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Sword Art Online: Lost Song – Review

Released in 2015 as a sequel to Hollow Fragment on PS3 in Japan only, but was released on the Vita and PS4 outside. This game takes place in ALFheim Online, the second MMO in the anime franchise. Just like Hollow Fragment, this takes place in its own alternate timeline from the anime, and features characters that only exist in the game franchise, such as Phillia and Strea.

Story:

A new expansion to ALFheim Online, this means new areas to explore, and new challenges. Kirito and friends decide to go check it out. Prior to this, Kirito is interested in a professor who goes by the name Seven, and is interested in her studies regarding Virtual Reality. Seven happens to be a player in ALFheim Online, and is the head of the Shamrock guild, the biggest and strongest guilds in the game, especially with her bodyguard Sumeragi. As the game goes on, you meet a mysterious girl named Rain who is following you and Shamrock’s movements.

While the plot initially seems interesting, it’s like the floor clearing portions of Hollow Fragment where the plot is largely non-existant, outside of random parts here and there. Even then, you have no idea what the hell is going on in the story until literally the very end of the game. Right before the final boss fight, the entire plot is revealed. Sure some really great games have done that, and it worked, but the poor execution of the story really has you not caring, especially when it’s almost non-existent until the end. Kirito’s motivation for following Seven? “I’m interested in her experiment”. What does Seven do throughout the game? Nothing. Well she likes hiding from Sumeragi, and popping her head into Agil’s tavern to eat cake and flirt with Kirito.

Spoiler alert: Seven’s the final boss of the game. She becomes evil… kind of… at the very end of the game. Why does Kirito want to stop her when he finds out about her experiment? Because he wants to beat the game. Saving people? NOPE! Is the experiment bad? NOPE!

In a very similar fashion to the previous game, when you complete certain dungeons or events in the game, you are “rewarded”, with random non-story related cutscenes. These cutscenes are really just fanservice to see Kirito dealing with his ever-growing harem. You are treated to scenes like, Kirito hiding a porn mag from Asuna. Strea making Asuna try on underwear, and a swimsuit scene complete with giant tentacle action. Riveting.

Gameplay:

The game feels more like an action RPG than Hollow Fragment. You have a choice between weaker melee attacks, or a stronger melee attack. They give you a limit on your stronger attacks by having it take up stamina. You also have a special attack that takes up SP, and most of these are significantly more powerful than your strong melee. You also have a choice of using magic spells, and in typical RPG fashion, they’re either attacks, or support. In regards to gaining new abilities, this is one of those games where you learn them by using your specials or spells more and more.

Venturing out with a party is significantly upgraded from Hollow Fragment. In that game, you really felt like a one man show, you really only went out with a partner, because you either have to, or you might not want to feel lonely. Here, you get to go out with two party members, and it actually feels like your party members make a difference in gameplay experience. Having two long range attackers, like Asuna and Sinon, can whittle down an enemy from a distance before you go in for the kill. You also have a choice of not even playing as Kirito, or having him in your party at all. This can help change up your gameplay experience, as many of the characters play differently than Kirito, as they have different spells and weapon abilities. Sure you can just have Kirito equip a two handed sword like Strea, but what’s the fun in that?

As this game takes place in ALFheim, the game introduced flying. This will most likely become your preferred method of travel, as flying is significantly faster than walking. Flying has its hit and misses. Aerial combat is a fun gimmick at first, but as the game goes on, it actually starts losing its fun pretty quickly. Especially when enemies start knocking you down from the air. This gets annoying when you’re near a hoard of enemies that you’re trying to kill to complete a hunt, and even more annoying during aerial boss fights. Particularly during the boss fights, there are times where you get knocked down, then you fly back up, and it hits you down again.

Gone are the dating mechanics of the previous game. This is actually a good thing, as it really didn’t add anything to the game, besides saying you banged your favorite girl, and all the trophies you get from it. Instead, at certain points in the game, you’ll see glowing dots in the central hub, and that’ll trigger an event with a girl.

Visuals:

Unlike Hollow Fragment, which was a remake of a PSP game, this one is made from the ground up on the PS3. Thus the graphics do justice to the anime artstyle of the series. Outside of a relatively few FMV cutscenes, much of the story scenes are told through a visual novel style, where the characters are displayed in a cutout style, where you see them talk.

