Sword Art Online is a massively popular franchise in Japan. Last year it was the best selling light novel series in Japan and in my review of the first half of the anime I called it the smartest anime I had seen in years.
Yet in the half-a-decade since its first release, this franchise centered around video games has not had its own video game adaptation—that is until now. And as expected of a tie-in game to of a popular series, Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment is a game focused on exciting the imaginations of fans of the series.
Instead of following the common story-to-game formula of retelling the story of the series, Infinity Moment ops to tell an alternate universe tale. Beginning at the climax of the first story arc, the game shows what would have happened if the main character had won his duel with the game's creator and then remained trapped in the game world with the remaining survivors.
For fans of the series, this meta-mystery is the main driving reason to play the game. Why did the changes in the story occur? Why did Kirito win? Why didn't his winning free everyone? What's on the remaining 25 floors of the game? And why do characters from future story arcs like Leafa and Sinon start appearing in the death game world of Sword Art Online?
While the actual game interface doesn't match what we see in the anime, Infinity Moment does manage to match the art style we have seen in the series. The towns, dungeons, monsters, and sword techniques all look as if they could have been pulled straight out of the anime. In addition, the voice actors from the anime return to their roles, blending with the visuals to make the game unquestionably “Sword Art Online.”
When it comes down to the basic mechanics of the Sword Art Online game world, Infinity Moment gets the most important things right. There's no magic, just sword skills. Death is an instant game over, but you regen HP at an astounding rate to combat the lack of healing magic. Clearing and mapping each floor is done in small parties while you tackle the end boss of each floor in a raid. And interestingly for an RPG, like game world on which it is based, Infinity Moment has no save points—though the game does save at each loading screen.
Instead of the action game-like combat you'd probably expect from seeing the series, Infinity Moment plays like a MMORPG, with all your skills on cool down and normal attacks coming at regular intervals automatically. In practice, it actually works quite well, but fast-paced action this is not.
Nearly every floor in Infinity Moment follows the same gameplay pattern: buy/upgrade weapons, find a partner, pick up your new missions, and then explore the three or four different areas on the floor. Once you complete the missions and find the boss room door, you then take on the floor boss in a raid battle and move on to the next floor.
While there is a lot to explore given the many non-linear areas and more than a few minibosses on each floor to be defeated, the repetition of the same basic cycle can get a bit mind-numbing despite the story cutscenes that attempt to break it up.
When it comes down to it, Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment is a game for fans of Sword Art Online—be that the light novels or the anime. Everything in the game is built under the assumption that the player is already intimately familiar with the source material. While the gameplay and non-linear dungeons get the job done, it is the story and overall mystery that make this game worth playing. So if you speak Japanese and love Sword Art Online, you will find this game worth its price. But if you're not a fan, this game is unlikely to change your mind.
Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment was released on March 13, 2013 for the PlayStation Portable. There is currently no word on an international release.
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