Game Review: Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization (PS4)
28/11/2016 Leave a comment
It’s only been a year since Bandai Namco Entertainment released Sword Art Online: Lost Song, one of the very few JPRG titles that managed to keep me immersed until the very end, onto the PS4 and PS Vita and yet here we are with Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization; a brand new entry into the franchise that continues the ever expanding story. Is it any good though? Well that’s the important question; so let’s take a look at it!
|Title:||Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization|
|Publisher:||Bandai Namco Entertainment|
|Resolution:||1920 x 1080
Developed by Aquria, the Japanese development studio responsible for the original Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment PSP game as well as the Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment PS Vita game, and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment comes Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization; the fourth instalment into the Sword Art Online videogame timeline which sees Kirito, Asuna and the rest of the gang embark on a new adventure within the VRMMORPG (Virtual-Reality-Massively-Multiplaye-Online-Role-Playing-Game) known as Sword Art Origin and it’s hub world of Ainground.
The story here is that Sword Art Origin is the newly released VRMMORPG and it once again sees the entire Sword Art Online cast-list find themselves introduced into this new virtual reality game that has been built on the foundations of the previous Sword Art Online game. Fortunately for our cast of characters the ‘Death Game’ that existed within Sword Art Online is nowhere to be found and as such our cast of characters can play through the game as originally intended. That is until they meet a mysterious NPC (Non-Player-Character) who has no purpose within the game other than a potential broken quest. As you would expect; intrigued by this new-found-character Kirito, and in turn the rest of the SAO Cast, agree to discover her true purpose within the game and as a result a new in-depth story begins to unfold – one which features a variety of interesting twists and turns for those involved.
As with previous Sword Art Online games it is an interesting storyline and it’s one that carries the player forward throughout the entire game with dialogue presented in visual novel form with glorious artwork and while the story of this NPC Character, who is later named Premiere by our group of protagonists, may be the reason you’ll carry on playing the game it is actually the extensive amount of in-game content that will take up your extensive gameplay time. I’m not suggesting that the story of Premiere is short-lived, far from it, it’s just that the amount of side-quests, self-exploration, grinding and romance elements will far exceed your storyline progression.
Thats right; in-depth character elements, such as Romance, Relationships and Character Customisation, which were present in Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, but were removed from Sword Art Online: Lost Song, are now present in this Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization game. For instance despite being referred to as ‘Kirito’ you can actually fully customise and rename this character to your own desire while the newly re-implemented romance elements can see you become ‘Lovey-Dovey’ with any character within the game. It’s a feature I never really became accustomed to within Hollow Fragment and yet it returns here within Hollow Realization and, in some aspects at least, it operates in exactly the same manner. Affection is the proper terminology for the romance system and it will see your bond with various characters become stronger to a point that you can not only bridal carry the character but engage in intimate pillow-talk with that character. Sword Art Online has often been referred to as a bit of a harem; and with the reinclusion of these features you can now make your own harem within Hollow Realization; just like you could in Hollow Fragment. Like I said; personally it’s not one for me – and it’s a system I struggle to get to grips with – but its here if players so wish to use it.
For me the Affection System was a difficult learning curve within Hollow Fragment and as such seeing it return in Hollow Realization is a bit of a heartache; fortunately some adjusts have been made to this feature to make it much more accessible and the same can also be said for other features of the game; namely the combat mechanics and the on-screen HUD. In Hollow Fragment the combat seemed relatively sluggish and automatic; while the on-screen HUD seemed overpowering and complicated; but now within Hollow Realization the combat mechanics have been tuned to offer a more simplistic approach and –in some aspects at least – try to mirror those within Lost Song.
There’s no denying that the on-screen HUD for Hollow Realization, much like its predecessor Hollow Fragment, is a bit overwhelming but after spending some time with it you’ll learn that it’s not too bad. For starters controlling the character and the camera is done via the analog sticks while the Playstation buttons are used to perform jump (X), slash attack (Square), equipped skill (Triangle) or use higlighted the item (Circle) with dodge being left to R1 and the other L1, L2 and R2 buttons left to interact with the other characters (such as well done, or heal). The HUD display in the centre of the screen lists obtained skills as well as items and by using the D-Pad you can highlight a choosen skill, or item, and then use it by pressing the Circle button. In short; your entire combat system is mapped to the controller and it flows quite naturally once you’ve learned to use it.
