Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is the latest video game adaptation of the hit anime/manga series. The game is developed by Aquria Co. and published by Bandai Namco. Is it worth your while? Let’s find out in our official review.
Note: For the game’s graphics, performance, and other options, you can head over to our technical review. For more information, check out our Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris guides and features hub.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris – The story so far
This might come as a surprise from long-time Sword Art Online fans and prospective Alicization Lycoris players, but I have absolutely no clue about the anime, manga, or previous games. Truth be told, the last anime shows I enjoyed were Yu Yu Hakusho and Rurouni Kenshin (they’re known in the Philippines as Ghostfighter and Samurai X respectively). I found that anime was like grunge and punk music — they were the things that I loved back in the 90s, yet I outgrew them as I got older.
Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy another foray into certain genres or media from time to time. For instance, I recently reviewed F1 2020. I found it compelling and exhilarating despite not having played a single game in the franchise or delving too much into motorsports and driving games. Going by that logic, maybe I’d end up being entertained by JRPGs again, eh?
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened while I played Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris. There was something that prevented me from becoming fully immersed in the narrative.
In this case, we see the series protagonist, Kirito, embroiled in battles in the Underworld. This virtual/MMO world has Kirito also meeting Eugeo, Alice, Medina (a completely new character), and many others who either become friends or foes. That sounds like an adventure you’d be interested in, right?
The plot itself, campy and whimsical as it may be, wasn’t really an issue. It’s how the story and interactions were presented as you continued to progress.
Whether it’s a short cutscene, an introspective moment, or entering a new location, you’ll be staring at load screens over and over. That leads to a poor presentation of the narrative since it takes you away from the action and exploration aspects time and again.
At certain points of the game, you could be exploring the wilderness only to have a long loading screen. Why? Oh, it’s because Kirito and Eugeo just need to have a bonding moment. Then, you spot a monster which leads to another loading screen so the two can talk for a bit, followed by a battle, and then another loading screen. This might become a little too unbearable in later parts of the game (such as the tail-end of chapter 1) where it’s “loading screen + exposition and fluff” as you go back and forth hunting monsters and returning to your hub.
As mentioned in our technical review, the load times might last for 15 to 30 seconds, but they happen so frequently that you’ll find yourself wanting to skip through the exposition due to the nuisance. It gets worse when you consider loading a save since that can take up to a couple of minutes even when the game is installed on an SSD.
“Alicization Lycoris” rhymes with “Optimization seems amiss”
Speaking of framerates, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris suffers from a lack of optimization, framerate drops, and needlessly high hardware requirements. The recommended specs alone ask for either an Intel Core i7-9700 or an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 for your CPU, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8 GB) or a Radeon RX Vega 56 (8 GB) for your GPU.
It’s unfortunate that, while there are parts of the game that manage to wow you with visual flair, many locations will feel somewhat graphically outdated. It also bears mentioning that, at 4K UHD resolution, you could be looking at a measly 20-25 FPS when using higher settings. Lowering your graphics settings and enabling the 30 FPS lock, or downscaling to 1080p, might be your only recourse if you want a smoother experience.
It also bears mentioning that your graphics settings can only be accessed from the main menu. You’ll need to exit the game via a savepoint, then make your graphics and resolution tweaks from the main menu if needed. Using borderless windowed mode, meanwhile, severely impacts your loading times and FPS. However, if you use fullscreen mode, alt-tabbing will cause the game to freeze and you’d have to restart your PC.
That last part, believe it or not, happens frequently if you’re like me — someone who has to alt-tab often to jot down notes for guides and other articles. Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris froze or crashed a dozen times already as of the time of this writing.
There’s also another factor that sours my experience while reviewing Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris. It’s how the game’s mechanics and systems are explained by way of one-and-done tutorial pop-ups.
For instance, after rescuing a character from evil goblins, additional panels were added on the pause menu and these were accompanied by tutorial pop-ups. Little did I know that would be the only time I’ll see some of those mechanics explained. Maybe I’m missing something here, but it looks like the only way to recheck these tooltips was to access them via a savepoint.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t need a lot of hand-holding in the games I play. It’s simply that I’d want to be able to read and understand a game’s features whenever I’d want to. Having these tooltips appear in their respective menus would’ve been more helpful than, say, looking for a savepoint and scrolling through the entire list. Come to think of it, requiring a savepoint just to check tips/hints and exit the game seems like a questionable design choice in an RPG.
