Starting off as simply a light novel series in Japan, Sword Art Online has grown to be a very popular franchise with manga, anime, and also a few different video games. Following up on the decent Sword Art: Hollow Fragment and Lost Song games, Kirito and company have now set off again on a completely new adventure in Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization.
Unlike the previous two games that focused on alternate timelines of the existing anime, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is set as a follow-up to the first season of the anime, though it takes place three years later. After the original Sword Art Online led to the death of many, it would have been seen crazy to reopen it, but that is what has been done with the Aincrad looking world known as Sword Art Online: Origins within the game.
One element that can hurt most any game is pace and Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization suffers from this at times. Very early in the game, you will realize that Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has a lot of dialogue in it. Like the previous Sword Art games, this leads to way too much exposition throughout, especially in the early goings, which will make people grow tired of the experience very quickly. Having to consistently button mash to get through these often superfluous conversations can get really grating after awhile.
What does help you get through so much text in the game is that Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization features voiced segments throughout most of the game. This is limited to the Japanese voices for those that might have been hoping to get the English dub, but the voices here do a great job at providing emotion and intensity when it is necessary, though it would have been even better with more anime style cutscenes rather than characters’ avatars on a static background.
While the game does have an overabundance of conversations throughout the game, it doesn’t explain the events leading up to the game well enough. It does provide some character introductions for the many charming characters that Sword Art Online is known for throughout, which is helpful for players. However, it is still going to be very pretty confusing, which could really alienate anybody that hasn’t watched the anime prior.
Even though it may require you to know at some something about the series coming in, the plot of Hollow Realization itself is pretty solid. The focus here is on NPCs inside the actual Sword Art Online: Origins game that Kirito is a part of, especially centered on one very mysterious NPC. This story is not quite as compelling as the ones in the anime, but it still does enough to keep the player interested through the impressively long main story.
The world of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization feels much more expansive than before, with the locations you are walking between feeling much more open and less constrained than in previous games. In town like areas, load times can be pretty annoying, as each area still isn’t all that big. The outside areas are bigger and therefore do not suffer from this quite as much. It’s probable the load times are better on the PS4 version, but the Vita’s definitely can suffer from long ones at times.
An aspect of the previous Sword Art Online games is that your character started off at a relatively high level already, due to it being set in alternate versions of the story from the anime. However, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization actually starts you off at level 1 considering this is a new version of Sword Art Online that they have entered, which allows you to grow more than ever before in the previous iterations.
The two previous Sword Art Online games have featured varying gameplay styles, and Hollow Realization goes back more towards the gameplay of the first. Something brand new here is that this game allows you to have up to four people in your party at a time, which is made up of characters you choose to recruit, whether that’s known characters like Asuna or other unknown NPCs you can find in the game.
More open and less constrained than in previous games
While exploring the world inside this game, you’ll come across a variety of different creatures to fight, with some being slightly different versions of others found in the game. You can target the enemy with your regular attacks, or pull off stronger combo attacks at the risk of leaving yourself vulnerable due to the real time aspect of the combat. Teaming up with the other characters in your party is also very important, which can help you with staggering your enemy and dealing more damage at a faster pace.
This combat always seems to flow pretty well, though it does occasionally have some technical hiccups on the PS Vita version. What may be most impressive here is that the developer manages to implement combat that actually does feel like it is straight from an MMO, though it still manages to fit perfectly in a single player experience, which is really hard to do.
The Sword Art series of games have varied in their release platforms, with this one being the first to launch specifically for PS4 and PS Vita at launch in Japan and the US. What is helpful about the simultaneous release of Hollow Realization is that Cross Save is included once again. For those that play the PS4 version, having the ability to transfer your save with ease to the PS Vita for on the go is a huge help, though you will have to purchase the game twice to utilize it as there is no cross buy.
Games based on Sword Art Online have done a good job at recreating the style of the anime in the past, though each having their own flaws. While this is mostly the case with Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, there is no doubt that this one is the most fully realized version of the series in game form yet. The combat is well designed and the worlds feels more expansive and alive than ever, but the pacing with the story and overabundance of dialogue prevent Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization from taking the series to the next level.