Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment Review – Upgrade, Kill, and Repeat (PS4)
In preparation of what seems to be a simultaneous release of Sword Art Online: Lost Song onto PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, Bandai Namco recently released a PS4 version of Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, a game which first hit the Vita last year. This new PS4 version of the RPG features enhanced graphics, better translations, and all previously released DLC, although even with all the bonus and improved content, the game isn’t quite up to par.
If you’ve played Hollow Fragment before, you probably know that the game’s plot isn’t really all that important, in that it takes a backseat to the typical RPG combat and grind. Basically, players take on the role of the young warrior Kirito, who has the goal of clearing all the dungeons in the SOA world. Unfortunately for him, there are a hundred such dungeons. Fortunately for us, players start on dungeon number 76, although there are a number of optional areas that can also be visited.
Exactly why you start on dungeon 76 is explained in the game’s huge amount of dialogue. With improved translations, some of the dialogue is actually interesting to read, but it soon becomes more a chore to read it than anything else. During each cut-scene and each little dialogue break-away, characters feel the need to drone on and on about seemingly useless things. While this isn’t exactly a new feature to the genre, it does get annoying to read literally paragraphs upon paragraphs of dialogue every several minutes. But, luckily, a lot of that dialogue can be skipped, because the main focus of Hollow Fragment is on the combat and skill systems.
Slash and Stab
It would be a bit of an understatement to say that the skill system is huge. There are countless numbers of skills and abilities that can be unlocked, with some focusing on doing damage, others focusing on providing combat boosts, and still others simply providing passive effect, such as an increased number of hit points. Part of the reason that so many skills can be unlocked is because each type of weapon that can be equipped has its own skill tree, and there are many, many weapons to choose from. Although Kirito starts with a high “dual-wielding” skill and two one-handed swords, players can switch these weapons out for clubs, axes, rapiers, scimitars, two-handed swords, and more. Weapons can either be bought or crafted from found materials, and the more each type of weapon is used, the more skills become available for it.
These skills, although somewhat similar to one another, are fun to unlock, and can be very useful in combat. Combat in Hollow Fragment is fast-paced and entertaining, requiring both a heavy dose of button-mashing and some strategic skill choices. Players generally fight in a party of two, with the player’s companion being one of several different women. Each woman has a different combat style, and players can offer general commands during combat, such as asking the companion to use skills or asking the companion to move away from an enemy. This gives combat a sense of strategy, especially when fighting powerful enemies who cannot be defeated from simply mashing the general attack button.
Generally, the most powerful enemies will appear at the end of each level. These are bosses, and in order to actually get the chance to face off against a boss, players first have to clear a certain number of quests in the level. The quests are often fetch quests, and while they allow players to explore new parts of the level, as each level has a variety of different maps, they get boring quickly, especially since every single level (from 76 to 100) all require the player to take on fetch quests. Completing them is worth it, however, because the boss battles they unlock are fun to play through.
Unlike normal combat, boss battles involve a large party of NPC characters (joined by Kirito) as a large, singular creature is attacked. Instead of just having to look out for the one companion, players now are charged with keeping an eye on quite a few companions as they all struggle to kill the boss. This makes the battle feel chaotic, as well as makes the boss actually feel like the powerful, over-the-top powerful being that it is supposed to be.
So Much to Do
Between all the boss battles, the various quests, and the different dungeons, there is a whole lot to do in Hollow Fragment, but the game doesn’t stop there. On top of all that is the ability to go to an entirely optional area called the “Hollow Area.” Here, players can attempt to complete numerous side-missions and quests, boosting their combat skills and gaining money and items in the process. Nothing really new is offered in this area in terms of gameplay, but it does provide extra places to explore, allowing players to check out new areas besides the dungeons and the city, a place which houses shops and other such things.
Speaking of the city, there is a major problem with it — Hollow Fragment‘s frame-rate doesn’t seem to be able to handle it. Maybe it is because of the enhanced graphics (although don’t get me wrong, they still aren’t anything special), but I found myself stuck in some truly awful, stuttery moments while in the city. Outside of that area the frame-rate is decent, dropping in some places but not by enough to impact combat at all. But, yeah, try to spend as little time as possible in the city area, at least until there is a fix. Those drops are painfully bad.
However, despite the major frame-rate drops and the repetitive quests and gameplay, Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment is fairly entertaining, thanks to a fast-paced combat system and a large amount of weapons and skills to pick from. If you haven’t already tried it on the PS Vita, the PS4 version might be worth your time, especially since it is literally half the price of the Vita version. But, if you do already own in on the Vita, I think it would be wise to pass on this new version.
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