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Bandai Namco
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Release Date:
November 17, 2015

Yes, there was a time when I loved JRPGs. But times change. The glory days of Squaresoft are long gone and unfortunately, most Japanese role-playing productions these days feel downright antiquated. This outdated feeling, so prevalent in Sword Art Online: Lost Song , doesn’t merely come from the unimpressive, even lackluster visuals; rather, it stems from the very core of the game, which is thin and repetitive. It’s unfortunately representative of the ‘90s, almost as if the developers were dead-set against the idea of technical and design progression. All this being said, there is some fun to be had in Lost Song and if you’re a confirmed fan of the hit anime series, it might be worth a try.

Just don’t be surprised at the mediocre graphics, which are sort of jarring after playing the AAA blockbusters that have hit store shelves this holiday season. Remember when certain JRPGs from Squaresoft represented new high watermarks in the world of interactive visual excellence? Well, like I said, times change. Although some of the effects and character designs are pretty slick, the overarching level construction and color palette just looks grainy, blurry and outdated. Amid a few explosive battle effects are poor textures and a general repetitiveness of design that rapidly grows tiresome. The silver lining is that it all runs relatively well, with only a few very minor hitches in frame rate.

The sound is only a little better, as the soundtrack fits the premise but doesn’t stand out, and the voices range from poor to average. Again, the combat effects take center-stage and give the experience a much-needed boost, which in turn bolsters the immersion and appeal. Even so, I keep wishing Japanese developers would put more effort into just about every technical element, from graphical quality and clarity to inspired scores and top-tier actors. We’re seeing improvements in the big-budget games but when it comes to JRPGs, especially those that cater to a very specific group of fans (who are undoubtedly more lenient when it comes to technical performance), there’s a definite lagging. I should add, however, that nothing here is glaringly bad , per se. It’s all just…underwhelming.

Despite the title, there is a single-player campaign in this game. Like the anime in question, Lost Song takes place in a fictional MMO called “Alfheim Online,” where players zoom into the air and battle all manner of baddies and face down opposing human foes. You can venture forth on your own if you wish, so I tackled this first and the results were a great deal less than extraordinary. It was entertaining for the first few hours but after you’ve settled into a comfortable and successful routine, you start to realize that the gameplay is just a rinse-and-repeat system and the landscape rarely changes significantly. How many times can I beat the very similar opponents and even bosses using basically an identical strategy? It made me yearn for the days when JRPGs actually forced you to think.

The control is decent, though. Flying up into the air is as simple as tapping the up arrow on the d-pad, and the flight mechanics are accessible and responsive. The camera isn’t perfect, especially when chasing down the quicker mid-air enemies, but combat thankfully isn’t a chore. Just hold down the R1 button and tap face buttons or d-pad arrows to switch between devastating sword skills and awesome magic attacks. You can also block and dodge and as you might guess, battles typically become somewhat predictable. You know, attack, attack, attack; then block and dodge as needed. Do that over and over and you should be fine. It’s true that certain assaults work better on certain types of foes but really, such understanding isn’t crucial. This is why the game is a little too brainless for me.