Also On: PS4
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Medium: Vita Card/Digital/Disc
In all honesty, I don't recall a thing about last year's Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. I know I kind of liked it, but that's the full extent of what I remember. Gun to my head, I could tell you that it was based on an anime (which, admittedly, I've never seen, which means I went into the game at something of a self-imposed disadvantage), and that it was a pseudo-MMO with a bunch of quests, but beyond that, I'm drawing a blank.
I have a hard time imagining that Sword Art Online: Lost Song suffers the same fate. For one thing, the story doesn't seem to be as dependent on a knowledge of the anime. I'm sure that helps a little, but it's easy enough to get by here without a thorough understanding of everything that's come before it. Sure, I'm a little puzzled by some characters and their relationships, but it's nothing so baffling that I ever find myself at a loss. All in all, the game does a surprisingly good job of explaining who most people are and what their motivations are.
A comprehensible story and solid characters, though, are only a small part of what makes Sword Art Online: Lost Song stand out. The broader reason why SAO: Lost Song works is that, in every respect, it's a fun game. The quests make sense, and are incorporated into the story rather than just being assigned to you because the story has to be moved along. Combat is smooth, and the game does a great job of making it easy to target and slash your way through enemy monsters.
The biggest thing, though, is the way you get around: your character can fly. And not just limited floating from Point A to Point B like you get in most games, either; the moment you step into the world outside SAO's hub village, you can soar all over the map. What's more, flying here is fun, and even on the Vita's smaller screen, the game does a tremendous job of making it feel like you're really moving and changing speeds, whether you're just flying around for fun or engaged in a mid-air dogfight. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you think about it, it kind of is; I've played enough superhero games to know that even in the very best games, the instant characters leave their feet for whatever reason, they're entering into dicey territory. I don't know how SAO: Lost Song managed to avoid that trap, but they did, and the results are spectacular.
Am I grading Sword Art Online: Lost Song well entirely because of that? No…but I'd be lying if I said it didn't play a small part. But then again, why shouldn't it? The fact SAO: Lost Song succeeds on that one feature where so many others before it have failed is emblematic of a broader point to be made about the game, which is that it's impressively made. It'll probably be overlooked or dismissed by too many people who assume that it's only worth playing if you're a fan of the anime, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that it's worth checking out regardless whether or not you're familiar with Sword Art Online.