A day before my interview with Sword Art Online: Lost Song Producer, I was able to get my hands on the game itself through the kiosk at the Bandai Namco booth during this past NYCC.
Then I was thrust immediately into a timed demo that pulled no punches as my avatar Kirito was thrown in the center of an epic battle which culminated into an even more epic boss battle in the sky.
The controls in Lost Song are pretty similar to previous Sword Art Online titles — use Triangle and Square for heavy and light attacks — so those familiar with the franchise can immediately jump in. Even if you aren’t, the control scheme is pretty simple and only takes about a minute to get used to.
Kirito started off on the ground, slashing and stabbing enemies at my command. The party members aided in this, although healing was left to me and my trusty items.
It was at this point that I noticed the environment itself. Lost Song is by far the best looking Sword Art Online title to date, considering that it was also developed for PS4 as well as the usual portable system.
The colors are loud and bright, textures are much better rendered and there’s a general sense of extra detail and care put into the large expanses of plains and rolling hills, in the fluffy white clouds decorating the sky.
Then I was forced to peel my eyes away from the pretty graphics and focus on the impending battlefield straight ahead filled with multitudes of enemies. Monsters littered the open plains and I quickly switched Kirito to the offensive, alternating between heavy and light attacks to form combos and vanquish my foes.
Once I had advanced forward enough and pressed the up button without thinking much of it, Kirito automatically took flight as a pair of shimmering wings formed on his back. I briefly wondered why this occurred until I noticed the sea of flying foes peppering the sky.
As I fought through the manifold enemy forces, I noticed a much larger presence in the near distance and realized that the giant dragon-like creature in question was the boss.
The sheer amount of foes residing in the airspace and surrounding the boss resembled clusters and immediately converge on your party when spotted. This created the air of a truly epic battle as your party is forced to fend off these monsters while engaging the powerful beast in the epicenter.
In general, controls for flight mode are a little different from ground movement and combat. The left thumb stick is used to control aerial movement, while the right stick is used for camera control. Pressing the X button will slow you down in mid-air and a double-tap results in a 180 degree turn.
By holding down the R1 button, Kirito can gain a momentary boost, with evasive maneuvers being controlled by the X button during a speed-up; this is known as the “Aerial Drive” action.
For the most part aerial controls are solid, however, there is one glaring issue that somewhat dampens the whole experience: the camera.
Camera controls — especially in the air where the need to view 360 degrees is vital — are highly erratic and difficult to rein in, which made it incredibly hard at times to see where the boss was located when it moved, or even the location of foes who just attacked Kirito. There were even a few points in which the camera went completely haywire.
Other than that hiccup, Lost Song is a nice return to form for the franchise, not to mention simply fun to play. The normal enemies are decently smart and the boss that I had the fortune to face off against had a surprisingly good AI and refreshing sense of presence, perfectly mimicking the massive cooperative boss battles found in many MMORPGs.
With such a strong showing in just a demo, I look forward to the full version of Sword Art Online: Lost Song when it releases next month. Meanwhile, check out my interview with game producer Yosuke Futami here.