One of the biggest disappointments, is the lack of enemy diversity. The majority of the enemies you see in the first area, are recycled in every single area, but with different color pallets. While a lot of RPG’s like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest recycle do this practice, they at least have a large cast of enemies. In Lost Song, there’s really about 20 or so enemies, and they’re recycled in every single area and dungeon. The overall area maps look different, but all of the caves and dungeons look almost exactly the same, so it does feel pretty redundant after awhile.

Comparing the two non-Japanese releases, the PS4 version is clearly the better of the two. While the character models aren’t a vast improvement, the overall textures and visual effects look better. Caves have fog on the ground, and there’s blades of grass and more enemies on screen. That’s not to say that you’re getting a poor man’s version on the Vita, as it’s still visually impressive on the handheld.

Music:

The music is pretty decent, yet not very memorable. It’s in a similar style to the anime, and to Hollow Fragment.

 

Verdict:

Lost Song is a pretty decent game. Though unless you’re a fan of SAO, or just looking for a decent length RPG on the PS4 or Vita, you’re most likely not going to get inspired to go and pick up a copy of the game. The game expects you to know who the main cast are, and that will off-put a lot of newcomers.

While combat and lack of dating mechanics make it a step up from Hollow Fragment, it does feel like a significantly shorter game, due to the large amount of things to do in Hollow Fragment.

Music: 6/10.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 7/10.
Story: 5/10.
Content: 7/10.

Conclusion: 6/10

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Sword Art Online: Re Hollow Fragment – First Impressions

I know that this is my third post on Hollow Fragment, but strolling around on PSN, I saw the Bamco anime game sales. I saw that this game was on sale for $5, so I figured why not. I beat the original game, so why not dick around in the remaster?

To be honest, I’m not completely sure why this remaster exists. Is it because they were going to make more money with a PS4 version, because the Vita has fairly lackluster sales? Is this game really popular enough to remaster a remake of a PSP game? If it really was that popular, why is it still only available as a digital download? Hell I might have actually paid $20 for a physical copy. They really should have released this alongside the Vita game, like the other two games, and have it cross compatible.

I was initially content with how the game looked on my Vita screen, and it still looked fairly well on the PSTV (or is it the Vita TV?). Not dogging on how it looks on the PS4, I expected it to look better. Though if you owned the original, don’t get your hopes up that much, as it’s really just a much higher resolution version of the Vita game. I will give Bamco credit for having the decency to not have the lower-resolution Vita cutscenes just upscaled to 1080P, like other remasters have.

The game plays pretty much exactly the same, just ditching touch screen features. Though the game does play at a higher framerate, so grinding affection at dating spots doesn’t feel quite as long. If you own the Vita game, you can transfer your save, and play it as a new game plus. It’s sadly not cross compatible like Lost Song, or Hollow Realization.

The game is supposed to be a director’s cut of sorts, I just haven’t researched into what extra stuff was added. In all honesty, if you own the Vita version, you’re not missing out much. It just feels like a game that should have came out a lot earlier, instead of later. If you didn’t, check it out if you want a lengthy JRPG to spend time on.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization – First Impressions

Bamco has released the third (well technically fifth) game in the popular anime franchise, Sword Art Online, and this time they decided to go back to the style of Aincrad. While these games have been mixed on a critical level, it must be selling fairly well if Bamco is cranking out a third game, with one of them having been remade, and getting a remastered port, because apparently people want to re-visit Aincrad over and over.

Anywho, this game takes place after Lost Song, and we are graced with the game called Sword Art Origin. A world based off of Aincrad (now called Ainground), and the mythology is that it’s the origin (shocking!) of the world of Sword Art Online. Unlike the previous games, this world is entirely non-canonical with the original franchise (I’m basing this on the fact that I haven’t read the light novels).

The developers seemed to have mixed what people liked from the previous two games, and they decided to mix the two together. The combat plays a lot like Lost Song, but the overall way the game plays is very reminiscent of Hollow Fragment. For those who were sad that the dating mechanic was missing in Lost Song, it’s back in full swing in Hollow Realization.

This time maxing out your favorite girl’s affection is a lot more time consuming. I will give them some credit, that with one of the updates, they sped it up significantly. You get to run around town with your favorite girl, and like Hollow Fragment, you take them to special “date spots”, indicated with a heart. Then you can chat them up, and you can either nod or shake your head depending on their questions.

