Sword Art Online: RE Hollow Fragment – Impression
We have a complex relationship with Sword Art Online the anime, we love it for certain reasons but it also makes us cringe for other reasons. However, it seems that we may able to get over the cringe worthy things and enjoy ourselves with Sword Art Online: RE Hallow Fragment. This impression of SAO the anime coincides with the video game experience. It makes sense given that Hollow Fragment doesn’t run too far from its source material.
We love the combat in SAO: RE Hollow Fragment. The way the system works is very much like a typical MMORPG. Given that we are avid Final Fantasy 14 players, this was more than welcoming. You basically get two sets of custom bars that allow you to quickly access certain attacks, abilities, or items. This reminded us a lot of the hot bars in FF14. As we fiddled with our custom bars we realized quickly that we would be adding and dropping different items as we went through the story.
The game has you playing with one other character. Part of this duo dynamic is balancing agro, or the mob’s attention. As you continue on in battle, you’ll see that your character will increase in agro. This is when you switch positions with your ally. When you do, you’ll be able to gain more SP, which is needed for gaining access to more powerful attacks.
We admit that we were worried that the party AI was going to be a little questionable but we haven’t had much of a problem, at least in beginning of the game. As a matter of fact, our ally was pretty vocal with telling us when we should swap, when to use an ability and even combined attacks with us. What makes the dynamic even more interesting is that you can encourage your ally to repeat certain things they do in battle by praising them. We used this during harder battles, and it also helped to get our SP back up.
The combat is only enhanced with the addition of the SAO’s MMO setting. It was interesting running around town, seeing different people getting ready to do their quests or just relaxing and crafting. It made us feel like we were in a private FF14 game. It’s also funny to run into people you know from the story that greet you when you run into them.
The battle areas also have this appeal. During our early quests, we ran into adventurers who were battling their own enemies, or who were forming parties to take down a baddie. You have the ability to help them, and we have heard that by doing so you can gain the trust and admiration of some of these NPC’s. Perhaps we will explore this a little more as we get further into the story.
The story is pretty solid and faithful to the anime. The game opens up with a beautiful 3D cut scene of Kirito (you) running into a mysterious girl. You both drop into a place outside of the story’s main area called “Hollow Fragment.” Finding out where this place originated, and why it exists is part of the storyline. Of course, like any branch of SAO, the new mysterious character is a girl that is not only pretty by anime standards, but also becomes yet another part of the Harem of Kirito. We will explain a little more about this later. Regardless though, the story has that same sense of mystery that the original anime does and we felt engaged right away. We also felt a twinge of sympathy for the new character, as it seems she’s trapped in the Hollow Fragment area.
The story is very dialogue heavy, especially the beginning. Perhaps this is what makes it harder to sit through at points. When a problem is presented, it takes the cast quite a few paragraphs (literally) to internalize and resolve the problems. On top of this, since there are quite a few characters to cycle through and all of them have something to say, you’ll find yourself going through roughly the same dialogue. This sounds mostly negative, but anyone who’s a fan of the anime will say, this is somewhat true with some parts of the anime as well. You tend to just get through the slower parts because you know that it’s worth it in the end.
Speaking of the story and the combat, they revolve around the Hollow Fragment dungeon and the anime’s story dungeon Aincrad. As for Aincrad, the story splits in that everyone is still stuck in the game world even after the story’s boss is defeated. To say that Hollow Fragment is a dungeon crawler and somewhat of a grind is a bit of an understatement. For us, we don’t mind this, and expected this given that the story discussed how long it took them to fight their way through the tower. Additionally, anyone who plays an MMO knows that “the grind” is part of the deal. We have heard that completionists will find themselves spending upwards of 200+ hours in this game, especially since this version of the game has even more added content in comparison to its already meaty PS Vita version.
The “Harem of Kirito.”
The first thing we realized when we got into the game was that there was a huge harem element to Hollow Fragment. Kirito is a chick magnet and all the girls come to the yard for his digital milkshake. Even though he is still married to Asuna, it’s more than obvious that all of the female characters are meant to love him and want to be near him.
Let us just be very honest. Some of us here at PopGeekly dislike harem anime. Or at least, some of us here hate the stereotypical male harem. I’m sure a lot of you might know who that is >.>.
Interestingly each female character can be romanced, regardless of you being married to Asuna. On top of this, the game widely ignores the male characters with only Kirito’s “bro” Klein being the only one around. During combat, we found ourselves comfortable, but we started to cringe when we were abruptly thrown into another cut scene were all the girls want Kirito’s attention. You even get an achievement for romancing all the women. You also get new clothes for them, and an intimate cut scene.
If you are able to get past the harem elements you will find a well written story. The female characters, like Asuna have a lot of depth to them. Also, even though you do play as Kirito from the anime, the developers did put some effort into making fans of alternate playstyles feel included. They did this by adding additional customization options, which doesn’t do too much to Kirito except provide some gender fluidity. You also have the ability to romance Klein, which is what some of us are planning on doing.
Hollow Fragment isn’t really a brutal game, but the way they created the tutorial gives off that impression. What we mean by this is that you’ll be given brief tutorials in the beginning of the game, but you better read that stuff at least ten times over and take notes. If you don’t, you’re going to find yourself a bit lost once the cut scenes end. We feel like this is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it really gives you the freedom to explore the game and learn to do things for yourself. Gamers who have become familiar with the more recent games will be frustrated with this lack of hand holding and you can definitely put us in that group.
However, instead of getting upset about this, we embraced it. And we are glad we did as it made the story feel a little more like an MMO, where things are being thrown at you constantly.
The game is going to be fun. Some of us will probably roll our eyes and skip the harem-ish parts, but we are sure you will genuinely enjoy the journey like we did. Cringe your way through the harem and stay for the story.