Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization
A Hollow Experience
  • Release Date
    10.27.2016
  • Publisher
    Aquria
  • Developer
    Bandai Namco Entertainment
  • Time Played
    8 hrs
  • Playstation 4
  • PSVita
Release Date
10.27.2016

Publisher
Aquria

Developer
Bandai Namco Entertainment

Time Played
?
8 hrs
The total time played before writing this review.

  • Playstation 4
  • PSVita
Some games aspire to be great and succeed, being remembered and recommended for years, if not decades. Some games are unfortunate failures, also remembered for years, but for very different reasons. And then there are some games that are “just okay”. Games where, if you mention them, you’ll see a shrug and probably get a mumbled “s’ alright, I guess…” Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has managed to comfortably nestle itself into that last category, bringing in many different features that are all implemented, but not necessarily in a good way. Developed by Aquria and published by Bandai Namco, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization (SAO: HR for short) is the fourth in a list of games based upon the light novel and anime series and is available on the Playstation 4 and the Vita. If you’re like me and don’t have a very good grasp on the series or the previous games, don’t worry! The game will briefly address past events in the series and, upon meeting a new character, will introduce them with a short blub on their history with Kirito, the main character of SAO.
THE GOOD
Compared to the older games, the graphics have improved substantially, retaining an anime-esque style with 3D models. Locations are bright and colorful and the music lends itself to the atmosphere. Along the same lines, the dialogue is almost entirely voiced (in Japanese only, mind) and the original voice actors from the show and previous games have been brought back to reprise their roles. And there are plenty of characters to talk to, which is good, since the entirety of your party in the single-player campaign is comprised of these main characters. While you can always opt to have NPCs join you, it doesn’t really make sense…unless you like journeying with a completely silent group.

Compared to the older games, the graphics have improved substantially.

Battle is somewhat difficult to understand at first, even with the forced tutorial that you must complete before the game starts properly. That said, once you get the knack for it, it becomes much more fun, with challenge relying almost entirely on your ability to make decisions quickly. In a wonderful change from previous games, you are able to issue basic commands to your party members, which tell them to dodge, heal, or focus on a specific enemy. Heavy attacks are telegraphed by enemies as well, so it’s easy to figure out the best course of action to take. There are also NPCs out on the field with you now, so instead of randomly attacking you, they’ll be off fighting enemies on their own; time it right and you can end up getting that little boost of extra help you needed to kill a tough boss.

THE BAD
SAO: HR is not without its flaws, though. The game encourages you to create a custom character upon start-up…but they aren’t very custom. See, you spend a healthy amount of time choosing the sex and appearance of your character, even going so far as to choose a voice…but it doesn’t make a lick of difference. Sure, you’ll see the character that you created running around and fighting enemies, you’ll even hear their battle grunts every once in a while, but that’s the extent of what makes your character “you”. In-game, your character is, essentially, Kirito from the series. In cutscenes, you don’t hear the voice you chose, but Kirito’s (this can be turned off in options). As if to add insult to injury, the characters that you spend time with will still refer to you as a male/Kirito; sorry, ladies. Your appearance matters in multiplayer, but beyond that, it’s a pointless feature.

The game is a mix of action and visual novel, with a majority of the gameplay being action-based and the stuff that moves the plot forward being told in a visual novel fashion. Sadly, a huge chunk of the action that moves said plot is also in visual novel format. So you can read a big chunk of text about an awesome fight with a boss, accompanied by grunts and shouts, but you don’t actually see anything, which can leave you feeling incredibly disappointed and underwhelmed.

A huge chunk of the game is standard boring MMO quests that you accept from a quest board.

Every MMO has its standard features and SAO: HR takes all of the most tedious and painful aspects of a common MMO and pastes them in as-is with no thought as to whether or not it would serve to make the game better. There are skill bars to use numerous abilities that you unlock, but they make the UI cluttered and the gameplay frustrating. There is only so much maneuvering you can do with a PS4 controller compared to a mouse and keyboard. Quests can’t be tracked, so you can choose to open up two different menus to see your progress or hope that you catch the quick and tiny update in the corner of the screen. Most annoyingly of all, a huge chunk of the game is standard boring MMO quests that you accept from a quest board. Go fetch me x of this hard-to-get drop! Go kill x of this enemy! It’s all pointless busy work that belongs in an MMO, not in a $60 single-player MMO-themed game.

Introduced in this game is something called the “affection system”. Summarizing to the best of my ability, it is a system where you can alter the speech patterns, fighting choices, and skill gains of your party members depending on when you choose to compliment them on the field. Unfortunately, this system, which could have been really interesting, is barely explained in the game and a search online will lead you to other players around the world being absolutely baffled on how it works. I was able to make one party member sound a bit more cheerful instead of shy when she chose to say something, but beyond that? No idea. It’s frustrating because this system seems to be the only proper way to help nudge your team into working well with each other without having to tell them what to do…but it’s left as a guessing game.

There are also bugs abound ranging from “enemy you have to kill is stuck in the wall” to “this cutscene ended and the game had to close and restart itself because it hiccupped” that haven’t been fixed, so that’s definitely something to think about before making the leap to play this game. I, personally, had to spend time dealing with enemies sinking into the ground or spawning inside of rock walls, which turned two minute fights into five minute frustrating experiences.

THE TAKEAWAY
If you’re really into the Sword Art Online universe I’m sure this game will satiate your SAO needs. Fights in the game are high-tension and pretty fun when everything works as intended, the bright world keeps it from feeling too much like a slog most of the time, and character banter can be fun to listen to. But after a while, the beauty of the game fades away and all that’s left are fetch quests, a by-the-numbers story, and features that confuse more than help. If you can find a way to try the game before buying it, I highly recommend you do so, as this is not for everyone. Personally, I would have liked it more if it hadn’t tried to take everything that makes an MMO and put it into a single-player experience. Fetch quests? Seriously?
A pretty standard anime-based video game experience unfortunately marred by poor design choices and game-breaking bugs.”
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