SAO Variant Showdown Review—Finally A Good Gacha Game?

For the Sword Art Online 10th Anniversary, Bandai Namco released a new mobile game—here’s our SAO Variant Showdown Review. Is the game worth playing?

Check out Variant Showdown’s Official Release Trailer!

What caught my interest initially, was the promise of fast-paced action, no auto-battles, and a clean user interface. It’s also embarrassing to say, but Sword Art Online is also a guilty pleasure.

I’ve delved into other SAO Mobile titles before—but they never seemed to stick. From Integral Factor to Unleash Blading, they just missed the mark.

As of this SAO Variant Showdown review post, the game has been up for just under a week. Keep in mind, the game is being continually updated and will change in the future.

Check out how minimalistic the UI is!

Want a quick answer? Variant Showdown is definitely worth trying out. Whether you’re an SAO fanatic or looking for some fast-paced, anime action on the go.

The game has some great production quality, with a skill-based combat system. It’s also quite generous with the Gacha and currency system (so far).

The battles are timing-based, with real-time action. You’ll need to dodge, parry, and even perfectly time switches. Whilst the main story was easy, the bosses can be quite challenging. It’s refreshing to have such a hands-on mobile game.

The user interface definitely captures the SAO aesthetic. On top of that, it’s a breath of fresh air for it to be so streamlined. It isn’t filled with the usual mobile gaming clutter.

This extends to the mechanics and systems in-game, too. There aren’t dozens of currencies to collect, and leveling up characters + abilities is straightforward.

Also, need to complete a reward? The game will take you straight to the relevant game mode or quest. Also, whether you’re planning your next mission or leveling a character, you can navigate to any mode or menu you want from a one-click pop-up bar. It saves so much time!

However, it isn’t without its flaws. It’s suffering from performance issues, and a lack of content. It only takes a day (or few) to clear all the current story and event quests.

Thankfully, Bandai Namco is already pushing out events, and has more planned for the future! Running all the way to Christmas (according to dataminers).

So, what does Variant Showdown do best? It captures the essence and action of the anime perfectly.

Check out the visuals and action!

From quick fast-paced battles, to great visuals, and intuitive controls, it just feels so satisfying to play. It also incorporates mechanics like “Switches” from the anime into the gameplay.

It easily feels like the most faithful adaption of the series to the videogame format compared to all the previous mobile titles. So… What are the drawbacks?

One of the most glaring issues the game has along with the lack of content—is characters. For a Gacha title, it only launched with 5 SSR (highest-rarity) characters to roll for.

Sword Art Online has such a huge cast to pull from, and it feels like the game launched early to celebrate the 10th Anniversary—instead of waiting to build up the roster.

Along with this, the performance issues (which have been improving) are still affecting quite a few players. The game is definitely aimed towards more mid-to-high phones.

Whilst I wasn’t affected, the launch was rough, too. With connection errors that plagued players for three days. Ironic, isn’t it? An anime series where you can’t logout, and a mobile game where you can’t login.

Despite these issues, they’re all problems that can be fixed. Bandai Namco is heavy on the accelerator, adding in events and new characters to keep players busy.

The developers have also fixed the login issue, and are working on the performance and other game-related challenges.

To sum up our SAO Variant Showdown review, the game is definitely a diamond in the rough. Thankfully—the diamond is the core gameplay and production quality. The rough are all issues that can be fixed, and are already being worked on.

The developers have already announced the fan-favorite Sinon coming tomorrow. There’ll also be Eugeo and Alice following soon after.

Sinon will make her debut in-game on 11/25 at 19:00 UTC!

Fan of re-rolling? Gone are the days of having to delete your cache/account and trying again. Quality of life is the name of the game in Variant Showdown.

The game gives you unlimited free re-rolls. There have been some players even getting 5x SSR Characters.

I think Variant Showdown has a promising future, and might even avoid the SAO-mobile game shutdown curse (though Variant Shutdown is a great pun…)

Since it isn’t tied into a particular season of SAO—instead being its own original story, they won’t lose steam with marketing when the season is over, unlike Unleash Blading (which is now being sunset next year).

The game will be easier to market, and have a strong level of relevancy. They can keep tying the story into new SAO animated content, and do better crossover events. It kind of has me wishing we got a PC port…

Bandai Namco has struck gold with such strong foundations with Variant Showdown. As long as they can push out new content and up their marketing, the game will have a strong future. I’d love to see some co-op and multiplayer content. It’s a shame it didn’t come with the launch, but it’s already in the works!

Are you a console player and looking for some fast, anime action? Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot will definitely satisfy your hunger, and it has new DLC coming out!

Sword Art Online Variant Showdown is available for both, iOS and Android worldwide! You can also follow the developers on Twitter for the latest news.

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By Camellia Hao Ren

Camellia Hao Ren is an Australian journalist and editor. When they aren't writing, they are usually playing games or reading.

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