With the onslaught of remakes that are being ported to consoles recently, it seems that anything even remotely popular can easily find itself starting on the small screen, eventually finding its way on to the big screen. Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment is no different, but how does it fair on the current generation of consoles?
Hollow fragment is no exception, originally a PSP game called SAO: Infinity Moment which was then upgraded for release on the Vita along with an expansion called Hollow Area, it seems that Bandai Namco decided it was worthwhile porting to the PS4 thanks to the original game’s and the anime’s popularity.
Unlike most other movie/anime games however, SAO Re: Hollow Fragment does not follow the traditional method of sticking to the established story, but instead focuses on an alternative storyline.
|Lots of exploration.|
First off then, a little about the game. Hollow fragment is a story driven JRPG that utilizes the narrative of Sword Art Online in order to base its game mechanics off. In portable JRPG fashion, most of the story is conveyed through the use of animated stills of characters with accompanied audio and text with the odd CG cut scene, the gameplay itself is a combination of an RPG and a dating sim allowing you to build relationships with up-to 100 different characters.
(For those of you unfamiliar with SAO, it is essentially an anime where 10,000 players find themselves trapped in a Virtual MMORPG and are given the objective to clear all 100 floors before they can log out. Oh and if you die in game you also die in the real world. Through a twist in the story, our protagonist Kirito manages to defeat the last boss Akihika Kayaba on the 75th floor in the anime however the in-game Kirito is still stuck in the game after defeating Kayaba and is therefore attempting to clear all 100 floors along with his comrades in order to escape.)
The story mode itself is single player only with the simulation of being a MMORPG. The town area that you initially start in has numerous avatars walking around, making conversation and interacting with the world. You will also see many of your friends walking around and you are given the ability to party up and have them support you in battle, unfortunately you are limited to only one party member whilst exploring the town area or the exterior aside from boss battles where a dozen players will help you to overcome the boss of each floor.
|You want some!?|
Players must progress through each floor sequentially conquering boss after boss, whilst completing various objectives in order to face the boss in the first place. Kirito (the protagonist) has a number of customization options that can be accessed at any time via his room at the inn and the player is free to choose gender, hair colour and the likes, however for any story sequences including cut scenes, Kirito is always reverted to default probably due to the fact that the cut-scenes are pre-rendered.
The new addition ‘The Hollow Area’ is also available at any time during the main story of the game. It is designed to be much harder than the main storyline and allows you to accumulate experience points quicker and level up through dungeon exploration. Although initially you only have one available character that you can partner up with pretty soon you are given the ability to bring back anyone you see fit to explore the numerous dungeons found in the Hollow area.
There is also an inclusion of the online multiplayer that slightly differentiates this re-release from its ancestors. This allows you to take your offline VMMORPG online, albeit in a limited state, enabling you and a buddy take on the dungeon crawling together to fight bosses. As the game starts after Kirito has already defeated Kayaba, the player starts at level 100 and has a great number of skills at his disposal for the dual blades skill tree. The player is then given the choice to experiment and develop any skill tree they choose for the different types of equipment available to Kirito. Each set of weapons has its own individual skill tree which, after gaining experience points and levelling up, can allow the acquisition of stronger and flashier skills.
|Oh so flashy!|
There are a lot of different systems running simultaneously and if you have not played any of the sword art games before, it is quite overwhelming. I found myself bombarded with text bubble after text bubble explaining what each and every little option and menu does, but never quite given the time to digest the importance of one before being shunted on to the next. A little patience and perseverance can pay off though, as it all starts to make sense after a few more bouts. The buddy system works very well too and adds an additional layer to a somewhat linear game. Many of the cast of the anime are here including characters in the latter episodes including Sinon and Leafa. All major characters can be approached and partied with, in town the system allows for Kirito to chat with his team-mate in order to raise his friendship level as well as gift them weapons that may be stronger than the ones he/she is currently holding.
Increasing the affinity level with each character takes some time, but you are rewarded with greater combo opportunities which can give you an edge in battle and allow you to pull off devastating damage to the enemies. After completing certain objectives, some characters also have small story cues, where a little insight is given on the background of each character and their ambitions/dreams, and although they serve no purpose in-game, it solidifies the everyday dilemmas of each cast member leaving an impression. Visuals, as you can imagine, are as to be expected in a remake, but although they don’t look too great on the PS4 in 2015, the stylization eases the blow enough for them to be passable. Not much has been changed from the initial version, however the game does benefit from an increased resolution.
Character models for the various monsters are impressive and are greatly varied using design cues from the show. Animations can sometimes be a little rigid, but again these are probably assets re-used from the initial game. A major flaw that seems to have been overlooked is camera control, due to the nature of the game, you can sometimes find yourself being pushed to the corner or against a wall and unable to see who is being targeted which can prove especially frustrating when fighting a tough enemy with groups of smaller enemies around. Another gripe is the fact that although the visuals are arguably basic, the town area usually drops the frame rates to appalling levels when there are a lot of characters around. Fortunately, it seems to only occur in the town area.
|Bosses like this on every floor.|
Overall the game has great level of interaction, but I feel that the patience required to learn how to play may not be for everyone. The developers realize that there is an audience for the show and used the source material well, it works great on a portable, however the inclusion of a multi player simply cannot justify the move on to the big screen, but seeing as the game is being sold for a third of retail price, fans of the show might find it worth a try.
What did you think of Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment (PS4)? Let us know in the comments or hit me up on twitter @01Saf
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