Published on August 19th, 2015 | by Sean Warhurst
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment PS4 Review
Summary: For the most part the story elements are deftly handled and Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment offers up a solid RPG experience at a budget price.
Originally an exclusive for the Vita before being ported to the PlayStation 4, Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment boasts a visual retouch and a translation that improves greatly upon the much maligned original release.
Continuing the adventures of Kazuto ‘Kirito’ Kirigaya from the popular anime series, SAO RE: Hollow Fragment plunges players into the virtual MMORPG world Kirito and 10,000 others have found themselves trapped within, unable to log out and return to the real world until a player manages to reach the hundredth level and slay the final boss.
Now, full disclosure: I’ve never seen, nor read, anything to do with the Sword Art Online universe before.
Although the central concept is pretty easy to grasp, SAO RE: Hollow Fragment starts from a specific point in the established narrative and the game assumes you’re well versed on the myriad backstories and plot strands that were explored prior to this setting, making the game near impenetrable for newcomers.
This is made worse by the fact that the developers make absolutely no effort to offer even a brief synopsis of events leading up to the game until about 90 minutes into the story; personally, I felt compelled to go off and spend a few hours immersing myself in Sword Art Online lore before continuing past the first dungeon area.
There are some benefits to starting the game so far into the main story though; for example, Kirito starts the game at level 100 as he’s spent enough time in the game to become a skilled player. There are also a wide variety of companions to select from due to Kirito’s previously established relationships.
The game begins after Kirtito’s battle with SAO’s creator, which led to a glitch altering the conditions for completing the game and securing escape. With their weapons corrupted and no way to return the lower floors, Kirito and his merry band of followers must also contend with the discovery of a mysterious, previously inaccessible area of the game dubbed the Hollow Fragment.
Despite a few decent looking animated scenes, a majority of SAO Re: Hollow Fragments plot exposition is revealed via static images of the characters, belying the game’s handheld origins. A large proportion of time is spent clicking through these sections, which can become a little tedious over time, although this is largely offset by the high quality of the writing.
The combat is fluid and easy to grasp, with intuitive controls and a variety of different strikes and attacks activated through use of your Burst Gauge. The Burst Gauge works in tandem with a risk mechanic, where the higher the risk, the more damage you’re open to and the slower your gauge will recover.
You can offset this somewhat by switching between party members in order to escape being targeted by enemies and use of this tactic will become key to your success in battle as the game progresses.
Using L1 or R1 brings up a menu from which you can issue orders or compliments to your party and also gives you access to a set of powerful special moves.
You can evade enemy attacks with a timed press of the X button and chain together devastating combos with ease, making the combat a pretty dang enjoyable experience.
A major part of effectively mounting an attack is dependent upon your relationship with your partner, as seamlessly transitioning between characters isn’t enough – You need to ensure your partner’s A.I is up to scratch.
This can be achieved through praising certain moves and suggesting specific strategies that your teammate will then remember and employ in later fights.
Although a little hit and miss, I personally found a major difference between when I first played and ignored using these options and my partner’s performance when I later started taking advantage of the system.
Of course, all of this can be entirely avoided by pairing up with a co-op partner, and aside from a few drop outs the online matchmaking seemed fairly solid.
As the entire style of the game is built around that of a MMO, it’s fitting that you finally get the option to pair up with a real life partner for the first time and it can really change the dynamic of the game.
You travel on foot through primitively designed environments from dungeon to dungeon, occasionally stopping to loot a chest or two or assist some fellow travellers in combat, and it somehow all works, for the most part.
The basic design of many of the areas can be excused due to the limitations imposed with being developed for a handheld and there are some interesting little tricks used that offer the illusion of a much larger environment.
If you’ve played the game previously on Vita you can also port over your save file, which is a nice touch.
Graphics and Audio
Visually, Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment definitely won’t be winning any awards. Even with its graphical overhaul for the PlayStation 4, many of the environmental textures look blurry and low resolution, although the character models generally look pretty defined, and there’s noticeable screen tearing.
There’s also a whole lot of pop in, the frame rate struggles to keep up in even sometimes minor skirmishes and the enemy animation is stilted and repetitive.
Conversely, the art design is pretty damn beautiful and the verdant, sweeping green plains and foreboding dungeons, while admittedly often poorly rendered, perfectly capture the atmosphere the developers were aiming for.
Despite the graphical flaws, admittedly of which there are many, none of the issues impact upon the actual gameplay in a detrimental way.
The dialogue is presented in its original Japanese with no option for an English dub and the overall translation itself is relatively free of the errors that marred that of the Vita version. The soundtrack in particular stood out to me, with many memorable tunes that would constantly replay through my head the following day.
I must admit that this wasn’t always a good thing though, with the initially catchy battle theme quickly becoming tiresome as combat became more frequent.
The thing about Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment is this: The game has a lot of flaws.
The level design is simplistic, animation quality is below par, you spend countless hours simply clicking through blocks of text, calling the graphics crappy would be doing a disservice to the reputation of faeces and the lack of a localised language audio option is sure to turn a few prospective players off.
But none of this really matters in the end.
The story, although the delivery leaves something to be desired, is compelling and immerses you into this strange, online realm.
The art design is whimsical and hails back to the days of Final Fantasy 6 or Chrono Trigger and the soundtrack completes the experience, featuring songs that effortlessly evoke the essence of classic JRPG’s.
Building your relationship with the various companions can get a bit overwhelming at times, and there were moments where things got a little too uncomfortably suggestive when interacting with female partners, but for the most part the story elements are deftly handled and Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment offers up a solid RPG experience at a budget price.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment
Primary Format – PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Game Genre – Role-Playing Game
Rating – PG
Game Developer – Aquria
Game Publisher – Bandai Namco Games
Reviewer – Sean Warhurst