Sword Art Online: Lost Song – First Impressions

Previously I talked about the previous Sword Art Online game Hollow Fragment, and while an enjoyable game, the fanservice cutscenes were a but much. Also it was a remake of the first SAO game, Infinity Moment, with basically an extra second game attached to it, so it feels like two games in the same engine patched together.

Lost Song, while technically the third release, is the second game in the Sword Art Online game franchise. Taking place in the second MMORPG in the series, Alfhiem Online, it incorporates many of the elements from the show into the gameplay. While the gameplay, including combat, was fun in Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is a massive upgrade. You have two different sword attacks, and you also have the option of casting spells. In Hollow Fragment, you really just had one sword attack, and you kept mashing X until it goes into burst attack, and if you weren’t a high enough level, the burst attack/sword skills were really the only way to get damage on enemies. Lost Song, all your attacks do enough damage. Also it’s much easier attacking multiple enemies at once. In Hollow Fragment, battles are constrained to one on one, despite the fact that multiple enemies can attack you at once. At times it got annoying when two or more enemies attack you.

The map screens were already decently sized in the previous game, Lost Song’s world’s are massive making exploration very fun. A feature of the game in the anime was flight, and good god is it amazing in this game. On foot exploration is a bit slow, but honestly, if you have the option to fly around without any consequences, why walk when you can fly? Regular flight mode is already fast enough, but since the worlds are large enough, you can also do a burst of speed. The only downside, is that they add a stamina meter, so you can only burst for a bit until you get too tired. Though you can stop speeding right before your stamina completely depletes, so you don’t pause from being too tired.

With flight, they also incorporated flight combat which is very fun. It works very similar to on foot combat, but flight combat adds a certain level of chaos (the good kind) to battles. Also aerial boss fights are a ton of fun. More regarding battle, you can also have two partners in your party as opposed to one. If you have two characters that have a lot of long distance attacks (like Sinon), they can whittle down the health of enemies while you go and tank them. Also with your partners, the other characters actually add different experiences of combat. With the previous game, the characters were very similar, so you really just partied with your favorite girl, but this time, it actually makes a different. Another feature, is that you can play as the other party members instead of just being Kirito. For the sake of simplicity for developers, you’re still Kirito in cutscenes, but in battle, you can have your player character as anyone in your party. So if you’ve ever wanted to play as Asuna or Silica, your dream has come true.

With the story, there’s more of an actual story so far in the game. Hollow Fragment had bits and pieces very sparsely placed in the game, but so far Lost Song has more of a story going on. Sadly the fanservice cutscenes are still present, and are basically the same as the other game. There’s still some typical ones like the girls trying on cat ears and asking who the cutest one is (Philia if you’re asking), but there’s racy ones like Strea making Asuna a set of underwear and having her try it on for her darling Kirito. Sadly I doubt they’re ever going to release a Sword Art Online game without these scenes, as it’s basically part of the anime, so it’s probably something that’s never going away, but at least they have more story going on. Hopefully they don’t drop the actual story somewhere along the game and just give you wave after wave of fanservice. Also in regards to fanservice, they added in alternate costumes, including swimsuits and bath towel costumes. To add “flair” to these costumes, they added boob jiggle physics. If that’s up your alley.

With all this in mind, Lost Song is a very fun game. If you enjoyed Hollow Fragment, then Lost Song is a guarantee like. It still has some of the flaws from the previous game, and they’re still catered towards people who have actually seen the show. Though if you can get over fanservice cut scenes, it’s still a very fun game, and aerial combat makes it almost worth it.

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Dragon Quest – Review

The grandfather of all JRPG’s, Dragon Quest is probably the most important RPG that will be mentioned in this blog. While not the first console RPG, it’s definitely the one that set the template for every JRPG to follow. With its simple menu system, turn based combat, top down view, leveling up, and even equipping items.

Released in Japan in 1986, series creator Yuji Horii wanted to bring role playing video games to a wider audience, as the genre was relegated to PC’s, which was still a niche demographic. The technical limitations of the NES posed a problem, as old PC RPG’s were very complex, and some even required a large book just to play the game. Horii got creative and created a very simple, yet very effective template for the menus, which then became the base standard for many RPG’s to this day.

The game came out three years later in North America (localized as Dragon Warrior due to licensing issues over a similarly named pen and paper RPG). With this version of the game came many differences, most noticeably technical differences. The original Famicom release utilized a password save system, but the NES version introduced a battery save function. Also the graphics were updated, as the player and NPC sprites all faced on direction, the NES version not only improved the quality of the sprites, they also gave them graphics for facing different directions.

Like many other games in the franchise, Dragon Quest was remade several times, and unlike the original Final Fantasy, did not change any of the game mechanics and were really just graphical updates. The game was first remade for the Super Famicom, and was made using Dragon Quest V’s engine, and also contained Dragon Quest II. While it looked and sounded significantly better than the 8-bit original, it doesn’t look as good as later SNES games (especially with later DQ releases like DQ6 and the remake of DQ3), and was really just a souped up NES game. Despite this, it was the best looking version of the game for many years. Sadly this version never left Japan, but English fan translations exist.

