"Accel World VS Sword Art Online is a game best suited for pre-existing fans only."
Accel World VS Sword Art Online is a crossover action RPG based on the two eponymous IPs by Reki Kawahara. Both Sword Art Online and Accel World began life as light novels before becoming popular manga and anime series. Both deal with similar themes surrounding the balance between existing in the virtual and real worlds, but are different enough that fans can heartily debate over which series is better and to what extent they're interconnected. What I'm trying to say is that this crossover makes more sense than typical crossovers. Regardless, Accel World VS Sword Art Online is a game best suited for pre-existing fans only.
The story starts with Sword Art Online's Kirito and Asuna on a virtual family outing with their virtual daughter Yui, looking for the perfect picnic spot. All of a sudden, they're attacked by hordes of monsters despite their location being a neutral area. Deciding something is fishy, the trio decide to picnic in town. After the picnic, a massive alarm sounds alerting all users to log out immediately or suffer the consequences. Yui warns Kirito and Asuna to log out before running off, but they instead secretly follow Yui to a mysterious shrine. There, Kirito is attacked by Black Lotus (from Accel World), who Asuna finds out was hired by a mysterious witch named Persona Vabel (a new character for this game) to distract them while she kidnapped and sealed away Yui to herald some kind of apocalypse. Black Lotus realizes she's been deceived and switches sides to help Kirito and Asuna. Unfortunately, Persona Vabel is too powerful, so the trio engages a strategic retreat to figure out what's going on, why worlds are colliding, and what Persona Vabel's deal is. After convening with Kirito's friends Agil and Lisbeth in Ryne City, the group concludes that since they ignored the logout warning, several of their friends must have too. So the quest is to find and gather those friends, form an army, and take down Persona Vabel.
This is a fairly typical crossover plot, but is written decently enough to be surprisingly coherent and culminates into a satisfyingly comprehensive ending. However, familiarity with both Accel World and Sword Art Online is required to really glean the most out of the experience. The general setup of the plot requires players to know the worlds, characters, and major plot beats of both series, so anyone new to Reki Kawahara's universe should not begin here. Fans, however, will be thrilled that their favorite characters are present in playable form, although some can't be recruited until a while into the game.
Unfortunately, engaging in this Suikoden-style recruitment is more tiresome than need be, due to vague plot direction. I was often left unclear about my main objective and found myself running around in circles figuring out what to do next and/or how to trigger that next task. The bland environments don't help matters, either. Sure they're vast, but they're also quite barren and devoid of meaningful landmarks, making exploration a chore. To add insult to injury, the on-screen radar map lacks legible topographic details, and the in-menu maps are not much help for much the same reason.
Accel World VS Sword Art Online is not a pick-up-and-play game due to its somewhat complex control scheme. It takes time to get used to the controls, which utilize all the Vita's buttons, both analog nubs, and the front touch screen. However, once I got used to the tightly responsive action mapping, the controls made total sense and I really liked it. I feel like mapping some of the characters' special moves to shortcuts would be easier (at least for my play style) on PS4 because its controller has that second set of shoulder buttons (L2/R2), but the Vita's control scheme gets the job done. I liken the controls to when you're first learning to drive a car at age 16. You have to learn how to coordinate your hands, feet, and eyes to properly steer, modulate the pedals, monitor traffic, obey the rules of the road, etc. But once you've been driving for a while, it all becomes second nature where you just hop in the car and go.
The control scheme is also brilliant in that it seamlessly accommodates the unique ways in which different characters engage enemies. Characters from Sword Art Online can fly and hover for aerial combat, whereas Accel World characters are powerful ground units that can leap great heights and distances. This makes the dynamic boss battles an absolute hoot to fight as you switch between your ground attackers and your high flyers to best defeat those big bad bruisers. Some bosses have moves and skills that will make you throw up your hands and say, "Are you freaking kidding me right now!?!" but even those fights are definitely winnable with the right strategies. AI for party members is not too bad — there is no need to babysit them when mowing down hordes of normal enemies, but they do need to be monitored during boss battles. Only 3 characters can be in the active party at a time, so not only can fans play with their favorites and possibly unlock hidden events with them, but can also strategize as to who would work best for each mission. Unfortunately, only active party members gain EXP, making it somewhat tedious to maintain everyone's levels.
As with many games these days, Accel World VS Sword Art Online features three selectable difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, and Hard) that can be changed on the fly. No matter what, though, the enemies faced in online co-op play are scaled to hard. This brings me to the aspect that will keep players coming back to the game even after they've finished the offline story mode (which took me about a week to finish, though access to network play is gained in the game's early stages.) Accel World VS Sword Art Online has various online play modes, some of which reminded me of the fun I had with Phantasy Star Online back in the Sega Dreamcast days. There is the aforementioned co-op play where you and some online friends can join forces to go questing, and there is also a PvP mode where one player's team brawls other players' teams. This PvP online component is where the "vs" in the game's title truly makes sense.
In-game menus aren't too difficult to navigate, but fonts tend to be quite small. Seeing teeny tiny text in a large box always makes me scratch my head and wonder, "why couldn't they make the fonts bigger for those of us with diminishing eyesight to read more easily?" Undersized font is not just an old fogey complaint, as many young people wear corrective lenses too. I also felt that the default camera panning speed was too slow for such a frenetic game, but that can easily be adjusted in the settings menu.
The music is solid, but not very memorable. I liked the way the tempo of the opening vocal song perfectly matched the action-packed sequences of the opening movie, but if you were to ask me to sing or hum you the melody, I could not. The same could be said for the in-game music and end credits theme: it's nicely composed music that sets scenes nicely, but nothing really ear-wormed its way into my head. The voice acting is all in Japanese and consists of fine anime voice acting that lends personality to the talky cutscenes.
Graphics are also nothing special, particularly for a Vita game. Character models and the futuristic town hub look colorful enough, and the portraits during VN style cutscenes feature crisp lines. There is also no slowdown, especially during hectic battles when tons of enemies are flying around on the screen. However, as I mentioned earlier, the often flat colors of wide open expanses of land are uninspiring to look at and don't entice me to go exploring.
Accel World VS Sword Art Online is a fun game that will provide enjoyment for established fans of Accel World and Sword Art Online, and they're the only ones I would recommend this game to. The interesting controls and varied battle mechanics make for dynamic boss battles, but exploration is ponderous, keeping the vast number of characters adequately leveled is a chore, and following the plot is wholly dependent on prior knowledge of both series. Still, I have to give credit to the game for having some well thought-out aspects to it, saving it from being a complete throwaway as games based on popular licenses are wont to be.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.