Sword Art Online is a popular franchise with a vision of the future of video games lying at its core. And as might be expected of such a thing, a fair few real video games exist to cater to its fans. But where to start? The many game adaptations of Sword Art Online exist across multiple console generations and even multiple genres. In light of the recent announcement of Sword Art Online: Last Recollection, we’ve come up with a quick guide to help you find out the best place to start with SAO video games.
Where can I get Sword Art Online games?
SAO games are available on a variety of platforms, including the PSP, PS Vita, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, and once Last Recollection hits, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. That said, right now the most convenient way to play all of the relevant Sword Art Online games is via PC or PS4. All the officially-released single-player SAO games are available via Steam or the PSN store, so you can play them in order on a single platform, if you wish. The PC versions do have a slight advantage in that they tend to go on sale more often than on PSN, too, which will help minimize your outlay if you have to buy them.
What order should I play Sword Art Online Games in?
With the exception of various mobile and free-to-play entries, the game adaptations of Sword Art Online form a distinct, alternative timeline to the novels and anime series. The games have a number of original characters, and incorporate events and storylines from the source material in unique ways. The departures from “canon” don’t alter the fundamental context of Sword Art Online‘s narrative, but they may confuse someone coming from the anime expecting things to be the same across media.
Luckily, the distinct timeline makes the task of playing the games in order pretty simple: Just play them in the order they were released (with one exception). The Sword Art Online games’ narratives proceed in chronological order. While they aren’t closely linked, they do reference each other occasionally. Players interested in exploring exploring the SAO games’ would do best to have at least some familiarity with prior titles if they intend to jump into one of the later ones.
Now, here’s a description of each Sword Art Online game, in the order they should be played.
Sword Art Online: Re: Hollow Fragment
Technically speaking, 2013’s Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment was the first title in this particular timeline of SAO games. However, it wasn’t actually released in the west. There’s also no need to play it, because Infinity Moment has been completely replaced by its quasi-sequel, 2014’s Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment.
Hollow Fragment was an updated re-release brought to PS Vita that contains all of Infinity Moment‘s content as a base. It was further updated for PS4 (and later, PC) and titled Sword Art Online: Re: Hollow Fragment. In a way, this game lies at the root of the SAO games’ alternate timeline. It asks “What if Kirito and the gang still had to clear the rest of the Aincrad tower before leaving the death game?” and uses that point as a springboard to introduce characters like Sinon, Leafa, and Yuuki to the story much earlier than they would’ve joined otherwise. It even adds an original character, Strea, to the mix.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song
Originally released for the PS Vita and PS3, then ported to PS4 and PC, 2015’s Sword Art Online: Lost Song takes place in the fairy-themed Alfheim Online (ALO), the game Kirito, Asuna and their friends gravitate to after escaping from SAO and Aincrad. It also answers a slight continuity problem raised by Hollow Fragment by essentially skipping the whole “Fairy Dance” plotline (which couldn’t have happened as originally written, anyway). Instead, the game leans in on an original adventure in a new expansion area to ALO called “Svart Alfheim”.
Lost Song is notable for featuring the ALO character designs for most of the original SAO crew, as well as bringing in various ALO-based characters from the Fairy Dance arc (like Alicia Rue and Sakuya) and the Girls Ops spin-off manga. A rudimentary “original character” system is incorporated, but it really only allows you to create a templated NPC and has no effect on the narrative. That narrative features more game-original characters: Sumeragi, Seven, and Rain. Notably, the game also features an alternative, arguably happier take to the “Mother’s Rosario” story arc, as well.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization
Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment and Hollow Fragment developer Aquria returned to the helm for the next SAO game adaptation, and essentially decided to make a more fully realized take on Hollow Fragment for the occasion. They even return to Sword Art Online itself – or rather, Sword Art: Origin – a new, non-lethal title that reuses assets and quests from Aincrad. The release intrigues Kirito and the crew, who decide to jump in to see what’s up, only to discover the seeds of new adventure in Premiere, a strangely intelligent NPC that wasn’t in the original SAO.
