The SWORD ART ONLINE game series is reaching its climax, for now at least, with the release of SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection. It boasts the largest roster of playable characters and a brand new, original storyline exploring a ‘what if’ situation involving Kirito, his allies after the tragic goings on during The War of the Underworld. After the rather messy launch for Alicization Lycoris, developers Aquria will be hoping Last Recollection does justice to the popular franchise it’s based upon.
Is SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection an action-RPG that’s likely to live long in the memory, or is it another instalment that’s best forgotten?
Set in the virtual Underworld once more, Last Recollection opens with a Dark Knight getting chased through the skies, before taking a hit that sends her descending towards the ground at speed. Fortunately, Kirito, Eugio, and Alice are in the right place to rush to her aid, and it turns out she’s on a very important mission. The Dark Knight, Dorothy, is attempting to broker peace between the Dark Territory and the Human Realm. Joining forces, the quest begins to convince the Ten Lords to end the war once and for all.
Now, I must say that the introduction of Dorothy as a main character is a welcome one as she harbours an interesting past and appears to be more than just your average Dark Knight. Her arc is perhaps the only interesting part of a generally dull narrative that’s very stop-start. The majority of cutscenes offer nothing substantial, with forgettable conversations and pointless interruptions occurring too frequently.
Even with a host of returning characters and a varied bunch of Lords on hand to incorporate into proceedings, personality is lacking throughout. A greedy, slightly comical merchant named Kainan, is a rare standout amongst the pack, but it’s difficult to become invested in the rest. The Japanese voice acting is fine, however there’s not a lot for the actors to work with in regards to the script.
The main quests see Kirito and up to three other party members traverse through the dangerous lands of the Dark Territory in order to meet with the leaders. This means you’ll venture through locations belonging to different factions, including the goblins, ogres, and orcs. There’ll be enemies of varying levels lurking everywhere, as well as chests to find, places to investigate, and statues to interact with. Progression usually comes from defeating giant beasts blocking the route or solving environmental puzzles by using magical seals in specific spots.
The puzzling is incredibly simple and the areas are quite restrictive in terms of the ability to roam, but ultimately, it’s the battling that’s responsible for the lion’s share of the disappointment in the gameplay. And that’s confusing when, on paper, there are a wealth of combat options to consider.
The combat unfolds in third-person perspective and you can swap between your chosen characters at will. There are so many playable characters to unlock along the way, including Asuna, Bercouli, Leafa, Sinon, Tia, and many more. That’s great, however, their attacks and potential skills are set by the weapon they wield, which would be fine if it wasn’t for a strange choice to make every skill available from the beginning.
Genuinely, whatever weapon in your possession comes with all the special skills ready to equip to the open four slots. This absolutely kills the rewarding nature of levelling up and acquiring skill points, because at best you can just marginally improve the skills or unlock some barely noticeable passive perks. Essentially, you’ll select the most exciting looking skills and perform them over and over again for the foreseeable future, with nothing really to work towards.
Furthermore, you can trigger skills manually, spending the required SP from the rechargeable meter, but up to three of them also activate through pressing the attack button multiple times. In effect, it means every encounter can be approached by repeatedly hitting the same button and occasionally dodging. Given how a lot of enemies have large health bars, the whole thing turns into a mind-numbing slog that gets old real quick.
The allies in your party aren’t always useful either and are often downed for their efforts. Even though you have Tactical Arts set up to guide the AI in the battle, as well as the ability to command at will, it’s basically all on you to do the job.
Outside of the main quest, there are ‘sub-quests’ to partake in which revolve around fetching something or defeating a certain enemy. Normally, such tasks are a nice distraction, but quite frankly the confusing nature and lack of direction given to complete them is off-putting. At least the other activity, the ‘hunting quests’, comes with a clear marker of where to go to fight a ridiculously high level – compared to you – creature. It is possible to tackle the large beasts alongside real people in co-op, which sounds exciting. You just need to hope the matchmaking system works, as in my case it failed to find anyone.
The strange ‘episode quests’ are perhaps the most fun of the bunch to seek out. Upon engaging in one, a short visual novel style scene occurs between two characters. It’s enjoyable, albeit without having much depth to the storytelling, and the 2D artwork is excellent here.
Elsewhere the visuals are not so good. Nigh on every environment is bleak and bland, with a lack of interesting attributes and bare-minimum in regards to textures. Quite often the textures pop in later than they should do. It’s really noticeable how little effort has been put into the backgrounds compared to the vibrant and well-presented 3D character models. To be fair though, the skill and finishing move animations are pretty cool too.
All in all, SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection fails to deliver a memorable climax to the series. Despite bringing in a raft of characters and throwing in a load of skills from the off, it just doesn’t do enough to keep you hooked. There’s too much blandness throughout, it doesn’t entice you with things to work towards, and the gameplay is incredibly monotonous.
Do yourself a favour and give this one a miss.