This is actually pretty time consuming if you’re just trying to grind affection (which doesn’t seem to add anything to gameplay, besides trophies and bragging rights). Before the update, maxing out the level 5 affection was obnoxiously long. I grinded the affection for about two hours straight, and I barely saw any progress. Now you can grind a girl’s affection to max in about 45 minutes. Still pretty long, but beats sitting for several hours to max out one level. Don’t worry perverts, you can still bring a girl to bed and sleep with her, I mean “pillow talk” with her. Wow, my head went to the gutter there, because a girl spewing hearts of affection, and wearing sexually suggestive clothing, is going to just share a bed with a guy and not have sex. Hopefully Kirito can’t get virtual HIV from Yuuki. Sorry for the dark joke guys, won’t happen again.

So far the story here is actually kind of interesting. You meet an NPC named Premiere (minor spoiler), and her position in the game is very confusing. She comes off like a defunct NPC, but as the game progresses, you slowly discover her purpose. Also there’s something about NPC’s becoming more humanlike, kind of like Yui and Strea, but for the entire game. Also when they die, they die forever. Hopefully this is actually explored in a good way, because Seven’s experiment in Lost Song was incredibly lackluster.

So far I’m enjoying the game, the goofy cutscenes aren’t as frequent as Hollow Fragment, and so far aren’t as ridiculous. It’s also nice seeing Argo getting a bit more spotlight, as she’s very humorous, and is the only girl (besides Yui for obvious reasons), that isn’t trying to get into Kirito’s pants. Though SAO fans, don’t worry, your hero Kirito is still dimwitted when it comes to girls.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment – Review

Released in 2014, Hollow Fragment is an enhanced remake of the first Sword Art Online game, Infinity Moment. With updates like better graphics, arguably a better combat system, and an entire new area with its own story arc, the Hollow Areas. Though sadly, the Hollow Area feels like it should have been its own separate game, as it doesn’t flow seamlessly with the main game.

Story:

The game takes place in the virtual game of the show’s namesake, and you play as series protagonist Kirito in the climactic final battle against Heathcliff. The game takes place in an alternate timeline from the anime, where after Heathcliff’s defeat, a glitch in the system prevents them from beating the game, thus keeping them trapped in the game. The characters appear on floor 76, and find out that they are no longer able to go back to the previous floors. They then realize that they must complete the remaining floors and follow the game’s intended purpose of reaching the 100th floor.

This portion of the game is the remake of Infinity Moment, and probably the worst part about the game, especially in the story department. It’s largely non-existent up until you get to floors in the 90 region, and even then, you get random fragments of it here and there until the end.

So prior to the higher floor levels, the “story” is really just snippets of Kirito and his friends doing random things. These occur after clearing a floor, and when you are teleported back to the town, you have the choice of either talking to certain friends, or just ignoring it to go to the next floor. The majority of these scenarios are of the game showing Kirito’s relationship in his harem. These scenes either consist of the various girls trying to get in his pants, or the more humble scenes with Kirito just spending time with his wife Asuna and their “child” Yui. The group scenes usually have Kirito getting bitched at, or Klein being the group punching bag.

In this portion, they introduce Strea, who is only present in the game franchise. Not only is she the most forward with trying to get into Kirito’s pants, she’s also the only one with the story that’s relevant to the plot.

The second portion of the game involves the Hollow Area. This entire segment that’s original to the remake. This is also the part that has the most interesting story. Kirito gets transported to a forest, and comes across a girl with an orange cursor who tries to attack him (the cursor indicates she’s killed someone).

The fight is disrupted when a giant boss creature attacks the two of them, and they cast their differences aside and realize that dying is more important than fighting. After defeating the boss, the girl introduces herself as Philia, and only attacked him because she mistook him for the people who were after her. She explains they’re in a place called the Hollow Area, and she’s trapped there. Kirito decides to help her out while discovering the mystery of the Hollow Area.

This is the more interesting portion of the game. The main game of clearing floors gets kind of bland and boring after awhile, and it shows that the creators ran out of ideas for floors as the game went on. This one is more interesting, as there’s actually a story, and also has the major plus of not dealing with the harem. You can choose whoever you want for your partner in the Hollow Area, but sticking with Philia is the best bet for plot relevancy.

