You’d think that a game based on Sword Art Online – a Japanese property about players trapped in a lethal VR game – would almost write itself. Sure, you probably don’t want to be euthanised by your PS4, but a game about teaming up with others to take on quests in a huge fantasy world seems like it should be relatively simple. It’s seemingly harder than it sounds, and the previous games we’ve seen out of the franchise have, for one reason or another, not quite hit the mark. While the recent Fatal Bullet, and its Gun Gale Online shooter set-up, has come closest, Bandai Namco have just released another promising game in the series this week, and somewhat unexpectedly, it’s on mobile.
Sword Art Online: Integral Factor is headed to iOS and Android, and for fans of the series it could well be the best way yet to experience the thrill of climbing the 100 levels of Aincrad. The bonus is that you’re going to be able to do it no matter where you are, and producer Tomohiko Takeuchi and his team have done their best to cram the true Sword Art experience into the palm of your hand, which includes the ability to actually play with others online.
“We wanted to bring across the atmosphere of the whole world – it’s like the anime itself is the world of the game and we wanted to bring that here,” he said. “The main concept of the game is if you were in the game, what could you have done? Could you have saved the world? It’s basically an alternative timeline because it depends on how good you are at the game. You might even be able to save the lives of characters that died in the original anime.”
You take control via a virtual analog stick, with a range of attacks and special abilities mapped to a series of virtual buttons on the right hand side of the screen. Considering that you’re having to use a touchscreen, it’s surprisingly responsive, and I was able to set to slaying a range of smaller creatures in the field before heading into an intimidating battle with one of the game’s early boss creatures, Illfang, the Kobold Lord.
The main narrative features six of these major encounters, but with daily and weekly events planned, that number will increase exponentially. “There’s going to be a lot of fun bosses coming out,” Takeuchi-san explained, “and for each boss you’re going to have to think about how you approach them. You’ll need these weapons, or you’ll need these skills, and you’ll have to make lots of changes, lots of adjustments with your friends, which we hope is quite interesting.”
There’s been a real push for authenticity within Integral Factor, and fans of the anime in particular will revel in the attention to detail, whether it’s the familiar bell ring when opening your menu or the appearance of well-known characters from the series, like Kirito and Asuna in both the main and side quests. The most surprising element though is just how much the game feels like Sword Art, and despite the workmanlike mobile chip-powered visuals, they convey the action and the world of Aincrad admirably. Tomohiko says “We’re trying to stay closer to the original anime, and we’re still trying to work on this“
Perhaps one of the most important elements for players, and particularly for Sword Art, is going to be the ability to customise your character, and there are an array of ways that you can use to make your character your own. Special quests might yield rare or difficult to find armour and weaponry, many of which are going to help prove your status as a serious contender within Aincrad, while also giving your stats and abilities a boost. At the very least they’ll give you some bragging rights over your teammates.
It doesn’t seem as though Tomohiko or his team are suffering from the pressure of bringing the world of Sword Art to mobile, and in fact it’s clear that he’s a real fan of the series. This has almost certainly helped to make the whole thing feel as accurate as possible. He said, “It’s actually quite exciting because the franchise is so big, and you’ve got animation, novels, goods, so you get to do a lot of collaboration with each other and something that you’re making is affecting the other parts. It’s really quite interesting!”
For fans of the anime, Sword Art Online Integral Factor should be an almost immediate download, as thus far it’s looking like being one of the most accurate depictions of the well loved franchise. The fact that you can play online through the world of Aincrad with other players is fantastic, and as long as the support is there, and any in-app purchases aren’t too compulsory to beat the game, Bandai Namco could well have another mobile hit on their hands.