|Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment
|July 28th, 2015
|ESRB – Teen or PEGI-12
Months ago, when I first picked up Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for the PlayStation Vita, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Sure, I had seen the anime, but, at this point, it hadn’t really clicked with me. I saw a lot of people playing the game and sharing pics on Twitter, so I was willing to give it a shot. I am very happy that I did. Not only did it turn out to be one of my favorite Vita games, it really got me into the entire franchise. Needless to say, I was very excited when Bandai Namco announced that Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, an upgraded PS4 port, would be releasing soon. Did this upgrade make vast improvements to something I really liked already or is it a lackluster port?
This title is actually two different games in one. The first is Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment which was originally released on the PSP. This game closely follows the Aincrad arc anime story, with the players trapped in a new type of Virtual Reality MMO fighting for survival, since death in the game means death in real life. However, unlike in the anime, after certain events on Floor 75, the players are not allowed to leave to the game. They are now stuck on the higher floors and must forge forward to Floor 100 to get back to the real world.
The new story section takes place is a mysterious place called “The Hollow.” Kirito is suddenly teleported there by some unknown force. He then meets a girl called Philia. She has an orange marker, which means she has harmed another player, but she seems very nice. She has lost her memories and appears to be stuck in this area. Kirito, being a sucker for the ladies as always, agrees to help her explore this strange area and uncover what secrets it may hold.
I really enjoyed both of these stories. While The Hollow story is much more straightforward and all action, the story in Aincrad is filled lots of funny — and somewhat ecchi — scenes of the characters interacting. I enjoyed these much more with the new translation. That’s not to say that story doesn’t have its serious moments, as well, but I just had more fun watching the gang hang out together.
You can definitely tell the graphics have been upscaled. The character models look very nice, and a lot of care was given to them during this process. However, some of the monster models and environments were not done as well. This is not to say they look bad, but you will notice a difference between the two. The frame rate has improved in this version of the game. It now runs at 1080p at 60fps with hardly any slowdown. You will still get a slowdown in town hub if there is a ton of NPCs wandering around or if you’re in an area that is just overrun by monsters.
For those that enjoyed the anime, you will be happy to know all of the Japanese voice actors have returned to reprise their roles. There is no English dub, so this may be a drawback for some fans. The music is all top notch, as well. While these tracks are different from those found in the anime, they do a very nice job of complementing the story with nice, somber tones for emotional moments and more quirky tunes for lighter ones. The battles theme is upbeat and gets you ready for a fight, and the themes in The Hollow are all a pleasure to listen to, as well.
Gameplay begins with you making an avatar. There are quite a few options available such as height, eye type, face, and more. Something new to this version is that you can create a female avatar. While your character will always be referred to as Kirito, the avatar design keeps things unique. You will also be able to use the avatar in the multiplayer modes on and offline.
Once your avatar is created, you are thrown into The Hollow story right off the bat, but, after a few short battle tutorials, you will be able to travel to the Sophia Arc on floor 76. This area serves as the hub of the game. In this town, you will find an inn, shops, a blacksmith, and a teleport gate. Here, other players can be asked to be your partner. You can ask one of main cast or some of the special NPCs to be your partner. If one of the main cast is your partner, you can have chats with them to build affection. These conversations still make little sense and seem like random phrases thrown together even with the new translation, so you generally find yourself hitting R trigger to agree. If you fill up the conversation bar at the bottom of the screen during a chat, the character’s mood will change, allowing you do different things such as hold hands, or carry them princess style. This is much easier to do if you have a conversation at certain spots in town. The game refers to these as “Date spots.” Some of these are in front of the fountain, in front of the food stands, and in Kirito’s room. You can even trigger a bed scene with your favorite waifu.
Now that we have a partner, we’re ready to head out into the field. You can either choose to do The Hollow section or clear out the 100 floors of Aincrad. You will want to try and do The Hollow before climbing to the higher floors in Aincrad so you don’t miss any event scenes. These scenes are easy to find because, at the beginning of each new floor or Hollow section, you can check your Events List to see where these events take place and with whom.
Combat works like a standard MMORPG. It is an active system in which Kirito will auto-attack enemies when they are in range. You can perform Burst Attacks by pressing the Circle button, which do more damage, but will consume your burst gauge. You can set a sword skill to automatically follow a series of Burst Attacks to finish up the combo. Note that using these attacks will raise the combat risk. What is risk, you ask? Basically, the higher the risk, the more damage you deal and receive. You will need to manage this effectively to win certain battles.
Speaking of skills, there are tons of skills in the game. It’s almost unnerving how many there are. You can press both of the top triggers to open the entire skills palette. These include all of the sword skills for each different weapon, healing skills, buffing and de-buffing skills and many more. Using skills will consume SP. However, in this version, sword skills will not consume SP. This change was made to make the game feel closer to the anime. You will learn these with skill points you earn by leveling up or gaining proficiency with all of the different weapons in the game. Some skills cannot be obtained until you have reached a certain level with the required weapon. For example, you cannot use two-handed weapon sword skills until you have mastered one-handed weapons. You gain skill points with weapons by simply using them in combat. The game will auto-save as soon as you enter a new screen on the map, so don’t be afraid to experiment with weapons you’re not great with.