Western fans of the Sword Art Online anime can rejoice now that Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment by Bandai Namco Games has been localized for English speaking audiences. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for the PSVita is a re-release of the 2013 PSP game, Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, but with upgraded visuals as well as a whole new story line that takes place in a special place in Aincrad called the Hollow Zone. The addition of the Hollow Zone means that instead of the linear story of Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment there are two stories you can complete at your own pace.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment tries to emulate the idea behind the series as much as possible. It strives to make this mostly single player experience as similar to an MMORPG as possible. Features of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment include full customization of your character, a friends list that adds NPC’s as you meet them, information about your party and guild, quests showing loyalty quests, Hollow quests and optional quests as well as maps of Aincrad and the Hollow Zone. The characters that you meet and party up with learn through your style of play how to best compliment you allowing for them to mimic a human player as much as possible.
In Battle you have quite a lot on the screen but once you get the hang of things you barely need to look around the screen. You have movement on your analog stick and attack, dash, stun and parry on the face buttons, if you press the L or R button a palette will come up that has face buttons allowing you to access sword arts and directional buttons giving commands to your partner. You will do a weak attack automatically and can attack to use up some of your burst gauge or do sword arts which use up SP, both of which will recharge automatically over time. An interesting mechanic is the ability your partner has to request things of you such as using sword arts together for extra damage or asking you to “Stun the enemy please”.
Outside of battle you are able to visit the main town to purchase new equipment, weapons and quests from vendors. Here is also where you are able to switch between the two worlds of Aincrad and the Hollow Zone. You are also able to change who your partner is in your party as well as walk around the city and in JRPG fashion you are also able to take your partner on dates and even build up your relationship to the point of holding hands, the bridal carry or sharing a bed. None of the dating aspects of the game affect the story line nor does it have any real effects on game play other than giving you the ability to give your partner new weapons or armor that they will wear.
*Sword Art Online Season One Spoilers ahead*
The story is set in an alternate timeline where after the defeat of Heathcliff on the 75th floor instead of the game ending Kirito and the rest of the inhabitants of Sword Art Online continue to the 76th floor. On the 76th floor the players find that they are now no longer able to go back to any of the previous floors so it is decided that everyone will continue fighting to reach floor 100 in hopes of finally ending the nightmare that is Sword Art Online. As well as the journey to floor 100 you manage to get transported into the Hollow Zone and meet Philia, a mysterious girl who also doesn’t know how she ended up in the Hollow Zone, she then teams up with you out of a hope of escaping the area. Your journey while you are in the Hollow Zone is to find out why you and Philia were brought here and to explore and understand what the Hollow Zone is.
*Spoilers end here*
The graphics are smooth and clear, easily one of the better games for the PSVita in terms of the look. There is a wide variety of different environments that you travel to each more stunning than the last ranging from deep forests to luscious mansions. Every weapon and piece of equipment cosmetically changes your character and the monsters range from the believable to something that we expect to see in an anime. Even when not looking in the foreground the horizon stretches on so you can look at the world all around you. Even when there are five monsters on screen and both members of the party are unleashing visually stunning sword arts there is no point where the frame rate drops.
As you are exploring the world you also hear all that is happening around you. There is sounds design for each level that makes you feel like you’re in a forest instead of a cave helping you to immerse yourself in the experience. Beyond the atmospheric audio you can also hear each attack, whether dealt by you or inflicted upon you, as it connects. The sound of each hit will also change if you miss, get parried or if the attack is a sword art.
This wouldn’t be a true game about an MMORPG without any multiplayer and it has been delivered as co-op missions. Form the control hub in the Hollow Zone you are able to start a multiplayer party with up to 7 other players and explore the Hollow Zone together. All of the area, missions and game play is the same as it is in the single player but you are not allowed to bring your partner with you so you have to rely on the other human players.
As a fan of the Sword Art Online Anime this is a game that can deliver a good experience where you can explore the world and interact with the characters. Beyond the actual invention of the NerveGear i doubt there will be a better Sword Art Online game experience in the near future. Though if you are unaware of the franchise then this game may not be as entertaining a choice, especially when past events are brought up you may feel a bit lost. Due to the single player MMORPG aspect it may also be that fans of Anime based MMORPG’s on computer may find that this is a good way to experience that as well as being able to stay on the go.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Faction is now available in NA and Europe for the PSVita. This game is a digital release only so you are only able to purchase it over the PSN.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment gives a great experience to fans of the franchise as they are able to delve into the world of Aincrad and continue the story on their own terms!