Developed by Aquria and Published by Bandai Namco. Sword Art Online RE: Hollow Fragment was originally released for the small screen of the Playstation Vita back in 2014, now ported to the big screen of the Playstation 4, complete with online play. Based on the Sword Art Online light novel series, Hollow Fragment is the second game in the series, Infinity Moment being the first.
Derived from the handheld version, Hollow Fragment is understandably a little rough around the edges while still proving to be a large improvement over the small screen version. Hollow Fragment can be a very addictive role playing adventure game. To make the experience more enjoyable its highly recommended for players to have had some prior knowledge of the series, as Hollow Fragment continues on from the ending of Sword Art Online, where Kirito has defeated Heathcliff, however the game hasn’t ended, instead Kirito is forced to clear the remaining 25 floors of Aincrad in order to escape, the levels themselves are unique and very well designed.
Following on from a certain point in the series allows the game to integrate refreshing and riveting in-game mechanics. The beauty for returning players is that they begin at Level 100. Kirito, the games playable protagonist is already a mastered player of Sword Art Online. Instead of leaving players with the feeling of being an amateur, instant access to a variety of attacks and skills is available, making the shape of the game very appealing.
While that particular setup may be appealing or suit veterans of the series, for newcomers to the game it might be an altogether different experience and could prove quite daunting for some as players are thrown straight in at the deep end, forced to learn the in game combat controls as well as the development of characters.
Though players start at Level 100, this is not the end of levelling up, moving up past Level 100 can prove to be rather slow and drawn out but can be equally as rewarding, there are many different skill trees to choose from, with lots of new techniques to learn and abilities to unlock. Hollow Fragment is at it’s most addictive, while experimenting with different disciplines to mould your loadout.
Some of the combat might be a little tricky to work out in the beginning, with patience and understanding, the combat system throughout Hollow Fragment can prove to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Combat throughout the game plays like an MMO. Players can guard, dodge, attack, but more importantly use skills. Hollow Fragments skills are separated into Sword Skills and Buffs. The amount of Skills available within the game are vast, coupled with the numerous weapon types to choose from, keeps the combat always feeling fresh. The combat within Hollow Fragment has even more depth to it with original sword skills, allowing players to create their own skill combos and deal a massive ammount of damage.
Kirito is not alone in his journey, a whole host of non playable companions are available from the in game roster. The female companions of Hollow Fragment appear to be infatuated with Kirito, which can lead to the certainty of romance, this of course does not come straight away but with time as the characters friendship increases. There are other advantages to increasing Kirito’s relationship with his chosen companion, the development of relationships leads to better combat syncing, allowing for more frequent joint attacks.
Players who don’t wish to fight alongside a computer controlled A.I can choose to jump online with either a friend or complete stranger, the online addition adds a lot of value to the game with its appealing nature, giving friends the chance to hunt down and take on the games dangerous beasts together. Players can complete the Hollow missions online, which is very similar to Monster Hunter. The online instructions are not very clear and can become confusing, the tutorial is slightly hidden which can cause frustration. However once able to venture online I found the multiplayer experience to be a lot of fun. There is the added option of being able to chat and trade with other players in the lobby.
Visually while Hollow Fragment is beautifully artistic, at times there are still frame rate drop issues while inside towns, this issue was frequent with the handheld version and appears to have not been fixed. The Playstation 4 version runs at 60fps while the PS Vita ran at 30fps but despite the difference in framerates at times the Playstation 4 version appears worse. Another area of concern is the lack of in game saving, with the only save feature occurring once Kirito has left an area. This downside is sure to prove very frustrating for many players and could prove to be a minor misstep.
The tutorials are not overly player friendly, leaving players to figure out a lot of the in game mechanics by themselves, the game doesn’t hold your hand in the way it possibly should, which may or may not appeal to the masses. Overall while there may be some slight issues with the game such as the frame drops or sudden crashes in game, Hollow Fragment is an addictive enjoyable role playing game with a lot of value to it.
Although Hollow Fragment is a port from the Playstation Vita, the game has been touched up, introducing all new character models, textures and a much better quality of artwork. Long gone are the, at times horrible translations that left the Vita version with a host of grammar errors, the Playstation version has been redone with pinpoint accuracy.
There is more to experience in Hollow Fragment then just the games main story, with Hollow Areas available to be explored during time off from the main story, this leads to a more challenging experience packed with extra loot and hidden bosses as well as being a great way to level up Kirito and his ally, the Hollow Areas provide some great Dungeon crawling experiences.
The soundtrack to the game is a very enjoyable and catchy, with an at times almost electro rock feel to it which really packs a punch, this combined with really subtle beautifully composed tracks, leave the game with a great sound while out and in combat. The game has a very authentic Japanese sound to it, which is very appealing. The Japanese voice acting is pretty flawless although the dialogue does tend to break up the action from time to time.
Overall although Sword Art Online RE: Hollow Fragment does very little in the way of welcoming new players to the series – sometimes its ok to have your hand held at the beginning of games, newcomers may struggle to adapt to the combat system but once the initial induction is over there is a great RPG ahead with many dungeons to explore and battles to experience. There are a few slight issues to the game but certainly not enough to sway potential buyers, especially at the bargain price the game is available at.
Throughout the game Kirito can unlock a variety of different techniques and skill trees, which with some experimenting can increase attacks in battle, depending on the player’s choice. There is a large array of companions to choose from which adds variety and of course there is the introduction of online play, which allows for friends to meet up and explore dungeons together.
Sword Art Online RE: Hollow Fragment was reviewed on the Playstation 4
Disclosure: game copy was provided by the publisher