Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment is JRPG about an MMORPG set in a world called Aincrad, in which the players are trapped and their only hope of escaping is to complete all 100 floors of the game. Confused yet? After a year the Playstation Vita title has finally made the jump over to the big screen bringing over all of the previous DLC content and gaining some improved graphics to boot.
For those unfamiliar with the Sword Art Online series the story follows the lives of a group of individuals trapped within an MMO game of the same name. In this world death means death. Die in the game and the VR headset (NerveGear) that connects you to it will let off a powerful electric charge and fry your brain. Their road to freedom? To clear all 100 floors of the SAO. Hollow Fragment splits off from the canon timeline as we now find ourselves on floor 76 and must push on through the remaining 24 floors to the top. The story moves along in the start at quite a pace and with little backstory so newcomers will get completely lost with the plot. Even those who are fans of the series may find the story rather dull and as for the translation, the text is riddled with typos and errors that’ll constantly frustrate.
SAO Re: Hollow Fragment is made up of two separate scenarios giving us two stories and two separate gameplay modes. The first is the linear floor clearing approach playing through levels 76 to 100. Each floor follows the same structure of outer world, dungeon and boss fight with very little to deviate you from that path. 24 floors makes for a long and repetitive cycle. Luckily there’s the second section to break the monotony. Taking place in a hidden location known as the Hollow Area you’ll encounter a mysterious guild and an orange player named Philia. Arguable this story holds more intrigue than the main scenario (but then I’m talking as an SAO fan) you enjoy finding out about the new characters and events introduced here. The main purpose is to offer a more challenging experience with open-world exploration and tougher enemies but rewards players with special items and stronger equipment. Plus it also opens up the online multiplayer functions. While limited it is fun to go questing with friends. Plus if you’re still after more there’s an enormous amount of side quests bundled along with it pushing the length from a 50 hour story to a whopping 100 hours.
The combat in Hollow Fragment best feature by far allowing you to pull off a huge number skills and combos while simultaneously doling out commands for your partner to carry out. You can hotkey all of your skills and commands to the directional pads and face buttons plus you extend it further by holding the shoulder buttons to access more wheels. This robust interfaces makes for sleek transitions between offensive and defensive assaults. For example during a fight you can distract the enemy by hitting them with a flurry of combo’s then switch out with your partner letting them take the backlash while you rush in from behind unleashing a slew of abilities. It can be a little tricky to get your head around at the start but once you get used to it plays out very smooth on the fly and really opens up your strategic thinking.
For your partner you can recruit a huge number of characters to aid you in battle. Most are just your generic background characters, the main focus are the series key ladies like Asuna, Lizbeth and Silica. Now for the fans questioning how Leafa and Sinon can be in the game as they’re chronologically introduced after the completion of SAO…well they just are really. There are some brief explanations later but they’re very loose. There’s a sort of romance system built too, building up relations with these characters through chats, holding hands and…carrying them your affiliation in battle improves. Speaking of the characters there’s a lot of in game dialogue with them, most of which does nothing to advance the story. It’s more about the everyday lives of the characters filled with inside jokes and references which are sure to go over non-SAO fans heads.
Players new to the series may find themselves confused by the fact that their character starts on LV 100. This is because our character Kirito is the strongest character already in sword art with a number of skills already available for him. While it’s fun for fans of the series to dive in and pull of combos straight out of the anime, newcomers will be put off by it finding themselves quickly lost within the skills menus. Don’t think you’re all-powerful though as your overall level will keep progressing as you earn experience. Kirito also starts off as a twin-blade user but now you have control you can change his weapon proficiencies and skills according to how you want.
The game is a port of a Vita game and unfortunately it shows. The art style used is so well done you actually feel that you’ve stepped directly into a scene from the show. It’s even complete with high quality 3D scenes; particular highlights were the recreations of main series events. There is an improvement from the handheld but there’s still a slight muddy quality to the textures. The most unusual visual feature through has to go to the avatar creator. You can design the appearance of the main character and give them your own name, which helps bring across the idea you’re within an MMO. However it makes no sense in terms of the SAO lore, and no matter what it’s still Kirito underneath which creates confusion for newcomers as the character they’ve just created is being referred to by a different name.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment falls into the same pitfall that most Anime to game adaptions do in that fans are sure to get a great kick out of it but it’ll leave everyone else scratching their heads. Add on top of that that it’s a rather disappointing port and the translations aren’t handled very well. Give it enough time and you’ll find a fun RPG experience with some fantastic combat mechanics. If you still want more you can’t say anything bad about the amount of content thrown at it either. Great for the fans, not so good for everyone else.
This review is based off a review code of Sword Art Online RE: Hollow Fragment provided by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.