SWORDS! They’re so exciting! I’ve never used one before and, chances are, I’ll never use them at all. Why? Because, contrary to popular belief, I’m actually not a Samurai…though I want to be so bad. I instead rely on video game characters to do all of my sword wielding. Like most gamers I live vicariously through the characters I create on-screen. ‘Sword Art Online’, the highly popular Anime/Light Novel series, begs audiences to think about how they would go about living within a game world where death in the game means death in reality. In the PlayStation Vita title ‘Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment’, players are put into the virtual shoes of series hero Kazuto Kirigaya or ‘Kirito’ as he prefers to be called.
Mostly following the story of the first half of the Anime series, the game features all of the characters fans have grown to know and love but also features a storyline that does it’s best to expand on the ‘SAO’ universe. Players can chose to follow the main story which basically has you clearing the floors of Aincrad much like the series but you’re also given the choice to follow a brand-new story that takes place in an area of the ‘Sword Art Online’ game that only Kirito and a mysterious girl can enter.
‘Hollow Fragment’ is strictly for those of you out there who have enjoyed the ‘SAO’ series as it begins partway through the first half and features many if not all of the characters from the Anime/Light Novels. The game tries it’s best to explain the events of ‘SAO’ but fall flat seeing as it is put forth through boring and tedious strings of dialogue. Despite it following the story of the series, I have to stress that it is a ‘lose’ retelling with characters like Sinon and Leafa features, both of which don’t appear until after the Aincrad Arc.
The ‘Hollow Area’ story Arc I found to actually be quite nice. Simple but nice. It revolves mostly around exploring the mysterious ‘Hollow Area’ with a newly introduced character called Philia who comes into contact with Kirito just as the game begins. While exploring the ‘Hollow Area’ you’re pushed to take on missions, doing so will slowly have you learn more and more about Philia as well as unlocking and discovering new items of equipment. Now Philia’s involvement in the game does coincide with the death of Heathcliff at the hands of Kirito so, in a way, it is part of the main story though, in this game, that main story is told terribly with major inconsistencies that simply saying ‘it’s an alternate telling’ cannot excuse, in my opinion. As mentioned, the game features all of the character from the series (as well as some new) but most of the interaction with them seems unnecessary, irrelevant and clearly just a reason to stretch out gametime which is long enough without having to sit through silly acts of affection and ridiculous comments.
A lot of the game’s dialogue is poorly translated with some sentences not making enough sense for me to understand exactly what is being said but, in a way, it inspired me to make a decision to skip every piece of non-Hollow Area dialogue because it was utterly useless. After ten ours of gameplay I realized that these characters were simply not saying anything of substance so I utilized the dialogue fast forward option at any chance I could. For the most part, I quite enjoyed Kirito’s interaction with Philia so I, unlike the former, payed as much attention as possible to what was being said. The same elements I hated from the series made a return in the game and it mostly came in the form of Kirito’s harem-like relationship with the entirety of the female cast. The game had you vying for the love of the female characters with small gameplay mechanics that revolved around you having a nonsensical conversation with your female battle partner. Despite the fact that you were encouraged to build good relationships with each character, you were constantly spoken about like some sort of unfaithful ‘cheater’ every time a new female character was introduced.
While, as mentioned, part of the gameplay had you build bonds with these ladies, it was not the majority of the game. ‘Hollow Fragment’ hosts a wonderful action/RPG gameplay style that, while not too revolutionary, is very good at making it seem like you’re playing a true MMO/RPG much like that from the series. There’s a leveling system, a weapon system, an ability system and everything else you expect from a deep and well-made RPG. The game implements a lot of unusual gameplay mechanics that don’t necessarily ruin the game but they do give off the impression that the developers were trying a little bit too hard to be different. I actually very much enjoyed the gameplay, it was enjoyable for the most part especially because it was actually fast-paced rather than slow and clunky yet, at the same time, gave of a very distinct MMO feel.
