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Solo Leveling Arise review - far from a Genshin killer

Solo Leveling Arise is fun in bursts but also filled with too much gacha-based padding and too many frustrations to rival the genre's best.

Solo Leveling Arise review: a blue-haired anime man wielding swords while purple magic swarms around him.

Our Verdict

Solo Leveling Arise is authentic to its anime and webtoon inspirations, but it's too grindy, frustrating, and repetitive to come close to rivaling the best gacha games.

Adapting anime into a videogame always feels like it should be a cakewalk. So many shows use power systems and storylines that go hand-in-hand with gamification, yet too few anime games ever live up to the potential of their source material, often feeling like fleeting diversions at best or empty cash grabs at worst. So does Solo Leveling Arise – based on an anime whose entire plot revolves around the protagonist’s new videogame powers – buck the trend? Well, that depends.

The most important thing to say out of the gate is that Solo Leveling Arise feels authentic. Tonally and visually, it’s spot on and easy to get sucked into as a fan of the anime and webtoon (or manhwa). Story-wise, it sticks quite closely to the former but, excitingly, also takes a fair bit from the latter. Without spoiling anything in particular, side characters are expanded beyond what you’ll see in the anime, and the main story progresses slightly beyond the current season.

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Solo Leveling Arise’s greatest quality, however, is its moment-to-moment gameplay. Movement is fast, fluid, and responsive, featuring multiple combat styles and a variety of game modes and characters to choose from as you progress. Combat revolves around well-timed dodges, building status effects, and saving your skills for the most opportune moments.

You’ll spend the bulk of your time playing as the protagonist, Sung Jinwoo, across 15 chapters, with regular side quests in the mix where you take control of other hunters. These run the gamut from heroes like Choi Jong-in to diabolical villains like Hwang Dongsoo, and they can also assist  Sung Jinwoo in battle by lending him their skill moves. It’s a cool feature that made me feel like I was in a raiding group, even though I was technically only controlling one character. That said, the act of playing as the hunters is quite disappointing.

Solo Leveling Arise review: screenshot of the protagonist sneaking by a pack of enemy wolves.

While Sung Jinwoo has a detailed attribute system that lets you build him up, investing in areas like strength and agility as you go, the hunters’ leveling is much more reminiscent of your average gacha game. In order to upgrade them, you not only have to unlock them via draw cards, which are all based on RNG, but you also have to get duplicates of the same item to limit-break them.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the rolls weren’t so terrible. Whether you’re hoping to pull an SSR-ranked weapon or character, the majority of selections have a drop rate of around 1.2%. For example, it took me about eight hours to pull a third support character. So unless you’re investing heavily in microtransactions, you should expect to grind for the weapons and characters you so desperately desire. I also found that it eventually becomes impossible to progress through the main story without repeatedly grinding out a lot of the same content.

Solo Leveling Arise review: screenshot of a hectic boss fight.

This issue rears its head around chapter six, where Dungeon Breaks and Hard mode are first introduced. The former sees you fighting the same reskinned minions and bosses from familiar, lifeless, and repetitive stages, cycling through only six or so backdrops, ranging from slight variations of caves to cityscapes.

The most frustrating part is that the difficulty scale isn’t necessarily based on challenging, skill-based encounters but on the fact that I was working against the clock. Every single stage has a terribly tight time limit. If you don’t finish off the boss by the time the clock hits zero – after you’ve already likely defeated three rooms worth of additional enemies on the way – then the entire level is a wash. While this is certainly a speedrunner’s dream and also fits in with the urgency of the narrative, the roughly three-minute maximum time limit is brutal, especially when you progress to harder enemies such as Igris.

Solo Leveling Arise review: screenshot of the protagonist and the mission complete screen.

I wish I could learn and enjoy this challenging boss’ patterns and earn the win in a longer fight. Instead, I often failed the encounter due to the time limit. It took close to 50 attempts, even at a high level, to topple Igris, with any potential satisfaction dulled by the protracted frustrations.

This, combined with the sheer amount of time it takes to progress and unlock important items and characters, really kneecaps what could have been a standout anime game. Personally, the novelty of it all wore off about halfway through, as runtime padding killed my enjoyment of the final missions. For Solo Leveling fans, the authentic story and visuals may carry you through, but for anyone else, Arise is a tougher sell with too many issues to make it a must-play.