Then came the Gameboy Color remake, which also came packaged with Dragon Quest II. While inferior to the SNES version in both graphics and sound, it was still better than the NES version. Luckily this version came to North America, and was probably the best looking way to play the game. This version also sported a quick save, which made things much more convenient, as you could only save by talking to the King in previous versions. Though the quick saves were merely temporary, as loading one deletes the save.

The game was remade yet again for mobile phones in Japan. This update sported significant graphic and sound updates, but was originally never released outside of Japan. Later these games were ported to Android and iOS devices with slightly updated graphics, and touch screen capabilities. This version is definitely the best looking version of the game.

Story:

Many years ago the legendary hero Erdrick (Loto in the Gameboy version) defeated an evil creature and gained the ball of light and restored light to the land. Erdrick handed the ball to the king of Alefgard who held onto it, as it brought peace and prosperity to Alefgard. There was a man who shunned the ball of light, and stole it. He man then met up with a dragon and then tamed it to obey his every command, and the man is later discovered to not only be a dragon himself, but is the Dragonlord. The Dragonlord later became corrupted by learning magic, and then began to wreak havoc across the land of Alefgard. Erdrick returns to defeat the Dragonlord, but is never heard from ever again.

Several years later to the present time, a mysterious warrior appears in Tantegal Castle, and the king tells him that a dragon has appeared and kidnapped Princess Gwaelin, and you are tasked with saving her. Thus your adventure begins.

Gameplay:

The game is a very bare boned and textbook RPG, though it also wrote the textbook for the core template. It plays like every other top down RPG with random encounters. It definitely feels incredibly archaic compared to later JRPG’s (or even later Dragon Quest games), though the genre had to start from somewhere. You play as one character the entire game, and you never gain any party members.

Battles incredibly simple. You fight one on one with every enemy in the game. Compared to later games which introduce strategy in battles using different skills or classes, this game lacks any of that. The only thing one must do to progress through the game, is to just level up. The only way the game slightly deviates from that, is that you can also buy or find better equipment that gives you a better chance in battle.

The game also doesn’t necessarily deviate far from the only two objectives in the game, save the princess, and defeating the Dragonlord. The first half of the game is really just you grinding your ass off to not only get a high enough level to beat the dragon who kidnapped the princess, but also to collect enough money to have the equipment to survive it. The second half slightly deviates from that, with you collecting items that gain you access to the Dragonlord’s castle, but you still spend a large chunk grinding.

Visuals:

Like every Dragon Quest game to follow, characters and monsters are designed by famed Dragonball artist Akira Toriyama. While the NES version does retain that for the monsters, the graphical limitations do hinder it. Though compared to other NES RPG’s, this one looks very comparable. Like mentioned above, the various ports are all graphical enhancements that all look very nice for the platforms they were designed on, which the mobile versions being the best.

Music:

While not having very many audio tracks, the game still has very iconic music, ranging from the series fanfare, to towns and battle music. The game also is the origin of the famous jingles for when you level up and even when the battle ends.

The music is very good, and like every other Dragon Quest game, has its soundtrack performed by a symphony orchestra. Definitely worth a listen.

Verdict:

Dragon Quest is a classic game, but not one that’s very recommendable to a modern audience. While an incredibly important game, it hasn’t necessarily aged well, and is really only there for players who are either hardcore Dragon Quest fans, or just hardcore RPG fanatics. For today’s gamers, it’s definitely worth a play for curiosity’s sake.

Music: 7/10.
Visuals: 7/10.
Story: 5/10.
Content: 5/10.

Conclusion: 6/10

Sword Art Online – Hollow Fragment – Short Review

Ah, Sword Art Online, an anime I have mixed opinions over. With it’s interesting premise and world, yet questionable storywriting, it’s a fairly polarizing series. You either love it or hate it. Personally I’m in the camp that thinks it’s just okay and needs a bit more polishing.

Anyone can argue over the quality of the series, but you can’t deny that it’s an incredibly popular series. Like many anime series before it, it becomes a cash cow franchise spawning off all kinds of merchandise and media, and now an almost requirement, a video game spinoff. Though unlike other anime, like say To Love Ru, that gain a video game spinoff, this one on paper seemed the most promising.

Like the .Hack series before it, it’s a series based on characters playing a role playing game. So unlike other anime that either just make a visual novel or a fighting game, the series is already a video game with an established world. So all the developers have to do is just come up with an interesting story and do their best not to fuck up the gameplay. Hell they went to Bandai Namco who’s famous for their Tales series, so how could it go wrong?

Hollow Fragment starts off on the right foot, you (playing as series protagonist Kirito) and as part tutorial, and part technical show off, you fight a gigantic monster. It does give you a great feel of how gigantic the bosses were in the anime, and you get to experience it first hand in the game.

