Sword Art Online is a relative newcomer to the anime scene, though it has quickly amassed a major following since its debut in 2012. Initially being based on a series of light novels, Sword Art Online of course received a game adaptation for the PSP, which later was redone for a Vita release with last year’s Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. With a much larger audience available, the game has now been ported to PS4 as Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, that even with a few new features, still leaves a lot to be desired.
The story of Sword Art Online in the anime and other mediums is very intriguing on its own, so it is good to see it mostly in line with what we’ve seen before and change it up a bit. Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment takes most of what happened in the anime, but with essentially a different end to the first arc, that leaves them stranded in the world of Aincrad. There are also some little changes here and there as well, like the inclusion of Leafa into Aincrad, when she doesn’t pop up until Alfheim otherwise. The decision to go with this alternate universe was a great idea, as it allows for more surprises and expansion on the story, without feeling like just a retread of the show’s story.
While the story here is definitely quality, the problem is that it’s way too intrusive at times. There are a few actual cutscenes here and there, but most of the time we get characters standing in front of static backgrounds, where they simply converse with one another. These seem to go on nearly forever, spreading apart the actual gameplay way too much, especially early in the game when you should be able to delve right into it and not get bored right out of the gate.
These simplistic conversations do look very good however, with them feeling like they were ripped straight out of the anime itself. The cutscenes look quite good themselves, though all too uncommon and short, with a blend of cel-shaded 3D animation that feels like a natural progression of the art found in Sword Art Online. The rest, however, is lacking quite a bit graphically for a PS4 game, due to being a port of a Vita title, unlike the full remake experience given to a game like Final Fantasy Type-0 HD.
The Vita version suffered from a poor translation of the original Japanese version, but Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment fixes that with a brand new translation that is very spot on. Sadly, this still does not include an English voiceover option, but the Japanese is still more than fine here.
The most baffling decision in the Vita release of the game is still very much present in Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, but made even worse with an addition that could very well been cool. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment already allowed you to customize your character at the start, including the hair, eyes, name, and overall design. The problem was that this was completely wiped away during all cutscenes, with your custom version only showing up in combat and in the overworld.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment takes it one step further by making it even more frustrating. Now, players can choose to make their character female as well, but the exact same problem is still present. The cutscenes and everything have Kirito from the series itself in place of the created characters, with talk of him being married to Asuna and such, even if you create a female. If they weren’t even going to bother to adjust things for your creation, they should have just left that out entirely, similar to main characters in the Final Fantasy series. This is exactly the type of game where true customization should have been important, and yet it’s completely glossed over and a waste.
The game of Sword Art Online actually within the game is a MMORPG, so the gameplay found in Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment feels quite different from your typical offline RPG experience, but rather more like the massively multiplayer online experience, minus the online and other players. The combat is incredibly fast paced and well designed, with a real time combat system that plays like most MMOs. You can team up with other characters during the game, such as Asuna, but you only control your personal character, while only giving out commands to the other.
The combat at its core is simple enough, with basic attacks that can be complemented with other special abilities, and especially Sword Skills. These abilities and Sword Skills are mapped to the face buttons, with further ones available by pressing the L1 and R1 buttons. You can even customize just how they are laid out, making it possible to set it up just as you find most comfortable for battle. This is incredibly important in the very difficult boss battles that can take a long time and require a lot of precision, which can be helped by making your skills as easy to find as possible.
As you play through the 25 floors of Sword Art Online from 76-100, you will come across numerous enemies and must level accordingly. Due to starting after the characters have been in the game for two years, you are already level 100 when it starts, which is kind of unique for a game like this. However, it is almost as if you are level 1 in comparison, with the max level cap even increasing from 250 to 300 this time around. The multiple weapon types and branching skill tree are also something that really stand out in Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, serving as an excellent way to have players keep playing beyond the main story.
Provides quite a lengthy experience for what is essentially a bargain price
The Hollow Area in the game is a fantastic testing ground for these more powerful weapons and skills, which can also be a great place to level up. Beyond the main story and Hollow Area, there are a number of quests available as well. These are pretty standard to MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV, and with this being set in a MMO itself, it makes sense to have very similar style quests for you to take on. These can consist of defeating a certain numbers of enemies in an area to finding items and returning them to the quest giver. Combining all of these with the main story and Hollow Area, this game provides quite a lengthy experience for what is essentially a bargain price.
This is enhanced even further with the big addition of online multiplayer, rather than the ad-hoc system found in the PS Vita version. You cannot play the full game with others, but through this multiplayer mode, you can take your character online with up to three others and explore in a limited capacity. While not all that in-depth, it does help to make the game feel more like a MMO, just like the series it is based upon.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment actually runs very well throughout combat, even with multiple enemies attacking at once on the screen. However, for some reason the game just cannot seem to handle the hub town of Arc Sophia, with an abundance of frame rate drops just when walking around the town and encountering the NPCs. Combined with the terrible load times between areas, visiting Arc Sophia can start to feel like a chore more than anything else.
One of the key aspects that any RPG should have period are multiple save slots, but for some reason here you are limited to one. That is also combined with an autosave system that can cause issues if you by chance mess something up. Literally, the only way to access more than one save on a system is to switch to another user completely on the PS4 and do it that way, which should never be the case with a RPG.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment tries to prove that the third time is the charm, taking mostly the same game that was on PSP, then PS Vita, and now bringing it to PS4. The world feels just like it is transferred right out of the anime series, complete with a much improved translation this time, though the dialogue manages to get in the way of the very well crafted and tight gameplay. If one can overlook the useless create a character and multiple other issues, some enjoyment can be had, but likely only those with experience of the anime itself will find a really fun experience with Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment
- Available On: PS4
- Published By: Bandai Namco Games
- Developed By: Bandai Namco Games
- Genre: RPG
- US Release Date: July 28th, 2015
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "A game largely ingrained in its source material, Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment features a strong combat system and a ton of content at a bargain price, but the perplexing character creator and other flaws may ruin it for those that are not already fans of the franchise."
- Excellently designed combat system
- Story is perfect complement to anime for fans
- Character creator is useless
- Frame rate drops and load times in hub town