While it's something that's never really taken off in the West (let's face it, the Halo versus Call of Duty game is probably still a long way off), Japan has a bit of a thing for mash-up titles - whether it's cutesy puzzler combo Puyo Puyo Tetris, Pokemon strategy game Pokemon Conquest, or Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, a dynamic duo of everyone's favourite puzzling professor and objectionable lawyer. Now it's the turn of two anime-inspired franchises to meet in-game for one epic role playing adventure - the somewhat niche Accel World, and Sword Art Online, a series which has seen several game adaptations in the West in recent years.
As you can probably guess from the title, Accel World vs Sword Art Online fuses the two anime universes into a single game - a single, very Sword Art inspired role-playing adventure. As a recap, the Sword Art Online anime is set inside a virtual reality MMO, where players don VR headsets and head into a multiplayer-centric enemy-bashing, dungeon-crawling fantasy game, only to discover it's actually a death game, where dying in game will mean dying in real life.
Accel World, meanwhile, is a similar-ish virtual reality-style online game from the future, in which players compete in virtual fights (think super-powered street fighter with robots) in order to earn the points required for 'Burst Linking' out in the real world. A super secret power which lets people "accelerate" and effectively slow time itself, its a power that has all kinds of applications, from letting you easily win a Kendo tournament, to avoiding a car crash. However, as every move you make requires Burst Points, which can only be obtained through cut-throat battles with other players, losing too badly can see you losing access to the Accel World program for good.
For reasons that aren't immediately clear, in Accel World vs Sword Art Online, the two worlds have started to merge, with post-apocalyptic buildings and cyber punk-esque skyscrapers erupting across the rolling fields, snowy hills and lush meadows of the fairy-inspired Alfheim Online, Sword Art's whimsical sister game. The rather jarring scenery juxtaposition is made all the worse by the strange robotic players - those from the Accel World - that have been turning up all over, including one rather bad egg known as 'Persona Vabel'. Also going by the name of the 'Twilight Witch', she's a player from even further in the future, who's travelled back in time with but one mission - to find, seal away and destroy Yui, the adoptive daughter-come-navigation pixie of Sword Art Online's protagonists, Kirito and Asuna. Joining forces with various characters from Accel World, the Sword Art crew take it upon themselves to rescue Yui, stop Persona Vabel and get to the bottom of the strange goings on.
What follows is a rather fun little mash up of the two shows, although the game itself is still very much a Sword Art Online game - it's essentially Sword Art Online: Lost Song, but with some Accel World characters thrown in. Soaring through the air under the power of your fairy wings, battling monsters and exploring caves and dungeons, you start out having to search for your friends, many of which got separated or stranded as the two worlds merged. Before long, you'll have a huge entourage of Sword Art and Accel World characters at your disposal, from main guys Kirito, Asuna, Black Lotus and Silver Crow to the more side-line folks, such as Silica and Lisbeth, Blood Leopard and Sky Raker. A nice touch is that you can make up your party of whichever three characters you like - so you can switch out Kirito for Silver Crow, change Asuna for Cyan Pile or trade your Black Lotus for everyone's favourite boob-hugger, Strea. Or in our case, mainline Silica for the entire game because you've always wanted cute cat ears and a pet dragon.
With a twisting main plot to play through, most of your time will be spent shooting between story segments on the map, taking out the enemies that lie in the way - sometimes you'll have to clear a dungeon and beat a boss, sometimes you'll simply have to fly from place to place in search of a friend. Side quests, which are your fairly standard defeat a number of monsters and material-gathering expeditions, give you a bit of variety in the interim, but by and large it's the dialogue and story - and of course, the kooky anime characters - that really makes the game.
Combat is a decidedly hack and slashy, button-mashing affair, with many of the enemies that wander Alfheim being easily defeated in a few short sword swings, perhaps peppered with some character-specific special moves, which range from simple healing spells to calling in a giant mech to blast your opponents to pieces. The main difference between your Sword Art Online folks and your Accel World peeps is that only the former can fly. All but a couple of select Accel World-ers are incapable of taking to the skies - although their super-powered leaps do help them get around in the absence of flight, while an exclusive high-speed dash attack lets them close in on enemies in the blink of an eye. However, boss fights, which generally see you facing off against various Accel World antagonists, often take place in the air, which can pose a bit of a problem for those not gifted with wings - so it's worth making sure you have a least one or two folks who can fly in your party at all times, just in case.
However, Accel World vs Sword Art Online isn't perfect - it suffers from that old Sword Art bugbear of obtuse instructions and dodgy navigation. All too often the game forgets to tell you what to do next, or even gives you the wrong advice - for example, a recurring mission tells you to "Gather information in town and find your friends", except no-one actually hangs around in town and you need to head out into the various Alfheim regions to track them down instead. Some missions don't even give you map markers to follow, and you'll just happen to stumble upon a key boss fight whilst flying around the map mopping up your remaining side quests, leading to a battle you probably weren't prepared for in the slightest. It's just as well the battles are easy…
The other issue is that, if you're a newcomer to Sword Art's fairy flying, its somewhat illogical execution can take some getting used to. Using the d-pad to turn your hovering on/off is all well and good, but when it comes to pressing X to ascend and double-tapping X to descend, things can start to get a little hairy, especially in the heat of battle. Likewise, transitioning from simply hovering to full-speed flying will often see your character speeding off in totally the wrong direction - usually into the stratosphere mid boss fight, or face planting the floor - as you struggle to get things under control. Fortunately, you do get the hang of it fairly quickly, and a handy lock-on that (sort of) auto-targets an enemy on your behalf does make things a bit easier when your wings decide to go rogue.
All in all though, we're pretty impressed with Accel World vs Sword Art Online, which mashes up the familiar world of Sword Art with the not-so-familiar Accel World. With easy to master combat, the ability to play as folks besides Kirito and a fairly solid story to play through, Accel World vs Sword Art Online is an enjoyable romp through the two disparate anime worlds, and is arguably one of the best Sword Art titles so far. They just need to get a handle on the navigation system (and add in proper co-op) and it would be even better.