Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a confusing game. While it improves on a few aspects of the previous SAO game, it is largely similar to Lost Song. While it can be a fun action game in the short-term, it quickly becomes repetitive due to its meandering plot and disingenuously perfect cast of characters.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita
MonsterVine was provided with a PS4 code for review.
After playing the last couple titles, I’ve come to the conclusion that Sword Art Online games tend to blend together. While they adapt their source material well, they rarely advance in meaningful ways, instead opting to hold onto the more problematic aspects of the previous series entries.
The story of Hollow Realization is its biggest issue. Set in a replica of the original Sword Art Online in-universe MMO, Hollow Realization has Kirito and his friends running around this new game, Sword Art Origins, while reminiscing about their experience in the original Sword Art. These events are brought up repeatedly, to the point of absolute exhaustion. Even people who have never heard of the series will know the story within an hour, making the next twelve mentions and summaries feel entirely unnecessary.
Due to this new, safer game world, there aren’t any particularly high stakes in the plot. This would be fine if the story still had a purpose that developed its world and characters, but this isn’t the case. The main focus of the plot is a “blank” NPC named Premiere. Kirito and friends attempt to give her a personality by doing her quests and talking to her, leading to numerous excursions and adventures. Unfortunately, none of these adventures are overly entertaining, as they’re full of repetitive exposition, and uncomfortable character moments.
This was a problem in the anime Hollow Realization is based on. Every character fawns over you, and practically worships you. There is little to no conflict within the group of main characters, leading to an eerie, disingenuous tone in the dialogue. Constantly having an ever-expanding group of undeveloped characters talk about how great you are while blushing is just uncomfortable, especially when they make up nearly the entire cast.
The gameplay of Hollow Realization is adequate, with a couple stand-out features. After making your party, you set out into different parts of the world to fight monsters, collect materials, and complete quests. It’s pretty standard fare for an action RPG, and it’s executed in a way that feels smooth and natural. The skills are all unique, and the combat is smooth and solid. Enemies display the area they’ll be attacking, making it easier to avoid their attacks and strategize.
The most interesting part of Hollow Realization‘s gameplay is the “Affection System”. By speaking to characters while in the hub town, you’ll be able to look at traits that form their personalities and combat strategies. For example, Klein has “Cool” and “Caring” in his affection chart. These traits form how he attacks enemies, and how he heals you, or encourages you to heal. You can encourage characters after they take certain actions in each fight, making them lean towards those actions in future battles. This intricate system is fun to play with, as there are few games that have such thought-out and customizable AI players.
Hollow Realization‘s visuals are exceptional. Like many anime-based games, Sword Art Online is a perfect 3D adaptation of its source material. Every character looks exactly as they do in the show, in both their 3D models, and the 2D images that represent them in dialogue scenes. The mouths move on the 2D drawings during voiced dialogue, which is a nice touch, as minor as it is.
The sound is enjoyable, with some memorable tracks mixed in amongst the more atmospheric pieces in the soundtrack. The tracks that play in the inn and hub town are pleasant, and set a relaxing tone for the quieter parts of the game. The field themes suit their open fields and landscapes, and the battle themes are fast and sharp. Overall, the soundtrack is decent.
The Final Word
While Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has some in-depth and enjoyable gameplay mechanics, the narrative and characters make it a difficult game to play. While major SAO fans will likely find more to enjoy in Hollow Realization, others are better off looking elsewhere.
– MonsterVine Rating: 3 out of 5 – Average