When booting up the game for the first time, fans of the series who have not played the previous games may find themselves a little confused as the introductory scenes directly conflict with the events of the anime. This is because the games are set in a completely different continuity — a world where a glitch caused the characters to be trapped in the titular Sword Art Online video game for months longer than in the original timeline.
Because of this, the second arc of Sword Art Online never happens; and so the characters have only recently started playing the fairy-filled, Norse-inspired, ALfhiem Online.
The plot of Lost Song centres around the release of ALO's first expansion and Kirito and the rest of the gang's attempt to be the first to clear it. However, also set on being the first to clear the game is the new guild Shamrock — a guild that uses mass numbers to overwhelm the bosses rather than using just a few skilled players.
The guild is run by the enigmatic Seven: a pop idol in the virtual world and world-famous sociologist in the real world who is using the expansion, her guild, and her pop idol status to run a massive social experiment. Yet unlike Kayaba, the original antagonist and creator of Sword Art Online, Seven has no "evil plan" nor are her goals or means unethical or amoral. While an interesting idea, this proves to be the largest failing in the game's plot.
Instead of a "good versus evil" tale, Lost Song is a "good versus good" narrative. Seven seeks to show that when everyone works towards a common goal of their own free will, they can do things that even the most experienced traditional gamers cannot. Kirito and the rest come to believe that, while likely true, playing this way ruins the spirit and challenge of the game. Therefore, they make every effort to beat Shamrock to the end of the game.
That is Lost Song's driving conflict — and it makes for a rather weak one. There is no one to despise nor are the stakes particularly high — especially compared with the life or death stakes that made the first Sword Art Online arc so engrossing.
Despite a weak main plot, however, the game is more than a little entertaining. The game contains 19 playable characters (17 without the DLC) and most of these have their own events or quests chains. These character-oriented stories are pure fanservice — though only occasionally the sexual kind. They are either original stories, stories that build on the character arcs of the previous games, or retellings of major events in the anime set in this vastly different timeline — namely the most depressing and yet uplifting arc from the anime, Mother's Rosario.
Unlike the previous two games, Lost Song is an "action RPG" — that is to say it plays more like Kingdom Hearts than Final Fantasy. You take a party of three out into the world and fight monsters in real time. Doing so unlocks and powers up your magic and sword skills through repeated use.
When in one of the game's overworld areas, you are able to fly — and in turn, fight in midair. This, while a bit clunky at times, works well enough. The only real annoyance in the combat comes when fighting flying enemies in no-fly areas like the game's numerous dungeons. Attempting to jump into the air and attack the flying monsters often ends in their moving out of range before you can even start your attack. Although, on the other hand, this does make the magic-heavy and ranged characters all the more useful.
The other feature worth of note is the game's online multiplayer. As you progress through the game's single player, you unlock multiplayer missions. These missions tend to be the main story's various boss battles — though often with a massive increase in difficulty or having to take several of the bosses on in a row. Honestly, it's a lot of fun regardless of whether you are playing as a healer, magic user or melee fighter. If the multiplayer has one downside, it's that you will likely be paired with players far stronger than you are to start, making you feel a bit useless.
(It's also worth mentioning the game has a versus multiplayer mode that came out as DLC. However, that DLC is not yet available for the Asian region version of the game, so I have been unable to try it.)
Sword Art Online: Lost Song is a game for fans. Period. If you have no interest in the Sword Art Online books, anime, manga, or past games, you'll find little to enjoy here. The main plot is meandering and anticlimactic, and the combat is decent but nothing groundbreaking. Yet for fans, the game has a lot of charm stemming from the game's lengthy character interactions and from seeing a familiar world twisted into a new shape.
So, sure, it's not the Oculus Rift VR MMORPG we are all praying for, but it's certainly something that can tide you over while you wait and dream.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song was released in Japan for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita on April 28, 2015, and on May 12, 2015, in Asia (with English subtitles). It is scheduled to be released on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in PAL territories in late 2015.