Sword Art Online: RE Hollow Fragment
Genre: Role Playing
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 7/28/15
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment first appeared on the Playstation Vita, as a game based on an anime property that featured a plot that deviated considerably from the anime series it’s based on. The story centers itself around the character Kitiro and his friends, who are literally stuck inside the virtual reality game Sword Art Online. In order to restore the “log out” function in the game, the players must work together to clear one hundred floors of a monster infested tower, each one with a boss waiting at the end. The real kicker comes in when the game explains that if your hit points drop to zero, your brain gets fried FOR REAL and you die… for real.
The story of the game itself picks up just as Kitiro (who, it should be noted, pretty much everyone regards as the greatest player in the game) and company reach the seventy fifth floor, and resume their duties to explore and conquer in hopes of getting out alive. For those who have never watched the anime, or haven’t read any sort of plot synopsis to what happened previous to the events of Hollow Fragment, the game will graciously fill you in by way of a narrated cut scene. For those who have, the events of the game start off at the tail end of the first arc of the anime, but go in a dramatically different direction from there.
Sword Art Online: RE Hollow Fragment is a sort of director’s cut of the original Playstation Vita release, and boasts sharper graphics, additional content, and improved localization. Among these new additions is the ability to make the main character Kitiro a girl, which makes absolutely no sense narratively, since the gender change goes without a single notice in the actual game. That is, you’re essentially still treated the exact same way, so it’s not like Persona 3 Portable and its FemC character; changing to a female avatar makes literally no difference, and it’s really bizarre in action. You can also name the character something else, yet he will still be referred to as Kitiro in the many cut scenes and dialogue sequences, which is also odd and off-putting in context.
Sword Art Online does a great job of emulating a real MMORPG aesthetically, and just about everything you’d expect to be there is there. You receive messages from other players, launch emotes at various points, and can even futility click on the grayed out log out button. As you wander around, you’ll see other players who are stuck in the game just like you walking around the town, or even out in the field fighting monsters. It all comes together as an impressive facade. While RE Hollow Fragments features graphics that are certainly sharper than its Vita counterpart’s, the game still chugs when there are a good number of things on the screen, most notably in town where you’ll see large groups of other players walking about. It’s not especially detracting, but it’s an issue one would’ve expected to see fixed in the port, but such is not the case.
The combat in Sword Art Online is modeled after what you might see in a number of actual MMORPGs as well. Engaging an enemy will see your character start attacking it automatically; however, if you press the buttons in time with the attacks, you can unleash a special skill that does more damage at the end of the combo. Dodging is also an ability that can be utilized, and if you’re partnered up with another character, you can issue a number of commands to them, including having them take the brunt of the monster’s attacks for a while, and executing special tag team moves. If your partner does a good job in the fight, you can give them a thumbs up, which will boost the meter spent to use special attacks. The combat itself doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and can certainly get tiresome at times, but it’s a good fit for the game, and compliments the concept well.
The main objective in Sword Art Online, as previously mentioned, is to beat the boss on the hundredth floor and restore the log out button so everyone can go home. Each floor is different, and has a boss that must be defeated at the end of it to advance to the next. In order to do this, the game requires you to do recon work in the form of quests, beating a certain tough monster, or other similar things, that in turn provide you with information on how to beat the boss. One of the requirements will always be to find the boss’s chamber. Once you’ve gathered all the intel, you can speak to an NPC by the teleporter and initiate a raid against the floor’s boss. While, in theory, this is a fine way to go about things, it’s usually also a confusing one, as the game does little to provide you with the information you need in regards to what physically has to be done in order to unearth these clues. It could be a random quest issued by an NPC, it could be slaying a specific monster in a specific area, or it could be something different altogether. There is a lot to do in Sword Art Online, and perhaps this is a method induced by the developer to make sure you go through more content then some normally would, but it still is frustrating and confusing at times.
Sword Art Online likes to tell its story, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it wallows in it. Because of this fact, the game contains a large amount of narrated cut scenes… sometimes over the most trivial of things. It’s novel, and it gives the game personality, but there is a lot of storyline and animation in this game, to be sure, and that’s definitely something to keep in mind. The game is entirely voice acted, but in its native Japanese, so dub fans will be left out in the cold this time, sadly. RE Fragment features a more detailed and concise translation than its Vita counterpart, which means there is even more talking and exhibition at times. This is obviously a plus for fans of the anime, but for others it might be tough to swallow. Spending 15 minutes reading about characters playing a game of poker is an insomnia cure in the wrong hands, and while this game has certain parallels to the .Hack franchise, fans of that series might find this game to be a bit too interested in its own story to keep at it for long.
RE Hollow Fragment also offers a multiplayer mode for up to four players. This mode is restricted to what’s known as the “Hollow Zone,” a mysterious area that also appears in the single player game. In this mode you can grind monsters for experience points, money, and potentially rare items. The game also allows you to play the multiplayer mode solo, and bring in three additional NPC characters to act as your party members. It’s not the most robust multiplayer mode out there, but it’s a fun add-on if you have friends who own the game, or you just want to plow through it with the CPU for loot, so all in all it’s not a bad addition.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Sword Art Online: RE Hollow Fragment is an interesting game with an interesting premise. While the updated PS4 edition still suffers from some of the hiccups present in the Vita version, the sharper visual quality and improved translation definitely make this the version to play, especially for fans of the anime the game is based on. If you already own the Vita version, I can safely say that upgrading to the PS4 version should probably only be done by big time fans of the source material. If you’re looking for an action RPG with a thoroughly realized concept, though, you could do worse than Sword Art Online: RE Hollow Fragment.