This Week in Games - Accel World vs. Sword Art Online

by Dustin Bailey,
Last column, I mentioned that Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator would be out this week, and that's still true despite a very last-minute delay. The developers put out a statement explaining that there were further bug fixes that needed to be done before they were comfortable putting it out. Given the delays and crunch time that surrounds AAA development even with its managers and producers, it shouldn't be surprising that the same issues would hit indie developers, but apparently it came as a shock to some folks who'd been waiting for the game—particularly when streamers had been showing off an apparently unfinished version of the game in the hours leading up to the intended release.

That the coming backlash was obvious doesn't make it any less disappointing. There's no dramatic story of death threats or wide-scale harassment—this isn't No Man's Sky, after all—but the notion of people squirming out of the woodwork to let us know how lazy any given game developer is continues to be incredibly gross. Loads of games fall apart for various reasons, whether that be poor design or bad management or whatever else, but to associate any deception or malice with a simple delay (less than a week, at that) would be laughable if it weren't so common. The people who make games are doing it largely because they love them, particularly on the indie side where they're making ridiculous personal sacrifices to bring their projects to life. Share the love a little, people.

Of course, I've got no idea whether Dream Daddy is actually any good or not, and it may end up that the whole thing's terrible regardless of the intentions of its makers. Sometimes games are bad, and boy was there a sterling example of that this week.

First Impressions - Accel World vs Sword Art Online

Turning a fictional video game into a real one seems like a no-brainer, but the reality usually misses the mark. The fact is that fictional games are bad more often than not, designed around the contrivances necessary to push a plot forward rather than how fun they would actually be—then there's the limited budget and timescale that hounds any licensed game. So peep this: a video game based on a fictional video game set inside another fictional video game from an anime based on a light novel and another anime based on a light novel.

The very concept of Accel World vs Sword Art Online holds together mostly because the two properties propping it up come from the same creator exploring the same concept. SAO hardly needs an introduction at this point, and Reki Kawahara's Accel World follows a similar path of plotting adventure inside a VRMMO. This crossover takes place in world of Alfheim Online, with Kirito, Asuna, and the gang having familiar adventures until some mysterious figures show up, kidnap Yui, and force them into a fast alliance with the newly-appeared Kuroyukihime and Haruyuki. It's all told through the perspective of the SAO characters—perhaps a concession to that show's great popularity—but it serves to make the introduction of the Accel World characters a tedious mystery.

For the obvious notes the early parts of the story hit, nothing's quite so tedious as the game itself. It's an action RPG that lets you swap characters on the fly, with each one having different movement abilities and attack types. ALO-native fairies can take to the skies and do battle in flight, while characters like Kuroyukihime in her Black Lotus form can teleport around the field. That's all fine, except for the fact your attacks feel floaty and ineffectual with enemies barely reacting to them, leading to all the action feeling somewhat disconnected from your input. That's not unlike the MMOs that served as inspiration for these series in the first place—something further referenced by the variety of special abilities on cooldowns and various types of mana bars here—but with direct action instead of auto-attacks it just feels unpleasantly mashy.

Exacerbating that are the camera problems, which often leave you confused and confounded on the battlefield. You can lock on to enemies to keep them centered in your view, but this never quite works right in tandem with the game's movement abilities. Teleporting swings the camera so instantaneously that it's a constant battle to stay oriented, and getting knocked out of midair usually leaves the view at an angle that's impossible to make sense of. And that's just in open fields—when the action hits close quarters, everything's exacerbated.

Those open fields, though, might be the most offensive part. With the power of flight available to most of your characters, everything becomes a flyover state populated by little more than seemingly random groups of enemies. Story missions are mostly a matter of heading from point to point on the map, and there's little reason to stop any place in between unless you feel you need to grind out some proficiency levels before the next boss.

There's no visual delight to be found, either. This is another PS4 slash Vita release, but certain games have been able to progress past the limitations of the handheld thanks to their art design. That's not the case here. Even the supposedly idyllic hills which open the game feel cold and uninviting, and the enemies which populate those hills have little personality to call their own, instead feeling like generic monster designs from an unimaginative video game. Which, of course, they are.

Normally, this is where I'd say that “Accel World vs. Sword Art Online is only for fans of the series' it's based on,” but nah, screw that. Whether you're a Kawahara fan or not, you deserve better. There's nothing truly broken here—no smoking gun from game-breaking glitches, or a particularly terrible bit of design—but everything is so sloppy and half-hearted that it's tough to care in return.

NEWS

EVO HAPPENED, AND THE FIGHTING GAME ANNOUNCEMENTS WERE INFINITE

As the largest annual stage for fighting games, Evo always brings in the big publishers to make big announcements, and this year was no exception. The expected stuff was all there, with lots of new character announcements, like Final Fight's Abigail hitting Street Fighter V, Fatal Fury's Geese Howard coming to Tekken 7, Darkstalkers' Jedah coming to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and a reveal for Trunks in Dragon Ball Fighter Z.