That’s the second time I’ve said it but you have to understand that I was very much impressed at how the game came across. Basically the game has players accept missions and tackle dungeons, finding new items, beating new enemies and eventually leading up to a boss fight that will then unlock more areas, missions, dungeons and boss fights. It pretty much loops around like that until the game kind of just ends. I won’t go as far as to day that made the game unenjoyable, I thought that it was maybe too time consuming seeing as some dungeons can take literal hours to take on but I will leave that up to the individual to decide. What brought down the experience was the fact that it had a terrible camera system that constantly locked, constantly zoomed in but would not zoom out and constantly moved in ways that would essentially blind the player. This does not fly in 2014 when things like this should be mastered.
The game is incredibly in-depth. My aim was to become a Samurai-like fighter, wielding a katana was all I wanted to do. To begin unlocking special katana techniques I first had to master the one-handed sword skill tree, then I had to master the Scimitar skill tree. Only after I had worked my way through them could I begin training in the way of the katana. This is not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. My point is that this game has so much to offer, all you have to do is look a little deeper. There are plenty of equipment pieces to unlock, each and every single weapon you can obtain can be upgraded and while I don’t consider the weapon upgrade system to be very good, I do believe it still adds positively to the game. There’s a multiplayer option that plays similar to the main game; you and a friend chose mission to go on and using your own equipment, of which you’ve earned through single play, take on a bunch of enemies including some floor bosses. It’s quite simply but really there’s nothing more that has to be added to a multiplay option of a game like this.
For a PlayStation Vita title, ‘Hollow Fragment’ was surprisingly good looking. It didn’t exactly ‘blow me away’ but I was very much impressed with what I saw. Each area looked distinctively different from the last. There were few cases of enemy re-colouring so most of the monsters you came across were indeed unique. Every weapon, every item, every piece of equipment looked fantastic and each had their own specific style. The game screen was fairly cluttered with three different energy gauges, battle options, your partners stats and text boxes detailing what move was next to be executed. All that alongside the constant damage number flashes made for quite a busy game screen BUT, once again, it did look as though it was an MMO so I can’t exactly say those things are bad. As mentioned, environments looked great and were designed nicely.
Over so often you’ll confronted with an actual cutscene that hosts some of the most fantastic animation I’ve seen in a game of this kind since ‘Fire Emblem: Awakening’, in fact, both cutscene animation styles do seem quite similar. The soundtrack fit perfectly with the visuals and mostly hosted high fantasy-style tracks. The ethereal sounds of the game fit perfectly and the Japanese voice acting felt the same. Each voice actor from the series reprised their roles and, once again, performed admirably. I can’t exactly comment on battle sound effects simply because there were so many sound effects going off at once, it was hard to pinpoint a single one. That in itself is a bit of a negative note but I wouldn’t count it that way seeing as you can easily look past it.
What blew me away the most about actually playing this game was the way that it translated from Anime to video game. It really did seem like I was playing ‘Sword Art Online’! To the finest details, ‘Hollow Fragment’ did a good job at recreating the world of ‘SAO’. From taking on floor bosses with groups of warriors to simple a visual like a ‘log out’ button that could not be selected on the main menu, this game WAS ‘SAO’ through and through. You were given the choice to customize your character so it made it feel as though you truly were taking part in the story.
Despite the fact that character are fairly annoying, the game holds up very well. You can chose to ignore, for the most part, whatever you want and still progress nicely through the game. It realy does seem like a unique experience and even if it actually isn’t, as long as players are convinced…that’s all that matter. It feel like ‘Sword Art Online’ that is all it had to do and it is exactly what ‘Hollow Fragment’ did. No, I wouldn’t suggest this game to everyone but I know who will absolutely love it and it’s the fans of the series. This one is clearly for you.
Dive into the world of ‘Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment’ by heading to Bandai Namco Games’s official webpage.