Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris Exceeds Expectations at TGS 2019 - PreviewThomas Froehlicher , posted on 29 September 2019 / 5,126 Views
Spoiler Warning: This preview contains spoilers for the first part of the Sword Art Online Alicization anime series. It's not recommended to read further if you haven't yet watched it but plan to do so.
After testing the waters with shooting and cyberpunk in Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet, Namco Bandai's game series has returned to blades and heroic fantasy in Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris. With Alicization being the next big chapter in Reki Kawahara's novel, and the anime adaptation coming at a close next year, it was only natural for the publisher to jump into that universe for the next entry in the video game franchise.
There wasn't just one but rather two different demos for Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris at Tokyo Game Show 2019. The first one was focused on exploration and teamplay, while the second one was more narrative driven and including a major boss fight. The exploration demo revealed a few major points. First of all, we now know that the party will include up to four characters fighting alongside eachother at once, and that you can change the leader at any time. In the demo, you start as Kirito, but it was possible to control the original heroine of the game, Medina. Eugeo and Alice were also in the group but weren't actually playable. Nevertheless, both have been confirmed to be playable by the developers, so this time fans certainly won't be disappointed about having only one playable character. That in turn is very good news not just from a fan perspective but also in terms of gameplay variety.
So how does it play? So far - fantastically. Blows feel a lot heavier than before, which immediately improves the feeling of the fights. In addition to regular sword combos, each character has four arts that can be performed by pressing R1 and one of the PlayStation buttons. Those arts are powerful sword skills with lavish special effects and animations. I've played the entire series and I think it's a significant step up compared to Sword Art Online Hollow Realization. In the latter title combat was very sluggish, but that's not the case here.
The ten minutes I was able to play Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris for were really something else. I could feel the energy bursting from the confrontation against the boss monster in particular. You can aim with Kirito's thrust skill, just like in the anime series. The voice acting is also especially good, and characters say the famous magic spells of the Alicization universe out loud. There are lot of small visual and sound details like this that provide a terrific atmosphere that's very comparable to the TV show.
Producer Yosuke Futami has said that the development team was going for a deeper combat experience and that certainly seems to be the case, at least based on these demos. In an interview with Futami, it was noted that dodging and guarding are now key elements if you want to win. The demo even includes a "just guard" system, where you can counterattack more effectively if you push the guard button shortly before being hit, and that was particularly pleasant to use.
Tweaks like these to the battle system completely transform the way you fight in Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris, making it more dynamic and exciting to play. The player is more actively involved and combat is more visceral and engaging as a result. The only drawback is that I ran into camera issues in the exploration demo, with walls and other background objects making it hard to get a clear view at all times.
The story demo featured Eugeo's and Kirito's fight against Alice, which is a memorable part of the TV show. That scene was perfectly recreated within the game, even including Alice's superb "Enhance Armament" (where her blade turns into lethal golden petals). Character modelling is fairly good, although the graphics seem less sharp in active gameplay (I suspect this may be a result of having to play very close to the screen at TGS).
The main thing I want to point out about the boss fight is how hard it seemed to be. Alice depleted my HP really quickly, although Kirito could still fight for some reason (maybe this was done intentionally for demo purposes). The ten minutes given to play the game weren't enough to beat her, not least because she was casting confusion on my party all of the time. In confusion state, all controls are inverted and it's difficult to land a single hit. The conclusion I take from this is that Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris will surely be no less difficult than previous SAO games, and that's a good thing. These adaptations have never made compromises on difficulty level in order to appease newcomers and I'm happy to see that tradition continue here, not least because the refined battle system absolutely needs tough opponents in order for it to shine.
Playing Sword Art Online Alicization Lycoris at Tokyo Game Show 2019 completely changed my opinion on Bandai Namco's title. The more action-oriented battle system was exhilarating and performed far above my expectations, leaving me hungry for more. With new playable characters being announced with each update, and seeing how well they've been implemented into the game so far in these demos, the game looks equally promising from a content perspective as well.
Preview based on two 10-minute demos available at Tokyo Game Show 2019.
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