Virtual reality is the next hot item in the gaming universe, but not all of us are so blessed to be able to afford the equipment needed to join in on the hype. Video games often step in to fill a void with experiences designed to allow you to live vicariously. With VR being such a present temptation, a game series like Sword Art Online suddenly takes on a different meaning.
In the strange world of Sword Art Online, the characters are themselves enjoy a high-tech virtual reality experience, allowing one to physically experience a game. Utilizing a similar (yet mind-meltingly confusing) story from the anime series Accel World, Accel World vs. Sword Art Online is a mash-up game that is a relative mess in terms of trying to understand the plot, but overall is an entertaining, fast-paced JRPG that stands out from its competitors.
Sword Art Online and Accel World are both series focused on virtual reality gaming and the incredible link that they have with the worlds around them. In this game, Accel World characters are crossing over in the world of Sword Art Online, chasing an evil force back through time, as the force is causing glitches and other large scale problems across the gaming world within SAO. The sudden rise of invisible barriers and an emergency message that is causing mass confusion throws SAO into a bout of chaos, and adventure begins again.
The storyline is as convoluted as any that I’ve come across in a JRPG, but it isn’t stilted and hacky camp that has become the go-to for modern JRPGs. This story is much more akin to a PlayStation 2 era JRPG, with lots of “high-tech meets magic” aesthetic and larger than life story elements.
The combined cast is understandably huge, and the characters are so previously established that newcomers to the series like myself don’t really get the full scope of their personalities. That said, some of the most creative characters I’ve seen in a JRPG are in this game, in particular the characters from Accel World. The high number of playable characters gives this game a ton of people to keep up with, further complicating things, but also provides so much in terms of custom style of play, and multiple runs through with different party setups.
AW vs. SAO doesn’t only carry a great PlayStation 2 era story, but also just overall reminds me of a great JRPG of that time. If this game had been released on that console, it very well may now be a cult favorite. The number of characters that can level up to extreme heights, customizable and upgradeable weapons that provide different special abilities and buffs, and a fully explorable world in AW vs. SAO leads to a sacred game save with 200+ hours of effort poured in, and that’s with more content I’ve yet to discover after the ending.
Exploration of the world is by and far the best part of the game, with a game map that not only stretches out on the ground level, but due to SAO’s flying dynamic stretches up into the sky at soaring heights. Not all of the characters have the ability to fly, however, so that limits their overall appeal and puts them in a class of their own. The ones that can are free to explore several floating islands, platforms, and fight against enemies in mid-air.
Battling is done all on the world map, and with a party of three, you’ll have two AI companions with you for the most part, and you also have the ability to switch between characters. The AI is pretty bad for the most part, but gets the job done when not flying into walls and attempting to warp through invisible barriers. Fights are pretty basic, with a standard and power attack, as well as a few special abilities that can be used all in a live action-based system.
Regarding depth, you spend a lot of time getting to the enemies rather than actually fighting sometimes, so that can be drag. Also, I find that some enemies will flat out just try to avoid you and run away. While I like the dynamic of the creature turning to his or her flight instinct, I hate having to chase them and exert further effort for one lousy kill.
The boss battles are magnificent, and take full advantage of the flying dynamic with massive, towering enemies the size of skyscrapers in some instances. Boss battles are long, tough challenges that force you to take special care of how you approach and does require some level grinding to get up to task. Each boss has a signature move or dodge or ability, and that keeps these encounters fresh. This is a perfect way to break up with can be a slow monotony in the fights against regular monsters on the map.
Presentation is a mixed bag. There are some decent cutscenes throughout that animate the world in ways that seem routine, but aren’t so spectacular compared to today’s JRPG releases.
There are certain maps and zones that are fully from late 90’s, reminding me of Goldeneye 64. But most of the game takes place in a nice, modern and graphically impressive, but not special manner. I have to assume that the certain areas that are so polygonal and low-res are so for a specific reason within the story that I just am ignorant of.
Lastly, this game is easily navigable with its menus, has a very well laid out “town” area and provides players with a very large repository where you can store items, rather than carry everything you ever collect around with you. The game has a multiplayer dynamic to it, but it is a very sparse, basically just a way for characters to match up and fight bosses together. It is separate to the main game, but is a lot of fun if you have friends playing along.
Accel World vs. Sword Art Online
Accel World vs. Sword Art Online is a fairly magnificent little JRPG that surprised me with its depth of characters and customizable options within, and a world where I can fly, explore, and battle dozens of monsters along the way. I’m reminded so much of the golden PlayStation 2 era of JRPG gaming, with all the good and some of the bad that comes with that distinction. Overall, Accel World vs. Sword Art Online is a very solid JRPG title and one that any fan of the genre will enjoy.