Those are on top of Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris‘ clunky combat with controls that are far from ideal. The title relies on real-time movement and actions, and there are cases when, rather than having a more fluid combat system, it’s as though your characters are swimming in butter.
It seems like Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris offers a smorgasbord of questionable and clunky mechanics from terrible camera movement, stiff and janky animations, and characters just dilly-dallying around to the fact that it doesn’t even register the right thumbstick (RS) button.
There’s also an issue with swapping around characters to use their skills. This mechanic pans the camera around so often that you’d either get dizzy or confused at who’s being controlled.
Moving forward (is a slog)
One of the chapters in Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris was presented in this manner: enter the academy (loading screen), followed by a couple of conversations (two loading screens), Kirito walking around (another loading screen), a bit of training (loading screen before and after the fight), more conversations, training fights, and walking around (which means more loading screens).
You’ll repeat the same steps over and over in one of the game’s chapters that took forever to complete. Don’t forget that you could also encounter freezes or crashes during some of those loading screens (fullscreen or not). If you’re unlucky, you’d repeat an entire chain of events because of the save system’s limitations.
Next, take a look at the image below of Cordea Plains. Those are lush, verdant fields meant for exploration and questing, the cornerstones of RPGs. Why combine this gorgeous, semi-open world location with going back and forth the capital just so you could view some random dialogue and hokey scenes?
It’s like Anthem, then it became disk 2 of Xenogears
In a way, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris tried to teach you advanced mechanics but, at the same time, it was combined with a severely flawed narrative structure that completely set you back. Going outside to kill a monster and then returning to your hub time and again just for more fluff — leading to poor pacing — felt like a JRPG version of BioWare’s Anthem.
So, what exactly followed that ordeal? Well, Kirito and his friends started encountering one boss battle after the other. These were actually fun and somewhat challenging since they relied on tactical moves, quick dodging, chained attacks, and punishing your opponent.
It’s a shame, really, because some of these fights and newly-introduced concepts could’ve impressed you if they happened a few hours earlier. Instead, it’s like you suddenly went from Anthem‘s “go back to the hub” progression system to Xenogears‘ second disk (poor pacing indeed). Hilariously enough, losing a single boss fight would send you back to one of the previous encounters because the game forgets to auto-save.
After all those fights, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris finally opens up, providing you with customization options, party selection (to recruit even more companions), and, later, multiplayer features. How these ideas got shoehorned over half a dozen hours since you started the game is something that boggles the mind.
Sadly, the same faulty presentation manifests itself in the game’s later chapters as well. For instance, in chapter 4, you’re tasked with fighting the same types of enemies you’ve seen before. After that, you’re transported back to the capital for additional conversations (and loading screens). Then, it’s back to an exploration zone fighting the same mobs, going to two more zones just to “talk” to another character, and then heading to three different zones that you’ve visited before because there are some objectives there.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris – The final verdict
I tried very hard to be entertained by Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris since, as mentioned, it’s my first foray into any media about this franchise. Sadly, it became the first of many things, but for all the wrong reasons.
It’s the first game that left me with no choice but to downscale to 1080p due to performance woes. Likewise, it’s the first game that consistently froze or crashed when alt-tabbed. It’s also the first game that made me somewhat dizzy just because of cumbersome camera panning while in combat. Lastly, it’s the first RPG that made me dread quest markers knowing there’d be a lot of unnecessary fluff and exposition, or repetitive battles with the same mobs, all while going through multiple loading screens.
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it at its current state for even the most ardent of fans. From technical issues and non-stop loading screens to a crude way of structuring the first half of the storyline and other questionable gameplay decisions, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is unequivocally flawed. While the game does open up later and you’re given more freedom, technical and gameplay-related issues continue to persist.
It’s a shame, really, because this game still holds a lot of promise — certain mechanics have a lot of depth, and there are even moments that’ll manage to fill you with awe and wonder. Getting there, however, will test your patience to the limit.