game.
The problem with the levelling system for individual attacks is that I found myself sticking to one weapon and one elemental attack throughout the whole game, levelling these two up as high as I could whilst not really paying much attention to the other options available. Luckily, I spent more care when levelling up all of the support characters – switching between them often and experimenting with the different setups available that would best compliment my character.
One thing that I found great about Lost Song was that the party AI was a lot better than in most RPG’s. Whenever in battle I could rely on the AI characters to heal and revive myself and each other whilst helping me whittle down some of the gigantic health bars I was tasked with tackling.
Although the AI is great in the game, nothing quite compares to being able to play alongside other players. Here is where Sword Art Online: Lost Song excels. The game’s online modes allow for both ad-hoc or network multiplayer and offers players the chance to either quest together or duel with each other. It is great fun questing with other players, with the quests available generally tasking you with defeating a number of enemies or the larger bosses that feature in the single-player. The duels are also a good laugh, allowing you to duke it out with another player in a bid to come out on top. I found myself favouring the quests over the duels, as these were definitely the most social of the two modes. I also liked the fact that there was a lot of criteria options available when searching for or setting up a lobby room.
I would also like to point out that Lost Song is definitely one of the best looking games that has released on the PlayStation Vita this year. The cutscenes and dialogue sections are mainly portrayed with beautiful, static, 2D artwork (with some animated cutscenes for key story points) but each character and each environment looks great. The colours and effects on show are stunning, and the game runs smoothly with very little slowdown (I did notice a drop in the frame rate when the on-screen action got a little busy but nothing too bad).
The game’s audio works extremely well, with ambient, melodic guitar tracks playing as you explore the continents. The music soon ramps up as you enter battle, with the sound effects also playing their part to make every attack sound exactly as you would expect. Lost Song‘s voiceovers are all Japanese, so you will need to read the on-screen text but that is to be expected and the localisation of the text is spot on – so you don’t need to worry about anything getting lost in translation!
Overall, my experience with Sword Art Online: Lost Song was enjoyable – I had fun flying through the continents, slaying all the monsters in my path. However, I feel that I would have appreciated the game more if I had a bit more knowledge of the source material. Over the 30 hours or so it will take you to get to the end of the main story you will grow to enjoy the characters and their interactions with each other – but this is definitely a game that relies on you knowing the previous goings-on in the Sword Art universe. I think the best thing I can say is that if you are new to the Sword Art Online, then you are not ready for this game – have a read of Kyle’s review of Hollow Fragment and consider buying that game instead. If you are a Sword Art veteran, then what are you waiting for – this game provides a nice continuation of the series and, if you haven’t already bought it, will give you hours of fun!