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I watched every season of Sword Art Online, and I enjoyed it. Alicization had one of my favorite plots, full of mysteries and twists in the first part, albeit the numerous terminology and jargon to explain their VR technology.
However, I had never played an SAO game before, and Alicization Lycoris was my first. So pardon me for the lack of comparison with its predecessor. But this gave me a fresh look at the series’ game and allowed me to provide a true-to-heart opinion.
First of all, my Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris review is aimed to help you make a decision. I believe I should start by saying that while there are a few highlights to the game, I didn’t enjoy it overall.
Amidst the insane amount of content, there was no essence to keep me stuck to the game and wanting more. Sum that up with an awkward and unpleasant Switch port, and I see no reason to play this in light of other action-RPG alternatives. Please allow me to elaborate.
Judge a Book by its Cover
Whenever a game presents me the choice between framerate or visuals, I choose the former. Feeling the fluidness of the gameplay is way more meaningful to me than activating the Bloom and FX38ASX Anisotropic Filtering of the grass.
While I can’t say for sure, I believe that the developers think the same whenever a game is ported to Switch. Sacrifice visuals for smoother gameplay.
But oh boy, talk about graphical butchering. The visual downgrade in SAO Alicization in the Switch is overwhelming.
I know the console doesn’t run on top-of-the-line hardware, but geez. I had to pause my game right at the start to check another version to see if that was the actual visuals.
I don’t know if I should be glad that only the Switch version graphics look like this or if I should be stumped that a two-year-old port was done that way. For comparison, have you seen the Witcher 3 port?
The game is massive! The technomancers at Saber did actual sorcery to port it to the Switch. While it got a noticeable downgrade, it’s still somewhat appealing.
That’s why some big-ass games arrive in the Switch on the cloud format (I’m not saying it’s good). It’s a way to bypass the hardware limitations while trying to maintain the integrity of the title. Take Kingdom Hearts, for example. I appreciate Bandai’s and Aquria’s effort to natively port SAO to the Switch.
Still, the toll it paid was too graphically demanding. If you don’t believe me, check these screenshots comparison:
There are also some FPS drops in the game, mainly when traversing open and vast areas. Inside dungeons and caves, the games flow nicely. I wouldn’t say the visuals are a deal breaker because you can still have fun with Alicization’s gameplay, but it’s certainly a drawback.
Diving Into the Virtual Underworld
SAO: Alicization Lycoris’s first chapter is a direct adaptation of the homonymous anime, and then it picks up an original storyline starting in chapter 2. Knowing this, you can expect most tropes from Japanese animation, mainly shonen.
My love for anime began when I watched Saint Seiya 25 years ago. Still, now and then, I get tired of the overexplaining – mainly villains monologuing about their evil plan – some ever-employed characters archetypes, such as the tsundere (rude on the surface but mellow on the inside), and the prolixity to develop the narrative.
So expect a lot of fillers that could easily be dropped. To summarize: if anime is not your thing, just bail.
Before starting the game, players acquainted with the manga/anime can activate Lightplay mode, which trims most of the events from the anime and only shows the original in-game content, such as cutscenes involving Medina Orthinanos, a character exclusive to the game.
I didn’t activate it because I wanted to experiment the whole journey. What a fool.
As soon as the game started, I was thrown into a lackluster combat tutorial. Then, the protagonist, Kirito, finds himself stranded in an unknown world, looking for clues.
He soon finds Eugeo, who dubs him a Lost Son of Vecta, a moniker for strays. The boy explains all the basics of where they are, the Underworld, to a clueless Kirito.
In this world, each human has a Calling that they believe must be executed till death. If they complete it, they are free to choose their next one.
Eugeo believes his Calling is to cut down the Gigas Cedar, a great tree preventing the cultivation of crops in the area. That Calling has been going on for 300 years, and the tree barely has a dent. Since Kirito just pops out of nowhere, he doesn’t have a Calling, and the inhabitants call him the Lost Son of Vecta.
Eugeo also explains the Taboo Index, a guideline of fundamental laws created by the Church of Axiom, which the Human Empire blindly obeys.
Kirito, on the other hand, is oblivious about them and does not feel compelled to follow the rules. SAO Alicization has created a fascinating system and world settings, but the game didn’t take advantage of it as the anime did.
An Overload of Cut and Visual Novel Scenes
It’s odd to say this, but the game pacing simultaneously feels dragged and rushed. Remember when I said I regretted not activating Lightplay mode? Here’s why. It took me almost 12 hours to finish Chapter 1 and start the original game story. And I was skipping sidequests! Yes, I’m a faux RPG gamer. Sorry, I’m not worthy.
But I had to. I was literally dozing off between some rare animated cutscenes and the insane amount of visual novel scenes.
As a JRPG fan, I love cutscenes. Hell, I played Star Ocean: The Last Hope and endured the 46-minutes long cutscene. (I see you Metal Gear Solid 4 players looking down on me.) But to justify such a lengthy cutscene, it has at least to hold our attention or bring some twisting addition to the plot.
