Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris begins with series protagonist Kirito trying to log out of the virtual reality game he has found himself in. To his surprise, he is seemingly trapped in the game without the ability to log out. It is a moment that encapsulates the entire experience of Alicization Lycoris—you can’t help but want to log out and play something else.
The Sword Art Online franchise is source material ripe for making a video game from; however, so many of the attempts to make a Sword Art Online game have failed to capitalise on the inherent excitement of the series’ concept. While some like Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet actually make an attempt at exploring the video game world in a compelling and engaging way—telling an original story and letting you craft your own player in the Sword Art Online world—Alicization Lycoris is too focused on being a direct adaptation of the anime series, rather than being a good game.
Alicization Lycoris retells the story of the “Alicization Arc” of the series, following more in turn with the anime series than the original light novels. As such, the game suffers the same pacing issues as that arc of the series. This can be a truly frustrating part of the game because just as the story is beginning to gain momentum, you are presented with a montage of still images and a narration informing us of a six-month time skip; everything the story had built to at that moment now completely irrelevant, as the game skips ahead in the story to something else entirely different. This story structure and pacing leaves the game completely devoid of any narrative thrust.
Gameplay wise, Alicization Lyrcoris is a complete step backwards from previous Sword Art Online video games—the combat is lacking in nuance or complexity. Mashing the square button makes for 80% of the combat mechanics, which are obscured by seemingly endless HUD elements that have no real purpose other than to make the combat seem more complex and detailed than it actually is. To make matters worse, on the PlayStation 4 (which we reviewed this title on) the game suffers from terrible frame rate issues which are impossible not to notice—let alone not be completely distracted by. Add to that the laborious loading screens and it’s enough to frustrate even the most patient of gamers.
The game does feature a character creation mode like previous Sword Art Online games; however, unlike previous instalments, the game only allows you to create a new avatar for Kirito—rather than creating a new character entirely. The character creation doesn’t even become unlockable until Chapter 2 of the game, which takes anywhere between 15–20 hours of gameplay to get to. Ultimately, the character creation comes far too late into the game to be of any relevance and you’re not really your own character as you are still technically Kirito—and throughout the rest of the game will still be fulfilling the storyline role of Kirito.
There is an online multiplayer feature of the game, however it is marred by countless gates of entry to play. You can create “rooms” and invite other players to join you on quests, however you can only play with players that have reached the same point in the game as you. Furthermore, the character you use in the online mode is the same as the one you use in offline play and the main. This means that the online mode is essentially a congregation of Kiritos. This is a minor nitpick, but it ultimately detracts from the idea of the MMO world of the game when you can only really play with other Kiritos. That said, if the other players have unlocked the character creation option they may look different; however, they are still ultimately just another Kirito. Take that as you will.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris is a decent direct adaptation of the “Alicization Arc” of the anime series. However, it is bogged down by a brainless combat system and serious processing issues. It will likely please fans of the anime series despite these issues, but is not recommended to those that don’t already have a vested interest in the adventures of Kirito and his every growing harem of gamer girls.