14th Jul2017

‘Accel World vs Sword Art Online’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

aw-vs-sao-ps4-cover

There are many famous crossovers in gaming history, and whilst many of them are flawed, some (such as Marvel vs Capcom 2, Battletoads vs. Double Dragon and many more) are sublime. I’d never played either an Accel World or a Sword Art Online game when I came into Accel World vs Sword Art Online, so I entered it with an open mind, and I’ve spent a fair few hours over the past few days in researching both series.

Both Accel World and Sword Art Online were created by Reki Kawahara, and feature a back catalogue of Manga comics and cartoons that deal with fairly light, adventurous plots and themes. Both focus heavily on the advanced, virtual reality worlds that are present in each fiction and, I discovered, fans of Kawahara have long suspected that the worlds crossed over anyway. It isn’t even a massive spoiler for me to reveal that Accel World vs Sword Art Online actually confirms that, since it is as good as revealed within about the first five minutes of the game.

Being completely new to both series and expecting something very silly from such a crossover, I was surprised to find myself rapidly engrossed into a really engaging story. Initially focussing on the world of ALfheim Online and the SAO characters Kirito, Asuna and Yui, Accel World vs Sword Art Online soon escalates, rapidly introducing us to Accel World’s Black Lotus, as well as our main antagonist. After a brief pitched battle, Black Lotus joins Kirito and Asuna in their quest to reunite with Yui, simultaneously marking the unification of hero characters from both series as a single fighting force.

And what a force it is, Accel World vs Sword Art Online features – probably – a million playable characters. Maybe a trillion. I don’t know. I wish they were familiar enough to me that I might be able to walk you through some series favourites, but what I can say is, I didn’t get a sense of any copy and paste work here. The game uses the Ground-Sky Active Change Battle System carried over from Sword Art Online: Lost Song, which means that Sword Art Online characters can run, float and fly, with a variable control scheme for each situation. With one exception I found (Silver Crow) and one I didn’t (who I shan’t name) Accel World characters can’t fly, although they can jump incredibly high and will hover whilst fighting in the air.

One thing I liked about Accel World vs Sword Art Online was that this distinction was never stated, but it felt immediately obvious and correct to me, even as a newcomer to both series. The player party consist of three characters at a time, and players can switch any time, so battles take on a strategic element. It’s important to create a well balanced squad at the best of times, but it’s much more important to get it right when facing some of the bosses, which are much tougher than the weak and often stupid rank and file AI enemies.

I was also impressed by the control and combat system in Accel World vs Sword Art Online, which, despite staggering complexity, works really well. The control scheme feels almost completely unfamiliar to me, with buttons like left and right on the D-Pad being used to move to hovering stance, and up changing into the flight posture. Using special skills (based on a fixed cooldown) requires holding a button down to activate an onscreen display that matches face buttons, and there are various other nuances. Only a few controls such as changing characters, blocking and basic combat aspire to the norm, and yet it’s all very natural and easy to become familiar with.

The game also has a fairly unique look, and it is one that is often beautiful. Unfortunately, despite the exceptional character animations and bright, distinctive style, locations are often fairly bland, with featureless landscapes unworthy of exploration. The backdrop in most locations often speaks of a promise that AAccel World vs Sword Art Online never delivers, and that is a bit of a shame. Enemies are largely drawn from a tried and tested menagerie of blobs, skeletons, robots, trolls and suchlike, but all of them are bold and chunky, and as always in games like this, bosses are quite impressive. The anime cut scenes verge on spectacular. The uninspiring world also means that Accel World vs Sword Art Online can often be hard to navigate, and a poor minimap and obscure objective marker hardly help. There are few landmarks to enable natural pathfinding to occur, yet I honestly had the feeling that the developers only included an objective marker as an afterthought. Without it, the game could have been a disaster. Exploring can yield pleasant surprises however, and there are plenty of caves and other dungeons to visit, where crafting resources and special items can be found.

And so AAccel World vs Sword Art Online is something of a conundrum. It has unwieldy, unfamiliar controls that come together nicely. It looks resplendent and shiny in beautiful 4K, and yet much of the game world is dull as dishwater to explore. It has a deep and surprisingly tactical combat system that is somewhat wasted on unambitious enemies. But where all these things balance out at least above average based on my experience, the one thing I can’t knock is the story. This is a story of two worlds, of two (vast) sets of characters that I had never heard of before, and yet it managed to enthral me throughout my time with it. Every character is well developed, and despite the speed of new introductions, I never felt as if one or another character was thrown in for the sake of it, or neglected.

Pleasingly, once you’ve finished the main game, some form of replayability is provided through the inclusion of a few multiplayer modes. Players can battle bosses cooperatively in a kind of boss rush mode (which can also be played solo) or you can fight competitively either one on one or in teams of up to four on either side. The competitive aspect seemed a little unbalanced to me, because higher level characters have a clear advantage, although time will probably sort that out as more dedicated players will stick around for a better fight, and after full release, there will be more of them.

Fans of either Accel World or Sword Art Online would be remiss not to invest their time and money in Accel World vs Sword Art Online, whilst I also recommend it fairly highly to everyone else. Those who have a particular dislike for action games or JRPG’s (imagine this as a mix of both) might find too much to fault here, but you would need to set out to really hate it.

***½  3.5/5

Accel World vs Sword Art Online is out now on PS4 from Bandai Namco.

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2 Responses to “‘Accel World vs Sword Art Online’ Review (PS4)”

  • Rangerborn12

    “And what a force it is, Accel World vs Sword Art Online features – probably – a million playable characters. Maybe a trillion.”

    Yeah, and Marvel vs Capcom Infinite will have 80 characters at launch. Also, I found the story nothing unique and Accel World characters appears out of nowhere and attacks you, only for them to forgive you and join you. I personally found most of the characters stereotypical and I found the flight controls very cumbersome. Also, the PS Vita version is horrendous.

    • Yes, it’s hard to differentiate with so many characters, and whilst I spent nowhere near “a lot” of time with all of them, I did at least feel like each one had some kind of individual personality at a mechanical level – ie when fighting. That said, the combat in Accel World vs Sword Art Online isn’t that capable of variation, but hey, it’s much more interesting than a Dynasty Warriors game.

      I did find the story enjoyable in general, but that was perhaps because of the opening hook and because the fairly bonkers setting was so new/unique to me. All in all, I think it’s a decent game, but not a great one.

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