Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization takes place in a different timeline which is leaps away from canon. The game, like the anime, is set in a world where games can be played with devices that directly tap into the consciousness of the player. With this technology, players can experience the game with their full senses similar to that of real-life.
The story of Hollow Realization follows the previous Sword Art Online (SAO) titles. After the death game (which I do not have the time to expound), the Übermensch, Harem King, Star-Player MVP, Kirito, and friends, decided to spit on the trauma and jump aboard onto a game with similar visuals but with a slightly different name. What awaits Kirito and pals is a danger that’s quite difficult to relate to but is essential to get the story going.
Playing a Character Playing an Online Game
While it does offer a semblance of player intervention, using a custom character can sometimes break immersion.
While the game offers a very limited and basic character customization, the player still assumes the persona of Kirito as he plays the game, Ainground. Upon starting, there’s a very big difference from the other SAO games as Kirito (or whatever the player names him) is back at the base level of 1. Before, players were treated with a very powerful character early on. Here, the developers decided to make it so that the player can experience the toils and hardships of being a scrub.
The game has day/night cycles with the occasional rain.
Once everything’s set, the player is dropped into the Town of Beginnings, a place that serves as the main hub of Hollow Realization. The town is divided into four parts and is composed of the most basic things that you can find in an MMO: shops, people, dating spots, and a teleporter. After a very lengthy tour, we then head out into the battlefield.
Controls are pretty simple as Hollow Realization just lets the player control Kirito for the whole game. The party is composed of four people, but teammates are ordered around by prompts or can be left to their own devices. The game makes full use of the controller as most buttons are binded to, at most, four different commands. Why so? This game offers a very large amount of skills and abilities, similar to that of typical online games. During the fights, the player is given chances to release stronger attacks or string together combos with the help of his/her teammates.
Boss Battles are called, “Raids”, sorties where-in multiple AIs get mutilated by the boss.
Once enemies and quests are completed, experience points are awarded. Leveling up is an automatic affair as the player has no control to where stat points go. Contrasting this, if the player uses a weapon often, skill points are awarded. This is where the Hollow Realization rewards grinding.
There are a lot of disciplines to choose from and the player is not necessarily limited to just one branch.
The skill tree is a bit complex and intimidating at first. But once you get the hang of it, bee-lining to your coveted passive ability or active skill is but a breeze. As said before, continuously whacking enemies with a preferred weapon increases that skill ability of that weapon branch. Once it reaches a certain level, a skill point is awarded for the player to consume. From then on, it depends on the player where to place it.
For fans or those that watched the anime, we all know that women go head over heels over Kirito. Despite having a girlfriend, Kirito (or the player) can flirt with female members of the band. Spending time talking with them is not for naught though. Once a certain level of relationship is reached, the player can have more control over that character. For example, forcing them to wear armors and weapons that might be beneficial in the long run. Or bathing suits in some cases.
This dating mini-game consists of answering the partner’s questions with a simple Yes or No. The atmosphere of the exchange can be determined with a beating heart set in the center of the screen. It turns from blue to a scarlet red (the redder, the more passion) depending on the choices and actions of the player. Once everything’s all steamed up, the player can choose to head over to bed for some “pillow talk”.
Klein, the only man that makes sense in SAO.
Editor’s Note: Definitely not something you’d want to play with your family around. Also, just to make it clear, no nudity.
Graphics and Others
The bosses have unique models, a contrast to the recycled models of normal monsters.
I’ve already played the previous SAO game, Hollow Fragment, and with that, I did not expect much from this game in terms of graphics. However, with the Sony PS4, it does manage 30+FPS* most of the time, only managing to drop frames if the effects tend to clutter the screen.
The game is voiced in Japanese accompanied with English subtitles, a win for purists.
Just to add, there’s a first-person mode which can only be used while inside the town.
*How did I know it was 30+FPS? PC gaming trained my eyes.
Should You Buy It?
The market for this game is undoubtedly the fans. No one will likely try it given that more mainstream games in the west are releasing week after week. Given such, is it a good game for fans? Well, yeah. We have the foundation of Sword Art Online here, expounded and made into a format where players can intervene and have a hand in.
As a game, it’s good, but not perfect. First, let’s nitpick. The story is all over the place. The original timeline, or the previous games, have a life or death cloud looming over them. Die inside those games and you die in real-life. In Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, the same cannot be said. It doesn’t have the same urgency or impending danger. Lastly, why would you play a game that makes you remember traumatic moments in your life? Are you maybe a masochist that hides inside the body of a 16-year old boy? Such were my questions while playing the game. It’s okay to have a small moment of disbelief, but this game manages to make the questions pop-up very often.
Second, I hated how they presented the cutscenes. They made a large sprawling world and yet, ended up presenting conversations between the characters using their 2D models accompanied with text scrawled underneath. I would’ve liked it if there were more scenes where-in the portrayed characters use their in-game avatars.
Aaannndd those’re the only qualms I have about the game. I liked it and am quite surprised at the content it offers. I reckon that game would take about 80-100 hours to finish, more so if you love to grind to the highest levels possible. I played the game knowing that it will be a long-grind and that’s what I got. Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a grind-fest that rewards. It’s basic in form and that’s what made it good. It doesn’t complicate things yet manages to make the simple things worth the while. Sometimes, we all just need that game where-in we can whack things until they explode and cough up money or experience points.
Experience praises from 2D waifus with well-timed button presses.
Sword Art: Hollow Realization is a Sony Playstation-exclusive game. If you have a PS4 and a fan of the game and the franchise, then this is a no-brainer. If your PS Vita is gathering some dust, do yourself a favor and buy this, play it while on the train or wherever.