Ever since Sword Art Online was first released in 2009 as a light novel in Japan, it had its fair share of adaptations that helped sustain its popularity worldwide. Its anime might have garnered mixed reactions, but this didn’t stop Sword Art Online from being considered as a successful and very marketable franchise. Of course, one of the better ways to fully exploit this potential is to release a constant slew of games based on Sword Art Online’s premise.

If you are one of the few rare ones who is uninitiated to the overwhelming presence of Sword Art Online, then Bandai Namco’s newly released mobile game “Sword Art Online: Integral Factor” can at least get you acquainted to the series’ most famous characters: Kirito and Asuna. The game presents an alternate reality of the original series, which is a smart play on the title’s abbreviation of Integral Factor: “if.” The game focuses not on the actions of the series’ protagonists but instead on yours as one of the players of the story’s game. What if things turn out differently because of you and your choices?

The Premise

In 2022, thousands of players put on their NerveGears to dive into the newly launched virtual reality MMORPG called Sword Art Online—including you and Koharu, a friend whom you’ve met during the beta test period of the game. Suddenly, the gear creator and game developer Akihiko Kayaba announces that all of you are trapped inside the game world, and the only way to escape from this virtual nightmare is to clear the 100th floor of the game. The task is no easy walk in the park, especially when Kayaba tells you that if you perish in the game, you will also die in real life. It’s no spoiler that the solo flying Kirito did his best to clear the final floor for everyone, but with you around, some events are starting to head to a direction quite different from the series.

Luckily, Integral Factor is not that much of a sadist to make you start over a new character every time you get killed in the game. Besides, if you’re only looking to play a casual online RPG without the pressure of being the strongest, then Integral Factor’s simplicity just might suit your fancy.

Gameplay 6.5/10

Sword Art Online Integral Factor is a very newbie friendly mobile MMORPG. It is story driven so if you enjoy reading dialogues, then you’ll feel at home already. You’re mostly interacting with Koharu, who acts either as your soundboard or as someone who will guide you on your quests. You will meet familiar characters from the series like Klein, Diavel, and Kibaou. Sometimes, you will be prompted to answer them and you’ll have to make a choice. This part lets you feel that your thoughts and actions matter. However, I am still unsure if your choices would give you a different path or trigger unique event flags and really affect your endgame as the game had only just released the 7th floor dungeon as of this writing. That’s a long way to go until the 100th floor. Now if you don’t like reading, there’s thankfully a Skip button which automatically makes choices for you and brings you straight to the meat of the matter: the battles.

Integral Factor has a simple user interface and a basic battle system. The button on the lower left lets you move, while the spread of buttons on your right screen showcases four of your abilities or buffs, a special attack button labeled as Switch, items buttons, and a weapon switch button. There’s also the dash button and the normal attack button, which also turns into the button for interacting the NPCs. Your abilities depend on two factors: the Skill Record you have, and the weapon you equip. The weapon switch button easily lets you use your other preferred weapon and set of skills determined by the Skill Records you equip your character with. These Skill Records can be received as quest rewards or be purchased as a Rare Order using Arcana Gems.

The weapon switch button—not the one labeled as Switch—is quite handy. This makes it easy to access your secondary weapon’s skills even during combat. The easy switch allows you to use the best weapon against a monster's weakness. The Sword and the Axe are great against monsters that are weak to slash attacks, the Mace can deal blunt damage, while the Spear and Rapier can execute piercing attacks. Killing monsters lets you earn EXP, gold, weapon proficiency points, crafting materials, as well as enhancement and evolution materials. This is where things can start being grindy.

If you wish to wear better looking armors and equip max leveled weapons, then you better anticipate a lot of monster farming and dungeoneering. Some dungeons, labyrinths, and hunting events can be done as a Solo player (of course, Koharu is still with you), or in Groups. You also choose your quest difficulty—from Entry, Interior, Depth, Forbidden, and Special—which will place you in different areas of the dungeon. Crafting materials can be taken to the NPC Blacksmith and the Workshop, or exchange enhancement items with the Trader.

This is the simple cycle of things in Integral Factor. Get quests, farm monsters, enhance and evolve skills and equipment, earn Arcana Gems via game Achievement rewards, purchase and unlock new Skill Records, clear floors, get quests… It could be a bit tedious to some, but at event dungeons usually feature new boss monsters every now and then. Boss monsters has different fight mechanics and weaknesses so yes, it is definitely advisable to level up your weapons to prepare for these times. It can also be fun and challenging while facing off against a boss as a Solo player on a Group mode from time to time.

In Integral Factor, farming is life. Thankfully, the game has auto-targeting system so if you aggro more than three monsters at once, just hold on to your attack button and watch your hit combo go up as your character decimate the enemies.

In any case, even if you don’t party up with other players, you will never be alone in your journey. Your online partner Koharu will stay and slay monsters with you. Dress her up in Avatar clothes or equip her with skills and weapons. She is a helpful DPS dealer so take advantage of this.

