Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization Review (PS4)on November 30, 2016 by Mitch Jay
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization takes us back to Aincrad, now known as Ainground with a few differences, for a new adventure featuring SAO’s expansive cast, as well as a new NPC, Premiere, who has no memory of who she is or what her role in Sword Art: Origin is.
Sword Art: Origin is a fitting name for the new game considering it’s very reminiscent of Aincrad, although sadly you’re spending a lot more time on foot rather than in the air now – you know, because you don’t have fairy wings anymore. Don’t worry though, everything about this game is far beyond anything that Hollow Fragment achieved and this is the Aincrad game that Hollow Fragment should’ve been. The game’s main quest revolves around Premiere, an NPC with seemingly no role in Ainground, when she approaches Kirito and her quest line begins anyway. Kirito and his friends insist on keeping her identity a secret so that she isn’t deleted, and so that they can help her complete her quest and become a full NPC.
This is the Aincrad game that Hollow Fragment should’ve been.
If the other 2 games haven’t made their point clear, the Sword Art Online games have plenty of fan-service which is both good and bad – I love being able to play as so many characters and put together a great team, but being able to romance anybody when it’s made clear you’re with Asuna (make no mistake, you’re Kirito no matter how you look or what your name is) feels extremely odd. I like Leafa’s character a lot, but I sure don’t want to take her to bed for ‘pillow talk’ when it’s clear she’s related to you! The whole romance and character bonding as a whole feels rather awkward although the CG art is usually lovely – it’s a shame that no cues were taken from the likes of Persona in regards to relationship building.
Combat-wise, Hollow Realization is the best SAO game yet and gone is the auto-combat which has been replaced by fully controlled, hack-and-slash combat with plenty of menacing boss battles. The hot-key toolbar at the bottom of the screen makes it easy to select which out of dozens of abilities you have at your disposal to perform, and you can have some assigned to the controller’s face buttons for quick, smooth battles. It’s fluid, intuitive and developer Aquria have created a game that really does feel like an MMO without actually being one. The main issue here is that, whilst the combat is inherently good, it’s not all that exciting. In its attempt to feel like an MMO, it ends up feeling like one but without the group of friends you’d usually have on a MMO.
Aquria have created a game that really does feel like an MMO.
Areas are vast and expansive, so it’s a shame that much of the exploring feels repetitive and shallow, with backtracking becoming a vital part of the game when you undertake the game’s various side-quests – even the main quests enjoy taking you on a grand tour of areas that would be far more beautiful if I wasn’t bored of walking for long periods of times. The map generally does a good job in telling you where to go, but having to access the menu to access the map is tedious and drawn out, especially when you’ll be consulting it often. It wasn’t long before I got bored and a little frustrated with the sometimes aimless running about, and it really sours the experience.
There have been enhancements regarding visuals, although it’s not a huge step from Lost Song, and sadly character models are still expressionless and stiff. The art direction, colour and CG images are fantastic and Aincrad has been re-created in great detail, which I’m sure will please fans of the series’ arguably most popular arc, but it’s let down by wide, empty areas, a lack of detail in character models and visuals which overall fall flat. Those looking for fan-service will be more than giddy though – have you seen that first image? It might be harmless, but I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, it’s something a tad more lewd!
It doesn’t really respect the source material.
Those who played Hollow Fragment on Vita may remember its abysmal localisation job – the English language was truly butchered, and it was not fixed until the release of Re: Hollow Fragment on PS4. What surprises me is that there are many typos in Hollow Realization to the point that it’s difficult to ignore. The subtitles are clear and easy to read, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like work sometimes! The audio features Japanese-only voice-acting featuring many of the anime’s actors and actresses and I have no issue here, and the soundtrack might not have blown me away but it fits Sword Art Online well and that’s a good thing.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization isn’t quite the game that I wanted it to be, and I can’t help but be a little disappointed by it. Is it a bad game? No, it isn’t, but it faces the same problem that the other games do in that it doesn’t really respect the source material, and Sword Art Online author Reki Kawahara being on board hasn’t made much difference. The romance aspect is shallow and has no consequence as you’re with Asuna regardless, and honestly it’s really uncomfortable to pursue any of the other girls. The combat is tighter than ever, but being a mostly single player experience makes it feel lifeless. Many fans will enjoy this game, but there will be a fair share of fans that feel betrayed by Hollow Realization.