When it’s all fluff or a text-heavy dialogue that adds nothing, it gets tedious quickly, and that’s where Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is at. Most cutscenes in Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris are just there and don’t add to the narrative.
Or even if they do, they could be trimmed down to better explain what’s happening in Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris. How did you feel reading this mouthful title over and over again? That’s how I felt with the number of scenes that jumped from one another without adding anything meaningful.
For example, I talked to Selka about her missing sister in one cutscene. Suddenly, the screen fades into another cutscene where a man tells me Selka is missing. But I was talking to her a fade out ago! This transaction was so awkward and abrupt that I didn’t even care about her disappearance.
The first part of chapter 1 was just me spending the first couple of hours exploring the most countryside town in the Human Empire and learning the ropes of combat by killing some menacing beasts.
After I joined the knights’ academy, the game sensed an impending urgency and began to advance events without a break. It was something like this:
- A mix of visual novels presenting new details about a specific character, particularly the newcomer Medina;
- A quest to kill another menacing beast;
- Months went by, and the game just briefed me on the events;
- Another day-to-day visual novel about adopting a cat;
- Yet another quest to kill a monster (there were about 5 of these);
- More rushed storytelling about what we did in five months;
And so on, until I hoarded 10 hours of this back-and-forth alone.
When I got to chapter 2, I wanted to get excited about the new storyline, but my expectations were in check. To avoid spoilers, I will say that they introduced the first major conflict as soon as the second chapter initiates.
Can you guess what the first couple of quests were? Exactly. Kill more menacing beasts. But at least now they had an excuse to be threatening.
I almost fell asleep twice while playing because the span between reading so much text in between the combat gameplay was too far apart. But whenever I had control of Kirito again, it pumped me up. Slightly, but it did.
The Combat Squanders its Potential
A tooltip would teach me the ropes about combat every now and then. Perfect guard, dodge, combos, and whatnot. The game introduced me to the Risk feature.
If you’ve played Vagrant Story, you’ll know what it is. The Risk gauge increases by inflicting damage or using skills; every time it does, the player’s damage increases. On the flip side, the damage received also increases. Getting rid of Risk is as easy as stopping attacking.
Whenever I found an enemy, there was no transition between running and smacking their heads. I could approach them using my best skill, a spell, or regular attacks. Even so, the combat didn’t please me that much.
In this action RPG, the battle flirts with a button-smashing hack ‘n slash and something more paced, like Witcher 3.
You can attack, use four hotkeyed skills, mix combos with your party members, and deal insane damage. When the enemy attack, there’s a huge tell to it, and you can either timely defend, triggering a perfect defense or dodging.
This defensive maneuver builds up a Finish Arts gauge to unleash said art and blast enemies away on a cinematic cutscene attack.
Still, the pacing feels slightly off. It is as if the input from the buttons doesn’t respond whenever I want.
Even though the enemy warns me when I’m about to be attacked, if I’m stuck in a lengthy skill animation, I will still get hit (there probably is a way to skill-cancel, but I never learned it). The dodge and defense buttons felt stiff and unnatural.
SAO Alicization Lycoris offers the Semi-Auto mode, where you can spam the Y button, and the character will automatically tie one skill after another, even if you haven’t learned the skill yet. When I turned it off, I couldn’t combo one skill with the other for the life of me, so I just set it back on and enjoyed the button smashing.
Remember I mentioned spells? In Alicization, they’re called Sacred Arts and are pretty entertaining, I may add. You have to pre-charge before using them, and each element employs a different result. Luminous Sacred Arts can heal your party.
Thermal element is a fire-type attack. The metallic element generated a metal block piece I could climb on and reach new heights. However, Sacred Art’s damage was subpar compared to my dual-wielding fast combos.
Who Doesn’t Love Skill Trees?
I love them. Don’t you? SAO: Alicization presents a very iconic and familiar skill tree for gamers. You earn points and spend them to unlock new skills on a branching tree that varies according to your weapon. Simple, right?
That type of feature always works, so it’s a safe call to include it in a game. However, the Skill Trees and points in Alicization have a caveat: they are shared across all characters.
You can spend skill points in two places. Weapon’s skill tree or EX Skill’s abilities. EX Skill functions as roles for the characters, such as Attacker, Defender, and Buffer. Since the skill points are shared, I had to evenly distribute them, so every role and weapon had a helpful set of skills.
At first, I spent most of them in the spear skill tree since it was my weapon of choice. But my sword-user side characters lacked weapon skills, so I had to counter this. Passive skills, however, are available to every character after they are unlocked despite their weapon or role.
The game presents several different weapons, each with its own abilities. Since the game is called Sword Art and not Weapons Art, it made sense that most side characters only wielded swords.
The main character, however, can use any weapon. I found getting away from Kirito’s trademark dual-wielding difficult, but I’d try my hand at the spear every now and then. Dragoon for life.
Besides the three initials EX Skill, you can unlock new ones by completing a combat requirement and a quest from one of the Trials of the Warrior statues. Builds and strategies became more varied as a result. Even with these features, the gameplay was still flawed.