However, what should have been a seamless and relaxing experience for a casual foray into the Sword Art Online world was marred by a few problems. I’ve encountered some of these before the first maintenance since the game became downloadable on the app store. This includes the game crashing from time to time on the Android and iOS systems. There are also reports of the game being incompatible on some phone models and would just crash or hang up at loading screens. I also experienced some tracking problems during a battle or even when randomly claiming items.

Some of these issues have been fixed during scheduled and emergency maintenance, but I’ve still ran into quite a few. It is also understandable that bugs and glitches are impossible to not exist in games, but it might affect the overall gaming experience and drive away people who wants to play.

Innovation 6/10

The game doesn't have many outstanding or innovative features but what it does have can keep a player going, especially for completionists such as collecting materials for an armor set or achieving full stars on Skill Records.

Now unlike most online mobile RPGs, Integral Factor does not allow you to choose from the usual salvo of classes such as warriors, archers, priests, or mages. From the get go, you only need to create your character, name it, tweak its features a bit, and you're ready for action. Instead of choosing classes, you get to choose weapons such as 1H sword, 2H axe, 1H rapier, Shield, 2H spear, and 1H club. As of writing time, there had been no reports yet of other weapons being available. So no, there will be no dual wielding players popping out in the game anytime soon.

Apart from this, nothing much stands out in Integral Factor. It is an enjoyable cookie-cutter mobile online RPG basking under the mantle of the Sword Art Online franchise, though it is missing a few key features in MMOs such as PVP or a duel system. The game also doesn't have a player-to-player trading system as of yet. If you are the type who likes your role in game to be defined, then this game will disappoint you in that area. There are no wizards, no rogues, no tanks, and no healers; just pure self-healing damage dealers ready to bully monsters in the dungeons.

Learning Curve 9/10

The game is newbie friendly and has a relatively easy learning curve. It has a very straightforward tutorial and the mechanics are simple that even a five-year old who can read the instructions will be able to follow which buttons to tap.

Grinding levels is no problem, however, getting your Skill Records to reach their Limit Break, or having your weapons evolve, may require gaming newbies to read more carefully to understand how one can improve abilities and attributes. That, and you'll need lots of RNG luck.

Graphics and Sounds 5/10

One of the things that constantly happened to me is a bug with the game’s sounds. The music and SFX in Integral Factor would just vanish and only by relaunching the app would it be restored. Another bug was the inconsistency on the text display on the game. Japanese characters would also sometimes appear when changing abilities or enhancing weapons. Ocassionally, a character or the item chosen would turn outright invisible.

After an update , my Android phone would still sometimes lose music but it would randomly start playing again. On the iOS, however, I was really forced to—ironically—log out of the game.

Colorful, eye candy art portraits of characters of the series are used for the collectible Skill Records but you will mostly explore the world of Aincrad in 3D, where the character designs are reminiscent of the original Sword Art Online character illustrations by abec. The game flows much like a visual novel so familiar characters pop up every now and then with animated expressions depending on your answers. While I was treated to these cute, collectible skills, I still ended up having a personal beef with the icons for the buffs. How come the buffs all look alike? Sometimes it’s hard to tell which buff I have on a specific button.

Value for Money 6.5/10

Integral Factor is a free online RPG that has already reached 5 million downloads, but how much enjoyment can someone really get out of it? For me, the bugs and glitches can really destroy my momentum and the experience. However, if you are patient enough then this MMO could keep you company on your free time. And if you are not too picky with your Skill Records, or too obsessed with your avatar’s fashion, then you can safely play through the game without paying a cent.

You can use Arcane Gems to purchase limited Avatar costumes, or rarer Skill Records. Rare Order operates on a gacha system. If you want a specific Skill Record then all you can do is pray to the RNG gods to give you great luck, or continue to spend money until you eventually get it. Integral Factor is an app with a clear endgame as it gives you the opportunity to be one of the series’ heroes to eventually clear the 100th floor and save everyone. The game can be played alone, but the game rewards you when you challenge tougher difficulties.

Overall 6.5/10

If you are a fan of the franchise and want to know what happens in an alternate reality then you should check out Sword Art Online: Integral Factor. The gameplay isn't too demanding and can be casually played during downtime. If you truly like the game and the franchise, then you’ll accept the bugs that come with it and tolerate it as if its a normal occurrence and then move on to your daily activities. Sword Art Online: Integral Factor is, at its best, a very interactive visual novel you can play online.

The game is brimming with MMO basics—simple combat system, a fairly addictive skill gacha system, material farming, and decent dungeon events. However, it may have missed out on the trading system or a duel system, with the latter one a tad forgivable since it may not fly well in SAO’s script. Thankfully, the story could be a good push for anyone eager to know an alternate ending because if not, the tasks would feel repetitive. Hopefully, by the time Bandai Namco releases the final floor, the current bugs are fixed so that there will still be players eager to create ‘history’ and take on the final task of clearing the floor with you.