Friday, August 11, 2017

Accel World vs Sword Art Online (PS4)

The title of this latest Bandai Namco dual console game, and it's accompanying cover art can be a bit misleading. It no doubt makes you think that there's some sort of epic crossover battle going on between the Accel World, and Sword Art Online personas. While there are moments of battle between the two worlds' warriors this is not entirely the case though.The focus instead is mainly upon Kirito's, Asuna's, and Yui's predicament. Particularly with Yui's imprisonment through an encounter with the Twilight Witch, or whom the game refers to as Persona Vabel. Vabel's introduction in the plot happens pretty much in the same way as the plight in previous SAO stories did. Kirito, and his digital family (Asuna & Yui) are lazing about in a new VRMMO world when something odd happens. They receive a warning to log out, but do not heed it, and thus find themselves in an increasingly confusing situation. As usual they team up with in-game friends, and in this case also with characters from Brain Burst, to fight the hidden force that is behind Yui's capture. The story that follows is a slow burn for the most part with interactive character sequences, brief gameplay focused outings in the form of lesser and greater enemy battles as well as optional side modes, and quests to delve into should you desire to do so. All for the sake of giving the gamer an intriguing spin-off story that is presented in such a way it could be considered a reflection of the VRMMO fantasy world which the characters within hail from.

For the most part"Accel World vs Sword Art Online" is a story heavy anime experience that explores the lore of SAO while using the crossover event as a means of diversion from the staple series plot. It harbors that oldschool anime feel, and doesn't rely too heavily on the gameplay to be it's driving force. While you will fight bosses, and encounter many characters of importance the gameplay included is not so involved (outside of the cumbersome mechanics) that it could be taken as seriously as the story being told through the character conversations. You will ultimately be traveling out into the merged world of Alfheim (ALO), and back to the city hub that is Rayne as you forward the plot through character interactions, side quests, and main quests. In a three party format you will be finding, and joining in battle with characters from SAO, and Accel World/Brain Burst as you try to unravel the mystery of the Twilight Witch, and her reasoning behind imprisoning Yui (Kirito's & Asuna's AI daughter).

New to the series, beyond the standard hack 'n slash combat, is a new aerial combat/travel system as well as a newly designed ability system. The ability, or skill system allows the player to equip new skills, commands, and assist abilities that the characters learn/unlock as they earn experience from battle. Each of which are tethered to the R1 button plus DPad directions, and joint face button presses. Also included is the new "Switch" feature which, through party means allows the controlled character to stun the enemy (bosses included) and deal extra damage to them. Flight in the game allows for aerial combat, and easier travel. By jumping with 'X', and pressing 'Up' on the DPad you'll initialize flight, and be able to ascend or descend using the flipped Y & X-Axis DPad inputs. In flight mode you can also target enemies, and increase flight speed as long as your stamina meter is filled. Needless to say you will now be fighting both on land, and in the air this time around. Another thing to note is that you can switch out party members via menu, and switch between them mid-battle using the proper two button combination (L1 + R1).

Each character in the game once reunited, and recruited brings to the fight new skills, abilities, and weapon specific melee attacks. Their basic character setup includes a weapon or weapons, a few accessories, and an outfit. If you bought the launch edition of the game you'll also gain access to two additional pieces of DLC which opens up a couple more quests in the game, and contains special outfits and colors for certain characters. With your party members you will be playing through episodic chapters that entail various quests relating to characters, and in-game circumstances. All while taking up optional quests at the Rayne quest billboard for extra currency, and items. Beyond the traversing of the hub portal that is Rayne, and the various eroded levels that are a mixture of ALO and Brain Burst you will have the opportunity to take your leveled up main character on multiplayer side quests via the Rayne billboard, and will be able to join other players through Bandai Namco's network servers when you agree to the EULA (End User License Agreement).