Alternative options, such as viewing your skill-tree, equipping items or managing quests are done through the pause screen. As you can imagine the skill-tree is used to unlock new abilities and attacks and depending on the weapon being used will result in different abilities being unlocked for use. Of course as this is a simulated online MMORPG experience and accessing the pause menu will NOT pause the game so if in combat you can still be attacked or if pausing within a hub world you’ll find that other characters will still go about their activities. It’s a realistic experience and it’s a simple feat that has carried over from past games in the Sword Art Online franchise.
Speaking of hub-worlds the main hub world is separated into several areas each of which seem to be inspired by the hub-world within Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment but albeit on a much larger scale. Generally the hub worlds are separated in transport gate, shops, and relaxation area with each area littered with characters that can be interacted with and recruited. This, in some aspects, is one of Hollow Realizations new talking points – the ability that every character within the game, with some exclusions, can be interacted with and recruited to your party and then used in quests scattered across the world. Speaking of parties players can recruit up to three additional characters, be it main members of the Sword Art Online cast or anyone within the game itself, resulting in a party of four and larger raids and quests can only be acomplished by using these larger parties. In some aspects the more characters within a party the easy a quest will be; which is the same for most MMORPG’s on the market.
Personally I neglected to use this feature, as I tended to just switch between the main cast of SAO Characters, but it’s nice to have that freedom of choosing anyone you want in the world and befriending them to venture on a mission with you. Once again it adds to that realism of virtually simulating an MMORPG without actually being online or engaging with other players. It’s a solo player game but with the functionality of a massively multiplayer online game and once again it works flawlessly within this game.
The Hub-World is of course the starting point in any MMORPG and within Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization this experience has been simulated extremely well; not just because of how populated it is, both in characters and shops, but it is used to venture forward into quests (via the quest board located in each area) and then enter the many dungeons available on the world map. The idea is that players would use the Transport Gate to access different parts of the world; to which they will be transported to a dungeon of sorts – such as an open field or dark rocky surroundings. Each location is varied and enemies appear in various amounts; however unlike previous games these monsters will not attack you unless prevoked. It’s quite refreshing to walk around a dungeon map without having to defend myself from an enemy attack and it makes the game a more ‘peaceful’ environment and slightly easier to handle when dealing with tough situations; which bizarrely enough the monsters do seem overpowered at times.
Speaking of tough situations specialised events can occur during an exploration of a dungeon map and unlike regular enemies on the map defeating them will award special bonuses. For instance one of the first events will task you in defeating numerous boar’s to which not only is knowledge acquired but a special item is also awarded. Further into this particular dungeon another event will see a giant tree-type-monster destroying the surrounding area with you being tasked to stop it. These events are timed and although they appear ‘every-time’ you enter the location it offers that ‘variety’ that previous games in the franchise did not as even if you are already on a quest these events will still take place. A word of warning though; these events will be at a higher difficulty than monsters in the surrounding area; so you may have to wait before actually taking the event on.
It’s safe to say that Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is filled to the brim with content, more so than previous entries into the franchise; but unfortunately it’s not without its problem and most relate to my own personal desires of the game. For starters the text and icons on-screen can be difficult to read during the screen size, even on larger screens, and at times I found myself getting closer to the screen (which is a 49” LED 2 metres away) for me to understand the text thats listed in the HUD or around the hub world. This carries on to my second complaint; the hub-world is larger than needed and shops have no indication as to what they are until you talk with them. Of course generic clues are scattered around the shop, such as weapons or potions, but it’s always nice to know what they are before you interact with them. Finally enemies can be overpowered and destructive resulting in the game being more ‘grinding’ than expected; a feat which very rarely occurred within Sword Art Online: Lost Song as at times within that particular game I defeated monsters that were several hundred levels higher than me.
Of course these are just personal niggles I have with Hollow Realization but there is more annoyances to be found; such as the relatively basic visuals of the game – it looks like a PS2 remastered for the PS4 – and the fact that characters can walk through each other (especially enemies when not in combat) and that general clipping occurs everywhere within the game. For me the game doesn’t feel as polished as it could be and in my eyes Sword Art Online: Lost Song still offers the better gameplay experience, both visually and storyline.
Truth be told though; these are just minor blemishes on what is really an amazing game. From my perspective Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a sequel to Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment as everything that made the original PS Vita has been improved and expanded upon within this game; which is what a sequel should do. Sure enough the visuals may not be as impressive as Dark Souls III but it offers then extensive gameplay with an interesting, and entertaining, story to go along with it. If you are hoping Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization will be similar to Lost Song then you’ll be disappointed, as its nothing of the sort; but if you enjoyed Hollow Fragment then you’ll love what Hollow Realization has to offer.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is now available for the PS4 and PS Vita in both Retail and Digital formats.