Hot on the heels of the Sword Art Online love, Bandai Namco have just released the third game in the series to grace consoles and Handheld, featuring blistering combat and character development in abundance will they be able to entice people back to the biggest offline MMO around or are they just furthering the barrier between fans and casuals? read on to find out.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization follows the story of Hollow Fragment and Lost Song meaning rather than copying the source material it’s forged it’s own path at a certain event in the anime. So as not to leave fans of characters that came into Sword Art Online later on the developers brought them into the previous games in different ways and also created a few characters too in the process, if you’re familiar with the previous games you’ll golden, if not there is a handy recap of the previous events so you shouldn’t get too lost!.
Being this game is based off the source material you should know what to expect if you are familiar with Sword Art Online, if not the meat of it stands as such, the game is set within an VRMMO, Kirito our main character is somewhat of a legendary character, during the events of the series and games he’s made an eclectic cast of friends including his girlfriend Asuna, apparently he’s the ultimate chick magnet as this cast generally tends to adore Kirito and fight over his affections.
The premise of this title is that a new MMO has launched and is a semi remake of the one that Kirito and Co had been trapped in and nearly died so naturally they want to take part in the beta because y’know plot. Kirito meets Premiere the mysterious NPC with no memory and no programmed script, the cast decide to take it upon themselves and figure out what is going on in this new but painfully familiar MMO world.
Unfortunately the story is very Sword Art Online in the aspect that if you don’t like the source materials then this certainly won’t change your mind, the game is filled with moments of romance, cringe inducing script, glossing over grittier aspects in favor of Kirito’s MMO tunnel vision.
In all honesty I’m not the biggest fan of its source material and Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization hasn’t swayed me in any positive direction, the fact they spend more time discussing the love Asuna puts into her MMO food than the implications mentally of returning to a near perfect recreation of the MMO that held them captive and killed 4000 people is the perfect example of what hampers Sword Art Online for me, lack of pacing and scope.
Visually Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a mixed bag, it has moment where it looks quite pretty and true to the anime but the animations and repeating character design lets it down. The game did release on both Vita & PS4 so I can excuse this to a point but it’s far from looking close to other games on the PS4 like One Piece: Burning Blood or Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2. Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has a tonne of little designs to make the game feel like you are actually playing online, every NPC has a level and name, the menus are just like other MMO games, the attack menu also looks very familiar and there is even a log in the corner of the screen much like the games it’s emulating.
Areas are quite small but varied based on several fantasy tropes, from the opening forest areas to abandoned castles and surrounding caverns, the enemies are also based on fantasy cliches featuring wolves, giant crabs and Dragons it’s standard fantasy 101 but works well for the game if not a little uninspired. Character design is faithful to the anime even the characters that have been designed especially for the games fit in well visually with the cast, a nice feature is you are totally free to redesign Kirito with different clothes, weapons and even gender, these reset for cutscenes but it’s only temporary, finally the character animations are very 90’s in that they seem to float around and awkwardly interact in the most base way.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization uses an all Japanese dub featuring the original voice cast and this time Kirito is actually voiced!, this isn’t an issue throughout the game for English speakers as all the text is translated including the mid battle blurbs which pop up from time to time. The music is a nice range from catchy J Pop to humming guitar battles tracks, the menu interactions sound very MMO and really adds to faux MMO theme the game follows, nothing really stood out in regards to stand out track either good or bad.
Down to the real meat of the game and that is the gameplay, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a 3rd Person Action RPG with slight Visual Novel aspects. The controls for exploring the world are functional and work miles better than the previous games. The menus will take a little getting used to as there are quite a few and stuff like your messages actually appear in your friends menu rather than say appearing in a menu called Inbox. The combat has been given a massive upgrade and this time is not only responsive but fun!, the game reacts to your button presses and as such feels faster and more entertaining as a whole even bringing up the menu for additional commands is done well and should sink in well within the first hour or so of gameplay.
The game features many additional NPC characters you can level up through interactions and players who are unique to the game which can join your team giving you an almost endless amount of possibilities for team set up and members to grind. For the main characters you are able to have extended interactions with them such as hand holding, intimate conversations and “Pillow Talk”, these help flesh out characters and strengthen Kirito as the original Cyber Lover Man. To help improve your chances at getting to the later stages of the relationship you are able to view a characters personality traits first so you know how to approach each conversation, it’s a charming feature if not a little fluff filled for people just wanting to hit the fields and crush some monsters.
To keep you plodding on in the 30 hour main quest there is a treasure trove of Side Quests and Raids you can perform for rewards such as items, gold and EXP, these are mostly made up of fetch quests or Monster hunts but when the combat is as good as it is here you don’t mind getting extra rewards for taking down some of the bigger beasties. There are also character events which help flesh out Character Development, these tend to be hands off affairs where you sit through walls of text, telling you what is going on bringing you closer to the other characters, my major problem with this is that some scenes go on for upwards of 15 minutes and even if it involves quests you don’t actually perform them nor does your character gain anything for attending said events.
There is an online multiplayer option within the game upon beating the first chapter, this allows you to invite other players into your game and accept quests off the quest board, fight the higher end monsters and just free roam around the world, the main story is locked off for multiplayer but I believe there are plans to make several multiplayer focused dungeons in further updates. I initially struggled to get the multiplayer to connect with other players, sometimes it would then othertimes it would just throw up a message, hopefully this is patched soon and more content is brought into the game soon.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has a really awkward gameplay flow due to it’s horrid pacing, at one point I had to sit through around 50 minutes of talking before getting control of my character again, the main story also seems to crop up less than it should which would be fine for an actual MMO but as an offline MMO story experience coupled with the pacing I felt this knocked my interest in the game quite a bit. There is much here for fans of Sword Art Online and even people who are vaguely interested in the series could get a serious kick out of this game, had the combat not been so fun I don’t think I would have put half the time I did in the game as someone who doesn’t really rate the series the game draws from.
Overall my time with Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has been quite mixed, initially going into the game I wasn’t expecting much but after clearing a few quests and diving into the world I found myself quite enjoying it, that was until I hit the walls of text with wonky translations and cringe inducing writing. As mentioned earlier my issue with the series also translates well into the game in that the scope doesn’t reach much further than the romantic leanings of the main character and how he interacts with his friends. This is without a doubt the closest you’ll get to Sword Art Online in your homes, aesthetically accurate and features some of the most fun combat I have played in recent games but I won’t be going back for more story any time soon.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization - 7/10
Who Should Buy This
- Fans of Sword Art Online
- If you like the idea of an offline MMO
- Enjoy the grind
Who Should Avoid
- If you aren’t a fan this won’t convert
- Can’t deal with walls of text
- Cringe inducing romance ahoy!
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