When I first heard of Sword Art Online, an anime about people who get trapped inside of a video game, I thought that it was based on an actual game. It turned out to be an anime based on a light novel series. At the time, I found it odd that there was no video game associated with the anime. Eventually, this series came to the gaming realm which inspired it and I got to play the latest game, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment.
Though the main story of the game takes place inside of an MMO, this game is a (mostly) single player experience which mimics a MMO. The story itself is an alternate timeline of sorts that takes place during the events of the first season of the show. Main protagonist Kirito is trapped inside of SAO and must make it to the 100th floor of the tower that the game world takes place in in order to free himself and everyone inside.
The portion I played took place in a forest which had many different paths to traverse. I was accompanied by a girl named Philia who is exclusive to this video game and never appeared on the show. Our goal was to beat the main boss of this level but we had to fight a lot of enemies along the way.
Since this mimics a MMO, the fighting was in real time. Kirito has a number of special sword attacks that he can use but have a cool down period after each use. Philia can also be issued commands and she also does a good job of telling you what types of attacks work best on enemies. She also did a good job of dealing damage and keeping me healed.
During battles I moved around the battlefield freely to avoid being damaged, then counter enemies and stun them. Everything was fast paced but the controls were responsive and allowed me to keep up with the action on screen. Whenever my companion did a good job I could commend her which raised the party’s AP (Attack Points) meter. Once the meter was full we were able to unleash some really impressive looking super moves.
Most of the enemies in the game were pushovers once I got a handle on the user friendly controls. I assumed that the final boss of the area would be harder than the cannon fodder foes but he wasn’t much of a challenge either. He did some extra maneuvers and blocked a lot of my attacks but once I found out his basic pattern I took him down fast. After he was defeated the demo was over.
There are several ways that this game simulates a MMO. The NPC characters in the world act like players and you can team up with up to three other real-life players via ad-hoc. I wasn’t able to experience either of these since I was in a dungeon but it’s good to know that you don’t have to go at it alone.
I was also told that game has light dating-sim aspects and that you can court different girls. I asked how far you can take these relationships but the representative just laughed. It was a serious question!
As far as the graphics went, I was extremely impressed. This is a port of a PSP game so I wasn’t expecting it to look this good and I was left mildly blown away by how it looked on the PlayStation Vita. The world looked nice and clear and didn’t have that graphical fog that a lot of PSP titles used to have. The character models were on point too and greatly resembled the animated counterparts, only lacking a bit of detail. The environments themselves were nicely rendered and the enemies looked cool too. This is a really slick looking game.
I had a lot of fun with this one. Most anime based games fall short of expectations for me but this one felt just right. I think the fact that the premise of the anime revolves around a video game world is what helps make it work. While this isn’t the full blown SOA MMO that I think should exist, I think Hollow Fragment does a good job of making it feel as if you’re playing in an actual MMO. Fans of the series and of solid JRPGs in general would do well to keep this game in their radar.