After quite a few hours of playing the game, I can say that while the game is quite enjoyable, it does have quite a few flaws. For the actual game itself, I wouldn’t call it directionless, but for the most part, there isn’t necessarily a large point or much direction in the game.

For the main section of Aincrad, your whole goal is to get to floor 100. So you basically just run around a floor, find the boss’s location, then you warp back to town and complete a quest or two (or if you’re smart, activate the quests right before you explore a floor), as the quests give you the boss info. Then go back to the teleport center, and your girlfriend Asuna gets together a group of fighters to take on the boss of the level. Once you defeat it, the floor is cleared, off to the next floor! Rinse and repeat!

The Aincrad part of the game doesn’t deviate from that so far, at all. Occasionally you’ll receive a message from random players asking for help to ask you for help in defeating monsters, but they’re just random field monsters, not boss monsters, or even high level monsters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is quite fun exploring the floors, and they at least change things up by having new mechanics to overcome while you explore. It’s not just wandering around and “oh shit, I found the boss!”.

The other big section of the game, the Hollow Areas, are the new feature of the game. It’s almost like two games in one. Your new friend, game original, Philia asks you for help in exploring the secrets of the Hollow Areas. Basically she gives you a point on the map that you have to traverse to, and it happens to be a dungeon to explore. This basically plays similar to the Aincrad levels, just with larger areas to explore, and tougher enemies. As you start the game at level 100, Aincrad has weak monsters that give you shit for experience points, so if an Aincrad boss is giving you trouble, just run around the Hollow Areas to level up Kirito (or just gain more skill points) to wipe the floor with him.

Combat itself is pretty decent. You gain skill points that boost the power of your sword abilities. After awhile, you’ll literally kill enemies with a single sword skill attack. You also get to travel with a partner, which basically consists of Kirito’s ever-growing harem and Klein, but fuck Klein if you can have cuties/badasses like Asuna or Sinon travel with you.

From what I’ve noticed, none of your partners have a noticeable difference in battle, they’re just at different levels. Characters like Asuna and Philia are initially stronger, as they’re close to the same level as Kirito, while Sinon and Silica are on much lower levels. Though if you run around with the lower level characters enough, they’ll level up quickly and make the gap between the higher level partners null and void.

The only story required partner is Philia in the Hollow Areas. Basically your job is to get her out, and magically she’s the only one that can use the items you find to unlock doors and stuff to progress. Other than that, you can pick whoever you want.

Now for the flaws of the game. Largely the flaws have to deal with the “story” and dialog. There isn’t necessarily an overarching story and after completing certain events, they unlock cutscenes for the characters which is the biggest flaw of the game. These cutscenes pretty much just serve as fanservice bits. With bits like following Silica and finding out that she works at a maid cafe, or sparing with Sinon and she falls over and gets wet and shows off some butt action. These bits feel very unnecessary and just shows off the cuteness of Kirito’s harem.

Then there’s the times where the various girls get Kirito in trouble. I shit you not that when you first leave the Hollow Area (aka the game tutorial), you first get bitched at by all the female characters for being missing for several minutes, then immediately get bitched at AGAIN for mentioning that you met yet another girl. As more cutscenes appear in the game, so increases your times of getting bitched at by either a girl, or multiple girls. Not even 5 minutes later, another game original character, Strea appears, and starts hitting on Kirito, then the ever-so-clueless Kirito takes her to a bar. The girls then walk in on Strea sitting on your lap, and then you get bitched at a third time. Gotta love that don’t you?

Let’s not talk about the silly scene where they all get jealous of your sibling relationship with Leafa, and then all pretend that they’re all your little sister. Sigh

Then there’s the relationship portion of the game. If the cutscenes weren’t enough fanservice for you, then all bets are off on this one. From what I’ve noticed, increasing the girls’ affection towards you serves pretty much no purpose. The purpose it pretty much serves is that you get to walk around town holding hands with your favorite girl, and if you increase their affection levels high enough, you get to bridal carry them to your room and “share your bed” with them. Yes you get to be a manwhore and fuck every girl in the game. I shit you not.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the game has either mixed reviews, or just rated lower than it should be. Unlike other JRPG’s like a Tales or Final Fantasy, the game really just caters to fans of the show. Instead of introducing you to the world, or even the cast, the game pretty much implies that you not only know who everyone is, but what’s going on. Especially when this game seems to take place after both seasons of the anime (or if it wasn’t for Sinon, after the first season). The game expects you to already know who Heathcliff is, or the events of the anime.

If the game wasn’t unfriendly enough to newcomers, the copious amounts of fanservice sure as hell isn’t helping either. While a flawed game, it’s definitely got its merits and is quite enjoyable. The combat is fun, and the graphics definitely give justice to the artstyle of the show. It’s obviously catered to a niche audience who consists of fans of the show who also happen to be fans of RPG’s.

Conclusion: 7/10