Honestly, I’m still unsure how to earn skill points. I know you earn 1 skill point per each character level up and by completing Relic quests. But sometimes, I would kill an enemy and be awarded 2~3 skill points. Regardless, learning new skills is always fun.
A Content-Filled World
Let me give credit where credit is due. On the occasions I regained control of my character, I could explore the map and do various activities, such as sidequests, fishing, and gathering. Each quest would open a new tutorial tooltip introducing me to new features.
Sidequests are what you expect. Most are kill requests or fetch items. Luckily, the game offers a wonderful minimap, and I’m a sucker for one that shows gatherable items, treasure chests, and quest goals. There’s a reason why many old games remaster are including minimaps in the QoL improvement.
Besides these quests, I found some Warrior statues while exploring that gave me Relic Quests. These ones neatly rewarded skill points.
The extra content, fishing, gathering, and crafting, which diverges into smithing, cooking, and engraving, all require an effortless one-button execution. Fishing has no minigames, and crafting requires materials found in the field or by killing enemies.
Each of these capabilities has its own level that increases as you perform it repeatedly. This allows you to learn more recipes, catch more differentiated fish, and produce more powerful items.
After reaching Chapter 2, the original game story initiates, and several new features are unlocked. You can “create” your character, which essentially changes Kirito into your avatar of choice and will distinguish you if you hop on multiplayer games.
In cutscenes, Kiritos is portrayed in his original appearance. Since the game wasn’t officially released when I played it, I didn’t find any online players to adventure together.
The game also unlocks the Affinity system with characters and heart-to-heart, personal conversations with each party member to build the chemistry between Kirito and his friends.
The relationship tutorial also advises that if you build up the relationship levels, you can do things with the other person, such as holding hands, carrying them in your arms, or taking them to your bed. Don’t ask.
The game offers some online functionality in the manner of daily quests. They reward experience, money, and CUBE tickets that can be used to open said CUBES in the main menu.
Once opened, you can get costumes, weapon skins, buffs that increase experience gain, crafting materials, and other items that make you feel like you’re playing a mobile gacha-game. If you draw a unique item twice or more, it will convert into a ticket you can use to freely choose a commodity of equal rarity.
It’s thrilling because it motivates replayability, but if you’re a completionist, you may get easily frustrated if the RNG is betting against you. Or you can buy the premium currency, SAO Coins, and buy items directly.
If you like action RPGs with lively, culture-rich vast worlds to explore, an overload of side quests, and challenging monsters that will steal hours of your life away, you should check these alternatives below.
They will scratch that itch after you finish Sword Art Online Lycoris or meet your expectations if you have dropped Kirito’s game.
- Xenoblade Chronicles
- Monster Hunter Rise
- Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
- Witcher 3
Question: Do I Need to Play the Previous SAO to enjoy Alicization Lycoris?
Answer: Every Sword Art Online anime season is a sequel to each other. Since the game adapts the anime, it’s technically also a sequel. The characters will be easily recognizable if you are familiar with the anime or games, but if not, it won’t lessen your enjoyment.
Question: Which SAO Alicization Lycoris Version Should I Get?
Answer: In all due honesty, not the Switch version. The game has a somewhat interesting gameplay and a decent storyline, but the Switch port suffered greatly.
You will still see players complaining about FPS drops in any other version, but at least your screen will stutter in a Full HD resolution where trees actually look like they are part of nature and not a mock-up for your school’s science fair made out of cardboard.
Question: Is the Multiplayer in SAO Alicization Lycoris Active?
Answer: Since I played it before the official release on Switch, I didn’t find any players online. But looking at forums for the game, it seems that the multiplayer is slightly dead. Since the game has no crossplay, finding matches is difficult unless you arrange to play with a friend.
I enjoy being a herald of good news, especially when gaming is involved. It’s rare for me to call a game “bad.” I prefer the phrase ” this game just isn’t for me.” But this is a review, and I have to be professional. Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris hangs on the fine thread of “the game isn’t for me, you, or anyone else who enjoys gaming.”
I had fun at the start. Exploring, collecting, crafting, and completing sidequests is always a thrill in any RPG. It’s all so new, big, and flashy. But it gets old fast. Way too fast. It’s not that Sword Art Online is a bad game. It’s just that there are countless better JRPGs options to invest your time and money.
Anyway, if you really like the anime, have played the predecessors, and want to draw your own conclusions, be my guest. But I beg you, stay away from the Switch version. The port was so poorly optimized that the graphics became a hindrance to the overall game experience.
Pros & Cons
- A giant world with lots of content;
- Several weapons, each with its own skill tree;
- Anime tropes, if that’s your thing.
- A massive graphical downgrade in the port;
- Very drawn out and uninteresting narrative;
- Combat wastes its enormous potential;
- Extra content is repetitive and dull;
- Secondary characters behave the same way in combat.
I dedicated more than 15 hours wandering around the Underworld and made it to chapter 2-2 when the game repeatedly made me destroy those monster-summoning fruits.
Most of those hours were spent doing sidequests in the first chapter, fishing, and exploring the map. I completed the 1-handed sword and spear skill trees and unlocked the Scout and Berserker EX Skills.
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