Review – SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection

SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection

The Sword Art Online games have always been ambitious for anime tie-in games. A proper open-world party based action RPG, a far cry from the usual arena fighter or turn-based JRPG. Even though this ambition was never fully delivered on, it was always fun and contextually impressive. Alicization Lycoris was the peak of this ambition, adapting the first half of the franchises’ best arc. Full untethered co-op, a large open world to explore, life skills, alongside the usual ARPG trappings made for a fun all rounded (though not perfect) experience. Now SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection is here to adapt the last half of the arc. And while the combat is improved and the collection of playable characters is impressive, I found it overall lesser compared to its predecessor. 

SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection the Dark Territory

The Dark Territory, a dark bland area to explore, a far cry from the lush variant lands of Alicization Lycoris.

First, the story. The SAO games take place in their own timeline, with each title usually adapting an arc with a twist. SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection is no different, adapting the War for Underworld half of the Alicization arc. While only being half an arc wasn’t an issue for Alicization Lycoris, this game requires you to have finished that one and all DLC to understand it. Which is a gutsy move to make. Especially since a large portion of this game’s twist is just continuing on from Lycoris‘ own game-changing what-if scenario. And the parts that aren’t are underwhelming and lead into an underwhelming adaptation of the story. A far cry from the anime’s fantastic and beautiful adaptation. Both are framed as SAO’s version of Avengers: Endgame, but the anime simply does a far superior job. Compared to Lycoris‘ quite brilliant alternate take on the original story, it’s disappointing.   

SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection Alice

So many lines are translated like this, it’s just a struggle to understand even though it seems like it really should make perfect sense.

It wasn’t just the story where SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection took Lycoris and trimmed it down. Life skills are gone. Untethered co-op is gone. The game’s areas are super linear. RPG mechanics are stupidly streamlined with all Sword Skills and weapon types unlocked from the start. Seriously, Kirito has Starburst Stream from the first fight. Talent trees are reduced to % increases to stats, the kind of thing I abhor in ARPGs. Give me meaningful upgrades or don’t bother. The Sacred Arts system was ripped out and now they’re just equipped as regular skills. Party control system was simplified, and overall is simpler but less flexible and fun to play with than previous games. All in all, it’s a perfect example of pruning gone way too far. The ambition is gone. 

special moves

Special moves are glorious seizure inducing clouds of colors and particle effects.

Three things save SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection from being a disaster. First, the War for Underworld arc is too strong to kill and once it gets underway it’s any SAO fan’s dream. Second, the game was advertised as having the most playable characters in the franchise and they delivered. Every big character from the anime, the movies (including Mito), and coolest of all from all previous games including the mobile ones show up for the fight. They all come with unique dialogue, special moves, and let you go crazy with what-if party combinations. Finally there’s the combat. It feels so smooth and fun, a clear and strong upgrade over Lycoris‘. The game’s core gameplay loop is combat, and Last Recollection makes it always fun, always flashy, and always feeling great. 

The new Scythe weapon has some of the game’s best combat animations.

SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection is the most polished game in the series, with by far the best combat loop. However, I found everything else, from the RPG mechanics to the linear world structure, to be a clear downgrade from Alicization Lycoris. And I can understand the why: focus on what you can do well. But I feel like the ambition of previous titles was something the niche fans of these games had already accepted, and not continuing with that for the franchises’ (supposed) last title is doing it a disservice. War for Underworld is the ambitious exciting climax to the overall ambitious and exciting Alicization arc. Sadly though, at least in the gameverse, the arc peaked with Lycoris.  


Graphics: 4.0

Characters and environments genuinely look like a PS3 game, with colorful and flashy combat animations to remind you it’s technically current gen.

Gameplay: 8.0

I’ve always enjoyed the SAO games’ combat, but this is the first time I feel safe in saying it’s genuinely good, not just fun.

Sound: 5.0

Japanese only VA with one of the worst English translations I’ve ever seen, but the soundtrack is phenomenal with a great title track.

Fun Factor: 6.0

I’ve enjoyed the games when they’ve objectively been terrible and while SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection has glaring issues none of them got in the way of it being a genuinely enjoyable time. 

Final Verdict: 6.0

SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of SWORD ART ONLINE Last Recollection was provided by the publisher.