Review: Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment – An Improved Experience
Sword Art Online, which started off as a light novel, is a series that takes place in the near-future and focuses on various VR MMORPG worlds. While the concept on papaer sounds like it can make an interesting story, the series didn’t do too well for some anime fans.
Hollow Fragment is the sequel to 2013’s Infinity Moment, which exists in an alternate storyline from the Sword Art Online anime storyline. Additionally, the game includes a high definition recompilation of Infinity Moment including all content of “Floor Clearing.”
Even though it’s an alternate storyline, the game still follows the story of Kazuto Kirigaya, known as Kirito in the world of Sword Art Online, who was chosen as one of the 1,000 beta testers for the closed beta.
SAO is a VRMMORPG played on NerveGear hardware, which was released in 2022 and had a limited run of 10,000 copies. The system uses cutting-edge technology to send signals directly to the user’s brain and gain access to all five senses.
As a result it brings complete virtual worlds to life, and offers players the experience of full immersion in a game world. Players dove into the game world, with their hearts pounding with the thought of their upcoming adventures that awaited them.
Just like the anime, Akihiko Kayaba, SAO’s creator, removed the Log Out button, preventing players from leaving the game world. If players wish to wish to be free, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss.
However, those that die in the game’s virtual world will have their brain fried by powerful microwaves emitted from the NerveGear, immediately putting an end to all biological activity.
In other words: death.
What makes Re: Hollow Fragment worth the purchase over the PS Vita version, which released last year, are the range of improvements that it brings to the game.
Naturally, the game being on the PS4, it looks slightly better graphically, especially compared to the game being played on a PlayStation TV.
However, the most noticeable improvement is the superior translations as compared to the PS Vita version, which can easily be defined as atrocious. It includes all previously DLC as well.
While Sword Art Online is hardly one of my favorite series I enjoyed watching both seasons, so it wasn’t hard for me to appreciate the game’s story, character interaction and the endless dialogue.
Once you begin your new game session, you will be introduced to a Log-in screen cutscene — similar to the one shown in the anime — which follows up with the character creation menu.
From there, you will have multiple options such as height, physique, hair, face type, skin and eye colors, including Heterochromia, or “odd eyes” as referred in the game.
While it doesn’t have the best Avatar Creation system compare to other games that provides the feature, it has enough varied options to leave you satisfied with your created character. As for me, it was a little difficult for me to choose a final look for my character.
After creating your character, you will be introduced to one of the new characters introduced in the game; Philia, who Kirito meets immediately after being suddenly teleported to the Hollow Area region of Aincrad.
Being used to games with endless dialogue, I didn’t have a problem with Hollow Fragment. However, the more you get into the game, the more you realize how pointless the long sessions of cutscenes are. Luckily for players, they are skipable.
Like many action RPGs, Hollow Fragment offers fast-paced gameplay that can be quite entertaining — if you know what you’re doing of course. While you can start off by button-mashing, later on it is imperative that each skill is used thoughtfully.
Alongside your created avatar, or rather Kirito, the other characters from the Sword Art Online series will be joining your quest. For the most part, only one character can join you at a time.
Kirito will start off with dual-wielding a sword, which can later be changed for for clubs, axes, rapiers, scimitars, two-handed swords, and more. Weapons can be crafted with the materials acquired from battle.
Each weapon has a different skill tree, which in my opinion, adds more content to the game. Not to mention that they’re fun to unlock as well as worthwhile to your journey as they can be very useful in combat.
One of the things that really bothered me is that the PS4 version still has the awful low framerate drop that makes the game almost unplayable, or at least annoying to play. Luckily it doesn’t happen much but it can very annoying when it does occur.
I really disliked how I had to babysit some of the characters since they occasionally struggled to stay alive in dungeons, especially ones with tough bosses. At the same time, it did add challenge to the game, which is welcomed.
If there’s one thing that Hollow Fragment does right, though, it’s the skill system. The game provides a large variety of skills and abilities that can be unlocked such as those that focus on increasing damage, combat boost or even hit points.
Additionally, as a good JRPG should, the game provides players with various boss battles to fight, as well as quests and dungeons to complete and explore, which altogether gives you over 100 hours of content. Sadly, it can be fairly repetitive time but is still enjoyable nonetheless.
Even though the game states that you must beat 100 floors to finish the game, fortunately you start off at the 76th floor but as previously stated, you will have multiple areas to explore.
The game also features an optional area called the “Hollow Area,” where players can tackle various side-missions and quests that can boost their combat skills and earn money and items as a result.
While the feature is nothing out of the ordinary, but it can definitely provide extra hours of gameplay with the added content.
With the series having quite a few female protagonists, it is obvious the game has a dating sim feature as well. You can raise their affection level by chatting and getting them gifts from the shopping street.
Depending on who you end up with, the game will feature a special scene when taking them to fight one of the final floor bosses with you. They can be pretty useful and will aid you in your quest to defeat the final boss. Naturally, after finishing the game, a different ending will trigger depending on the girl you end up with.
However, the dating sim aspect is average at best and it isn’t as robust as other RPGs such as Persona 4: Golden which is more rewarding in building up relationships, both gameplay and story-wise.
Even though the Sword Art Online anime series had an English dub for the past two years, the game only offers Japanese voices. Granted, the dub wasn’t too well received (myself included) so I don’t think a dub option is exactly missed.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment is definitely a solid JRPG as it has good gameplay mechanics and enough content to keep your occupied during and well after the main story ends. The story, however, is rather hit or miss for most and difficult to recommend to anyone outside the show’s fanbase or general demographic.
For fans of the Sword Art Online series, getting Re: Hollow Fragment is a no-brainer. Aquria did well with Hollow Fragment as it provides an experience almost identical to the series.
It should, at least, hold enthusiasts long enough for Artdink’s upcoming Sword Art Online: Lost Song.