First impression – Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization (PS4)
The reason for this review being a first impression and not a full review is due to the length of game and number of games currently being released.
Bandai Namco Entertainment’s Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a game based on the light novel, manga and anime known as Sword Art Online. The main concept of the Sword Art Online franchise is people trapped in a Virtual Reality MMO. In Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization the plot involves Kirito and his gang beta testing a game called Sword Art: Origin, a reconstruction of Sword Art Online, the VRMMO that trapped and killed several thousand people inside it. Therefore, the first real question is, why would Kirito and his friends want to play a game that has a passing resemblance to those that killed their friends, and the answer is basically to make sure that nothing bad happens.
As you might imagine as Kirito and his friends start playing Sword Art: Origin they do encounter some mysteries, the first is Kirito receiving a message saying, “I’m back in Aincrad”, and the second being an NPC that isn’t functioning properly. Therefore, without much hesitation Kirito and his gang become friends with the broken female NPC and go on an adventure to see why she has no name, and why all her characteristics are set to null.
In the hours that I played, I learned that Kirito was right and there is something special about the NPC, but by the time this was revealed, my interest in the story had already begun to fade. This was mainly due to the padding of the game’s story and seemingly unwillingness to continue at any decent pace. I’m sure it is possible the story picked up, but the first 8 hours of the game’s story bored me.
Moving away from story let’s talk characters. When it comes to characters the game hopes that you are a fan of the Sword Art Online franchise as characters are only given brief introductions, which I presume are supposed to act as refreshers for fans. The characters also make it difficult to determine where in the franchise’s lore the game takes place, but the game gets around the problem by stating it is an original work, so you don’t need to question why X character is still alive. In terms of characters they never struck me as interesting, I’m sure fans of the franchise like them, but even after watching all the episodes of the anime, I still couldn’t get around to becoming overly attached to Kirito, who seemed to have every female character fall for him, despite him having a girlfriend who witnesses it all.
What really struck me as odd was the fact that you could customise and name your own character. This means you can theoretically play through the game as not Kirito, which could possibly make many of the conversations seem odd, although having two AIs refer to you as dad is already odd enough.
Moving on from the forgettable story and characters, what about gameplay? Well, gameplay goes between interesting and downright creepy. Gameplay is at its best when you navigate the menu screen as it doesn’t bog you down with unnecessary information, as every bit of information you require is easy to find. The affection system is an interesting touch as partying with characters increases your friendship with them and can lead them to becoming more powerful colleges in battle, it is nice to see that telling someone they did a good job could lead to them becoming better players.
As for the downright creepy, we have private chats, which allow you to have intimate conversations with friends. Private chats involve agreeing or disagreeing with statements and slowly getting closer to their face and smiling. Private chats can get even creepier because if you build up enough affection as you can either hold hands or carry them in your arms back to your inn room and engage in pillow talk. Honestly, private chats make the game seem like a rather odd dating sim.
Now let’s talk combat. Combat is the one major bright spot in Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization as the combat offers a nice combination of action combat with the traditional MMO hotbar system. Combat mainly focuses on performing combos with your weapon of choice and sword skills. As you level up you can unlock new sword skills and active/passive buffs.
The combat setup also allows you to help command the other three characters in the party. With a simple push of the L1 button, you can choose from an array of commands that includes performing a switch, commanding a skill link chain, or simply telling your teammates good job. During a battle, your party members can also throw out a command, such as ordering a switch, that when successfully executed can result in the enemy mob getting stunned.
While I found the combat to be interesting, it did get repetitive as the only way to level up is through combat.
Now let’s talk about some other aspects of the game. The quests, which you mainly gain from a notice board are made up of kill and gather quests. The quests rewards are Col (in-game currency), items and sometimes a small amount of experience. Outside of quests, you can enhance your gear in the hub town, to enhance your gear you need items and Col, but be warned enhancements don’t always work.
As I just mentioned there is a hub town, this town is known as “The Town of beginnings” and it is where you will find all the shops and the majority of the story points.
Let’s talk issues. While I didn’t notice many issues, the one issue that stood out for me was when I sat down on a chair, the game doesn’t tell you how to stand up, you would automatically assume the circle button as that was the button to sit, but the button to stand up is the x button. I know that is a nick picky issue, but it did annoy me.
Finally, before my conclusion, a brief mention regarding the audio. The audio is Japanese only with English subtitles.
So, in the end, my first impression of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is well hollow. The combat is interesting, but the story and characters are mostly forgettable. In the end Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization will only really appeal to fans of the Sword Art Online franchise.
For more information on Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, visit http://www.swordartonline-game.com/en/.