Hollow Realization revisits a lot of Hollow Fragment‘s ideas, particularly the ones involving the quasi-simulation of the meandering MMORPG game rhythm. Its NPC interaction system allows Kirito to chat up and play alongside even random NPC characters, building bonds with them beyond his stable of named contacts. These mechanics show up as well in in The Caligula Effect, another Aquria-developed RPG. Premiere and Genesis join the roster of game-original characters, while Kizmel from the Sword Art Online Progressive series makes an appearance.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet
Of the many ways that Sword Art Online games have departed from the narratives of the original novels and anime, Fatal Bullet might be the most dramatic separation of them all. For one thing, the base game doesn’t even star Kirito and his pals, but instead involves a player-created protagonist and their buddies. This player protagonist is a resident of Gun Gale Online, the gun-based VR MMORPG that serves as the setting for the “Death Gun” story arc. Being based on Gun Gale Online makes for a dramatic departure in game mechanics, too. Fatal Bullet was developed by Dimps, creators of Freedom Wars, and more than a little of that game’s DNA manifests in Fatal Bullet, with its gun-based play and its use of a powerful grappling hook-like device, as well as an “assistant” NPC that you can customize.
Kirito and company won’t be left out, of course, and the story gives players a chance to experience a Sword Art Online story that views Kirito from the outside, a relatively rare perspective, as SAO goes. The “Death Gun” story is also featured as a separate plotline, though, and does put Kirito in similar circumstances, complete with his effeminate “Kiriko” avatar. Fatal Bullet also features GGO-based incarnations of the now-familiar SAO cast. Characters like LLEN, Pitohui, Fukaziroh, and others from SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online manga also show up.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris
The most recent of the Sword Art Online games, Alicization Lycoris represents something of a break from some of the ideas put forth in other SAO titles. Just like the Alicization story arc in the anime and novels feel like an SAO-flavored take on the popular “isekai” stories of the current age, Alicization Lycoris returns to the narrative roots of Infinity Moment by building off of what should’ve been the canonical “end” of a key story arc in the source material. Stuck in the virtual, AI-populated “Underworld”, Kirito and his new buddy Eugeo work together to defeat its tyrannical “Administrator”. But things don’t go the way they did in the book, and essentially leaves Kirito in a position to adventure around in Underworld’s Human Empire for the rest of the game, alongside many of his friends from the real world (and other games). The secondary plot also centers around Medina, a game-original Underworld resident, adding to the increasingly large cast of the SAO games’ universe. Its sequel, Last Recollection, should expand the Underworld further, bringing in more elements from the “War for Underworld” storyline that closed out the most recent series.
Sword Art Online vs. Accel World: Millennium Twilight
You’ll notice that I left out this game, though chronologically it came out in 2017, between Hollow Realization and Fatal Bullet. That’s because even in a series of games that made its name by diverging from the source, Sword Art Online vs. Accel World is considered “non-canonical” by many of its players. Millennium Twilight is more of a tribute to another of SAO author Reki Kawahara’s works: Accel World. Set (theoretically) a few decades into the SAO universe’s future, Accel World stars a gang of kids that compete for territory in an Augmented Reality (AR) game called Brain Burst. Playable only by teenagers, Brain Burst unlocks a secret time-dilation function in every youth’s cybernetic internet implant, allowing them to perform nearly superhuman feats in real life by paying “Burst Points” earned in-game. The contrivances of quantum mechanics and brand synergy come together to have Kirito and his pals hang out with a bunch of kids from a generation in the future. As ripe as the premise is for fan indulgence, the game is built on the creaky skeleton of Sword Art Online: Lost Song, and it isn’t referenced much in subsequent games. Though an interesting curiosity, particularly for fans of Accel World (all several dozen of us!), it’s largely inessential.