It has been around two years now since Sword Art Online stormed onto the anime/manga scene, fascinating people with its take on virtual MMOs and fully developed ladies. After releasing the first part of the game series, Infinity Movement, Bandai Namco Games have now released Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for the PlayStation Vita. The game released in Japan and in China, the latter version of which has English menus and subtitles, which is the version I will be tackling today. Strap yourself into the Nerve Gear and log into this review now.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment differs a bit from the anime and manga, combining the first two arcs of the series into an alternate storyline. The game is also a variation of the first game, Infinity Movement with a new Hollow area included. In the game, players have been trapped inside a virtual game called “Sword Art Online“ and have lost their ability to log out until they beat the game. Adding to the issue of not being able to leave is the fact that if you die in the world, you will also die in real life. You play as Kirito, a beta tester for the game and the only person who can dual wield. It is up to Kirito and his group of friends to battle their way to level 100 and win, allowing them to finally escape back to reality. Characters from both worlds of Sword Art Online and Alfheim Online have all been trapped in this alternate storyline and must combine their strength to make it out alive.
The story is told mostly through conversations between your main character Kirito and those around him. These scenes will be shown in your standard JRPG fashion, as whoever is talking will have their silhouette pop up on screen. All of the main characters lines are fully voice-acted, with English subtitles throughout. The game features all sorts of unique characters from the anime, as well as a bunch of random players throughout the world, with over 100 recruit-able characters to take into battle with you. The story is interesting, but at times takes an extreme backseat to both the grinding in the game and the high amount of fan service. Every girl in the game loves Kirito for some reason and so there are a lot of conversations about breast sizes, kissing, and whatnot that don’t really add to the story, which I oftentimes found myself skipping past with a very nice fast forward feature.
For those worried about being lost if you haven’t seen the anime or played the first game, Hollow Fragment does a great job of providing some back story as you get started. You still might find yourself a little lost with some character interactions, but for the most part it should be easy to overlook that since most of the game is based around the combat and exploring each level. Starting up the game will allow you to customize some aspects of Kirito, from his hair and facial features, to his name.
Hollow Fragment plays very similar to games like .hack, where everything looks and feels like you are in an MMO. You start off on Floor 76, as you have been dropped into this alternate world. This floor becomes your home base and the only one that you can fully walk around in. Here, you can purchase weapons, armor, items, and also sleep at the inn to move from night to day and vice-versa. Some character events you can participate in are only available during the day or night. In the town you can also find and talk to any playable character there, allowing you to hand them weapons, chat, or try to hold them bridal style. By chatting with the people, you raise your relationship status with whomever you talked to and giving them weapons will help you during boss battles.
Where issues really comes into play while in floor 76 is with finding people sometimes. Since the game is simulating an MMO, you can pull up your friends list to see what level a character is at and where they are in the world. Problem is sometimes it can get very hard to find that player, even when you mark them as “watch,” which places a red circle under their feet. Often I was in the correct area but couldn’t find them to save my life. Another issue here is that sometimes I wanted to partner with a certain player for a mission but when I talked to them, it never gave me the ability to add to my party and up to now, I’m not sure why.
Once you are ready for combat, you can teleport to the next floor and start working your way through the level. Each level has a few different areas to work through and then a boss battle at the end. In combat, you can either run solo or bring a single person with you into battle. Your teammate will attack alongside you and can be commanded what to do via a few presets like “use skill” or “use item”. For the most part, the AI is pretty good and will attack smartly and back up and heal on their own when they need to. Attacks are performed by basically spamming the circle button until you put together enough strikes to use an attack skill. Each skill uses a certain amount of AP, which refills over the battle naturally, or you can use an item to refill it. Another way to get back AP is to commend your AI teammate whenever they pull off a skill or stunning an enemy when asked to by your teammate. You can assign multiple attack skills to your three different palette’s, as well as battle skills to buff you and your teammate.
Earlier I mentioned how each floor had a boss at the end. Well, on each floor you will have to grab around 2-4 quests for the area and complete them before you can actually fight the boss. Completing these quests will unlock facts about the said boss that will help you and your party fight him. For each boss, you will be fighting with the lead party, which is a group of the best fighters from all the guilds. Like the rest of the combat though, you are limited to commanding yourself and your one AI teammate. The rest of the lead group attacks on their own during the battle, but you can heal them and buff them. The bosses you face are huge and can sometimes pack a mean punch, but these fights are actually fairly easy until around floor 90. In fact, I didn’t find much resistance in any of the levels until 90, when I finally started to die on my way up to the boss battle — although I never did fail a boss fight.
Outside of the levels, you can also visit a separate part of the world and partake in Hollow Missions. This new world has a fairly big map with multiple different areas for you to fully complete. These areas have plenty of missions to move you up into a higher rank for each area. These battles are where the game can get pretty hard and I would suggest waiting until you are at least level 130 or higher to even attempt some of these, as the monsters here are really hard to deal with. The game also features ad-hoc multiplayer but with this being an import game, I could not test this feature. But based from what I have read, you can group up with three other players via ad-hoc, with each person bringing along an AI teammate, to tackle missions in the Hollow Area.
The world of Sword Art Online is colorful, with characters and cut-scenes looking great. The same can’t always be said for the dungeon areas and Arc Sofia, the only town you can walk through located on level 76. The town has a lot of people walking around but it still doesn’t feel too alive and the dungeons are rather bland and repetitive in design. The enemy designs are solid and the different animations for the sword skills look great.
On the audio side of things, all the character voices are really well done, never really sounding too annoying and each voice really fits the character it was attached to. It might be hard for those who hate reading, as there are no English voices, but that really shouldn’t be counted as a negative thing.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is one of those games that sucks you in from the beginning and never lets go. I often find it hard to stay on my Vita for over an hour at a time, but with Hollow Fragment I would look up and realize I had just spent 2 -3 hours in a single sitting. Even if you just move quickly from floor to floor without growing relationships via optional events or visiting the hollow area, you are still going to sink well over 50+ hours into this game. But I do think the chat system between you and other characters could have been given more than two basic responses and gibberish from the AI characters. I would have also loved a true online option instead of ad-hoc and more quests per level, but even without all of that, the game still shines.
Those people who don’t like to grind for hours without any story might want to stay away from this RPG, but Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is the type of game that Vita owners need to play and it is worth every penny you will spend on it. Those wanting a physical copy for their collection should have no fears about importing, as the game is 100 percent import friendly for anyone. So,strap on that nerve gear and jump into Sword Art Online, just be careful you don’t get stuck without an option to logout.
Review copy obtained via Play-Asia.com. Asian version playable in English.
For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.