 

Gameplay:

The game plays in an action-RPG format, with standard leveling up mechanics. Though you start the game at level 100, and gaining levels actually takes quite a long time. So unlike traditional RPG’s where it implies that you just level up, this game makes you focus more on strategy and skill than just using brute force. You can grind, but for the early parts of the game, it takes a significant amount of time, so you might as well save your time and just take on the challenge.

You have burst attacks which lets you do significantly more damage to enemies. You can activate them by just attacking a certain amount of times to do it. When you learn more skills, you can actually attach them to hot keys to activate them whenever you want. Because of how powerful they are, they place a limit on them by having them take SP. You only get 300 SP and these skills take 100 SP. These do a lot to normal enemies, but when it comes to bosses, or when you’re at a low level with low level equipment, they start doing significantly less damage.

Bosses in Aincrad and the Hollow Areas play a bit differently. The floor bosses are conducted in a raid. So you have a large group of AI characters attacking the boss. They’re largely useless, and you’re still doing all the work, but it keeps the boss off your tail when you need to run off and heal. They also don’t really do much when it comes to attacking. They feel like the regular enemies, but with a large amount of HP.

Hollow Bosses on the other hand, are where the real challenge is. It’s just you and your partner. The bosses also feel like an actual boss, where they have multiple attack patterns. These require a lot more strategy than the floor bosses.

The game lets you go out with a partner, and partners do make the experience a lot better. They can also use burst attacks and such, so essentially adding the damage to bosses. The problem with partners, is that it doesn’t really matter who you have, as they all play the same. So you really just go out on a romp with your favorite girl and just go on with that.

One aspect of the game that’s probably the most obnoxious is dealing with the affection system. Unlike the Persona games where it gives characters advantage in battle, and also lets your summons get EXP boosts, this game doesn’t really do that. The only advantage to increasing affection is that you can change a girl’s equipment. The two ways you increase their affection is by praising them in battle, or by walking around town with them by “talking” to them. By talking to them means that you initiate a conversation in certain areas in town when they pop out a yellow word bubble. This is where you just spam a correct answer until their meter fills up. When their affection reaches a certain level, you can bridal carry them to your room, and you “spend the night” with them.

This feature really does nothing for the game, unless you’re going for trophies. So it’s safe to say it’s there to just please the fans to brag that they slept with their favorite girl.

Visuals:

The graphics aren’t bad. It’s definitely a bit more blocky due to it being a PSP remake, but it’s still a night and day difference. It is kind of disorienting when you get a closeup of the ground, and the texture is pixels, but it really could be a lot worse.

The dialog scenes are all in a visual novel style, where it shows a “cutout” of the characters speaking. The developers probably did this to save time and space with how many there were. It’s kind of boring seeing it this way, but it does let you speed through all the bullshit scenes.

The game does have a few FMV scenes, they could be really enjoyable, and the quality is there, but there’s significant playback issues. It’s really hard to watch a video when its stuttering. It’s like the developers thought that the video should load while its playing, instead of giving you a loading screen, which would be nice, but they didn’t optimize it at all. Luckily the later games are better optimized.

 

Music:

The OST has a style that’s typical to JRPG’s with an orchestrated feel, and it’s well done, but not very memorable. It’s very well done, but with all the different areas and floors, but with a limited soundtrack, it does get kind of redundant after awhile. Particularly with the music in the various floors.

 

Verdict:

Hollow Fragment is a pretty decent game, though heavily flawed in the story department, particularly with the story in Infinity Moment. The fact that every time you clear a floor “rewards” you with a scene of Kirito getting in trouble with one or all of the girls, or just a bullshit fanservice scene sometimes makes clearing a floor not worth it.

The Hollow Area is where the game really shines, the challenging bosses, and pretty interesting story makes this portion of the game worth playing. The entire game as a whole, is definitely catered to fans of the series. Excluding the game original characters, the game basically implies that you already know who the rest of the cast is, and all that happened before the events of the game. So unless you just want to jump in blind, it’s probably best you’re familiar with the show before you go in.

A definite plus about this game, is that there is a lot you can do in the game. It is definitely not hard to drop close to 100 hours in the game. The two main portions of the game are both pretty lengthy, along with the two bonus areas: the Concealed Area, and the Discard Area. The two bonus areas will definitely add several hours to your play time.

The game is definitely worth a play for fans of the show, but if you’re not, and if you definitely don’t like anime harem tropes and scenes, then stay far away.

Music: 6/10.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 7/10.
Story: 6/10.
Content: 8/10.

Conclusion: 7/10

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.