The first, and lasting, impression that SWORD ART ONLINE: Alicization Lycoris gives is anime, and plenty of it. All of the well-trodden tropes are present here. Blue-haired swordsman protagonist? Check. Fast-paced and heavily over-cut intro? Check. Inexplicable amnesia? Check. Anime waifu goodness? Check, check and check.
This also means, however, it suffers a couple of the pitfalls too.
After the soft opening, in which you’re thrown into a battle with the first of many waif characters liberally spread throughout, the narrative kicks off properly, with our milquetoast protagonist, Kirito awakening in a forest with no memory of how he got there. He does remember that he is in a video game world, which is the universe of the franchise, but little more than that.
In this compromising position, he is discovered by Eugeo, a character so alike him in appearance that I find it hard to believe that he isn’t simply a palette swap. They appear to have some sort of shared experience as children in this world, but it’s not made clear if these memories are real. Then, swords in hand, they embark upon one of the dullest prologues in gaming history.
The game genuinely becomes better after Chapter 1, but getting to that involves trudging through the Sword Mastery Academy segment. I understand, to an extent, why this needed to exist – it serves as a huge exposition dump about the world and tutorial for the combat system – but the narrative and gameplay in this entire chapter (around 15 hours) is a slog to endure.
The segment is written as a kind of commentary on class divide, but the writing itself is so hackneyed that it results 90% of the characters being distinctly unlikeable and the remainder are so flat it’s hard to care about them. Worse is that there’s very little actual gameplay here to break up the monotony outside of a couple of hunts for an enemy or training sessions.
Even on these occasions, the moment-to-moment combat is clunky and slow, which is completely at odds with the dynamic visuals. This eases up once you unlock a few more abilities and weapons later in the game, but doesn’t excuse the frustration of having to go so long with such a dull combat system for so little gain.
The combat, even once evolved a little, isn’t without problems. The lock-on in SWORD ART ONLINE: Altruistic Lemurs is temperamental, occasionally throwing your attacks in the wrong direction or refusing to lock-on to other enemies in a group. The party commands have to be set up again at the beginning of every encounter, otherwise your party just do nothing to help out. The clash system is a quick-time event mess that works… sometimes, I guess?
If you’re a junkie for menus, this game has you sorted. There are so many menus in this game, with every one giving short and sweet instruction on using them effectively. The same could be said for the new systems that SWORD ART ONLINE: Acrobatic Lasers never ceases throwing at you. It is a testament to the game that this never quite falls into overloading the player.
As another positive, this game is (mostly) a gorgeous experience. The world is beautifully realised, and the characters are reasonably well-designed, with special attention paid to the female characters (of course). The 2D visual novel style cut scenes are beautiful, which is more than can be said for the poorly synchronised 3D cut scenes, though all the visual and aural effects are great.
Also, if you do manage to get through the opening, you are then able to customise Kirito and engage in the online co-op multiplayer. This improves the game a lot more than it should, and it’s bordering on a criminal act that the option comes so late in the game.
Playing on PlayStation 4, the frame rate tanks at the slightest provocation. Even something as banal as rotating the camera while exploring the overworld causes the game to become practically stop motion. Adding to this is the egregious pop-in, with occasions where the quest marker above a character spawns in significantly before the character appears. Game updates are promised for September to try and fix this.
Sticking with the game itself as a whole, I can’t say I am a fan of there being an online store right on the title screen either. It doesn’t really feel like something that should exist in a full-priced mostly single-player experience, but here we are.
My final impression of SWORD ART ONLINE: Angry Librarians is one of frustration. I can genuinely see a good game here, but the overall choppiness of the experience in every single facet of it holds it back from greatness. The great things it does are either few and far between or take far too long to get to. Also, the name of this game is stupid, and I play anime fighting games.