While the Sword Art Online series has received quite a lot of mobile game adaptations in recent years, it was rather concerning to find another gacha copycat when Sword Art Online Variant Showdown was announced early this year. But after diving deep into the game mechanics at the first closed beta test held in July, I’m genuinely surprised by the easy-to-grasp control and fast-paced actions with strategic charms that distinguish it from other anime gacha games in the mobile market.
As an action game tailored for smartphone devices, Sword Art Online Variant convinced us that it is a valid addition to this worldwide popular franchise. This article will deliver the first impressions of participating in the first Sword Art Online Variant Showdown closed beta test held last month. Please note that the content and screenshots in this article are captured from the closed beta test and differences are inevitable when the game officially launches.
▍A New Online Challenge for Kirito
The timeline of Sword Art Online Variant is set between the timeline of Sword Art Online Alicization, where Kirito and his friends heard a rumor about a game that would take away your memory after facing off a mysterious opponent.
To find out the truth, Kirito jumps into the world of VRMMO “Cross Edge” created by a genius junior high school student. In the world of Cross Edge filled with goblins that appear in the Underworld, Kirito meets a mysterious girl, who seems to know the secrets of this peculiar world. Things get even weirder when a familiar face attacked Kirito during his journey to dig the truth.
Though Sword Art Online Variant Showdown follows a completely new story that was not included in the light novels or anime series, the appearance of familiar characters and special linkage to previous stories well proved its worth to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the series.
▍A Thrilling Action System That Pumps up Your Adrenaline
The thrilling actions are the highlight of Sword Art Online Variant Showdown and it really shows in the well-designed PvE content and boss battles. The control scheme is practically the same as what we’ve seen in other action mobile games, where all of your buttons and skill prompts are on one side of the screen while the joystick is on the other.
There is also a “Switch” action, which allows players to switch party members during battles, a system that shall not be a stranger to SAO fans. Switching characters not only unleash a special attack on the enemies but also gives an invincible state to the characters, which can be used as a strategy to dodge enemies’ attack.
Each character in Sword Art Online Variant Showdown has a normal attack and two Sword Skills, while players can enjoy the exhilaration of unleashing combo attacks with different combinations. One good thing about the system is that the combo continues even if you switch the characters. So if you count the timing well, you can build dozens of combos switching between the characters.
As continuing the combo will give bonus damage to your enemies, the system provides an exhilarating experience that almost get you addicted to stacking up damages. And of course, the Sword Skills have a cooldown period, meaning that instead of blindly pressing the buttons, you will have to know the effects of your Sword Skill and find the proper timing to unleash a powerful attack.
In addition, when the enemy performs a powerful attack, the attacks will enter a slow-motion QTE and need you to tap the screen to evade the attack. If you successfully avoid this, the enemy will be knocked down giving you advantages in the battle. You can also fill the Burst gauge of your enemy that allows you to deal greater damages to enemies under the Burst state.
As you continue to attack, the Awakening Gauge will accumulate, and your character will enter the Awakened state, strengthening your attack, and making the cooldown time of skills and switches zero. It will be the best timing to unleash the Finish Skill, a powerful attack with flashy animation.
All in all, the battle system of Sword Art Online Variant Showdown is carefully designed and well-thought. You really have to read the boss attack and find the right timing to dodge, switch characters, and even unleash the correct skills. All of these increase the depth of the action-packed system and it’ll definitely get more interesting when more boss types are available when it launches.
▍Ability Cards Do Matters
In Sword Art Online Variant Showdown, you can equip three Ability Cards for each character, a way to customize your character to your liking. When you actually played the game, you will understand that though characters and levels are important, how you combine the character and their abilities also bring a great impact on the battle.
For example, when you are grinding for materials or completing daily missions, you are suggested to give priority to abilities that help you fight efficiently, such as cards that increase critical damage or card that make the burst gauge fill faster. But for high-difficulty battles where you have to strengthen the consistency of your team, you better equip Ability Cards that can increase your stamina or even heal in the latter half.
The characters also have their unique abilities, so equipping a suitable Ability card will further consolidate the position of that characters. As the situation does change according to the enemies you are facing, how to build your characters is something that you need to thought through in Sword Art Online Variant Showdown.
▼ The SSR Ability Cards also come with vivid live-2D graphics, which are exclusively designed for Sword Art Online Variant Showdown
▍Sword Art Online Variant Showdown is a High-Quality Addition to the Franchise
Though the CBT only offers some of the PvE content, Sword Art Online Variant Showdown does provide a satisfying experience to gamers who have a special affinity for speedy actions. In particular, the game has a surprisingly strategic battle and party-building system, where players will sure to enjoy the different combinations of abilities and characters.
Game system aside, the graphics are a bit disappointing with the overexposed coloring disturbing the general playing experience. But even without top-niche graphics that has been prevalent in recent mobile games, Sword Art Online Variant Showdown does worth the attention, making it one of the mobile entries that you need to try out this year.