Then there were the new game announcements. Arc System Works is building a 2v2 crossover between BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, and Under Night In-Birth which will also be bringing in characters from RWBY. That's a bizarre collection of characters, but given Arc's pedigree it's tough to argue with. Little detail has been revealed about BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle—other than the fact the visuals are awesome—but it's supposed to be out sometime next year.

And that's not even the weird one. Arika—who collaborated with Capcom on the Street Fighter EX series—made an April Fool's joke earlier this year about a new fighting game. Except no, it's not a joke, it's an actual video game now. Alternately called Arika EX or Mysterious Fighting Game (Title Still Undecided), it features Street Fighter EX characters and includes the glorious return of Skullomania. What is this game? Is it truly a new EX? Answers come in the future, but definitely not today. Capcom certainly needs something for people to latch onto given the tepid response to its most recent fighters.

KINGDOM HEARTS III EXISTS, HAS A RELEASE YEAR, AND LOOKS BETTER THAN TOY STORY

The impending release of Kingdom Hearts III at last serves as the punchline to one of the longest-running jokes in video games—and it's not the one about KH3 being infinitely delayed. (It's currently planned for release next year) You might remember that the launch of the PS2 offered the promise of games that would look as good as the 3D animation of Toy Story. Of course, it didn't, and we've slowly come to realize the practical differences between the pre-rendered CG of film and real-time 3D of games, but every now and then along the launch of a new piece of gaming tech somebody will chime in with “but does it look better than Toy Story?”

Now that Kingdom Hearts III has a Toy Story world, I guess we can answer the question. It does, I guess? The side-by-side screens look pretty favorable, anyway. The cavalcade of interviews with Tetsuya Nomura following the trailer offer a more interesting story, anyway. Like how he's treating the stop in Andy's room as a Toy Story sequel, and the resulting implication that the KH games are then canonical within the Toy Story universe is hilarious to me.

But aside from all that, the real important questions came from Ryan Brown at the Mirror, who asked Nomura what we've all been dying to know: what's up with all those zippers? “That was my preference back when I first designed the characters, so 15 years ago,” Nomura said. “At that time, people teased me about zippers and belts and whatnot and I'm the type of person if somebody eggs me on I'm gonna do it more! Nowadays, I'm not as conscious about adding them in. I'm not the type of person that would shrink down when people tease me about it. I'm gonna fight back! I'm gonna go back at it and do it more. So, if people egg me on saying 'oh, Kingdom Hearts III is delayed' well, I might even delay it further!” So be careful what you say in public about KH, folks.

NI NO KUNI II? MORE LIKE NI NO IT'S NOT COMING OUT THIS YEAR

Most everybody loved the way Ni no Kuni looked, and generally liked the way it played, but when it came time to grind through the middle and endgame people started noping out. Ni no Kuni II looks to be building up a more robust gameplay system and will hopefully address the bigger issues—E3 was too stacked to talk about it at the time, but it had a strong showing there, and promised to be another big Japanese game to throw on an impressive stack of 2017 releases.

But that's not to be, because Ni no Kuni II is getting delayed. Just a couple months, from November 10th to January 19th, marking the start of the midyear season where all the fall's big game releases get pushed into January. Hey, game delays, am I right? The other tidbit is that contrary to previous reports, the game will not have online multiplayer—a misconception based on a misunderstood interview question. In a thoroughly Japanese display of public remorse, the president of Level-5 is appearing in an apology video explaining both issues. Whatever the case, Ni no Kuni II still looks pretty rad.

UPCOMING RELEASES

PYRE
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PC
Release Date: July 25
MSRP: $19.99

Supergiant Games' debut—Bastion—is one of my favorite games ever, and even though Transistor didn't hit me quite the same way its impeccable style has made sure that I'll be watching these developers for as long as they're making games. Their latest is Pyre, a strategic RPG where battles take the form of sportlike contests over a magic orb. The story keeps going whether you win or lose, and that promises to make the journey a little different for everyone.

SPLATOON 2
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: July 21
MSRP: $59.99

Splatoon 2 looks to be more of the same—but with how terrific the original game was, I'm not complaining. The new stuff is mostly maps and weapons, but the Salmon Rush mode adds a cooperative option aping the horde modes that populate other online shooters. The fact that Salmon Rush is limited to specific times and the introduction of the Switch Online app shows that Nintendo still doesn't quite “get” online gaming, but the core of Splatoon has been so much fun that maybe it doesn't matter. I'll be digging in for a full review next week.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Fortnite—the game that was supposed to debut what Unreal Engine 4 was capable of—is finally out, but not really because it's Early Access. Fate/EXTELLA comes to both Switch and PC, and the excellent-but-no-for-real-don't-miss-it Superhot is hitting PS4.


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