Once in Rayne head to the "Matching Portal", and choose either the 'Custom Match', 'Free Match', or 'Accept Invitation' options to start the matchmaking process. After you've settled on a match arrangement through optional parameters (custom match), or have chosen the quick 'Free Match'/'Accept Invite' option head over to the Rayne quest billboard, and accept the quest which the host player has chosen. Afterwards go to the center transporter portal, and you'll join in quests ranging from a one star difficulty all the way to the highest difficulty rating the game has (10?). Quests, both in single and multiplayer, range from wave style enemy clearings to dungeon outings, and even epic boss battles with a team effort in mind. At the time of this review you could still find active 'Custom Match' rooms.

Going back to the Rayne Hub portal you will find that this neon lit floating city is where you'll be micro-managing your party's activities, upgrades, and setups. As with most JRPGs you'll find a decent selection of shops that offer goods, and services for a price. The 'Blacksmith' this time allows you to enhance your weapon's power, as well as add stones, or augment the weapon to deal other types of damage. The stones can be bought from the neighboring material shop/enstonement shop, or can be earned through battles as rare drops. At the smithy you can also synthesize weapons to create other useful items in the smithing process. Aside from the blacksmith you'll find a weapons, and item shop which get new inventory as you buy from the vendors, and make progress in the game. The 'Dicey Cafe' is also an important locale within Rayne which you'll be visiting to interact with characters for story progression sake as well as to take a look at the gallery items you've unlocked along the way. This includes still pictures as well as a parody video series called, "Say it with Strea" in which Strea, and other characters explain some of the games' history, and terms. For those of you looking for detailed information beyond that the "OPTIONS" menu 'Database' acts as an in-game encyclopedia for all the characters, places, events, and important terms associated with the game's lore.

Lastly, the game offers up another type of singleplayer/multiplayer mode in the form of"Arena". It's as it sounds. You will be pitted against friend or foe in a gladiatorial style fight which will reward you with BP, and other rewards.

The Presentation ...

This latest addition to the SAO game library seemed as if it were meant to be a PS Vita portable gaming experience. By that I mean the world of ALO on the big screen seems to harbor a lot of wasted space. It's vast in level design, but scarcely littered with repeat enemy mobs, and bosses which are dwarfed by their environment. Something that would have seemed more epic, and fitting on a smaller screen. While some bosses are towering behemoths most of your encounters seem oddly disproportionate. It should also be noted that the Rayne city hub seems less than alive for a social space meant to house players of a freshly hyped VRMMO experience. The static NPCs that you do see seem lifeless, and meaningless in regards to the supposed calamity that is taking place. In fact the threat of the Twilight Witch, and the other hidden antagonists seems less important when scaled with the bonding, and relationship building of the main group of characters. Everything seems to take a backseat to the main character's dialogue, and accompanying animations. For this reason the game as a whole has a less than serious atmosphere about it with battle suffering from a dull structuring. The only interesting part being the plot that's unfolding.

The Verdict ...

I tried to give this game as much of a chance as I could. No matter how hard I tried to enjoy my playthrough though I was constantly met with the realization that the story was made more important/enjoyable than the battle system. Even with the complicated button/control layout, and the added in mechanics the battles felt more like a grind, and less like a challenge. The bosses themselves were basically four bar sponges that dealt boss level damage while the mobs of lesser enemies were copy & pasted versions of themselves adding in little variety whatsoever. When it comes to the new flight controls the new aerial mechanics would have been interesting had the flight, and camera angles not conflicted with what it is you aimed to do. Locking onto enemies can cause the camera to flip, and will often times steer you off course. Overall I felt the controls were this games biggest Achille's heel. By using awkward button combinations to do simple things it complicated the combat, and movement more than it should have been. In my opinion the controls could use a simplified overhaul. With all things weighed I can't really recommend this game. If you happen to be a diehard SAO fan though, and can get past the listed issues you might actually enjoy the new story, and characters. It's not the worst game I've played, but it's also not the best. I'd say, if anything, it's maybe a half a point above average.

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