Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is the latest entry in the Sword Art Online video game franchise and with it comes the promise of bigger and better things. A lot of boasts about improved combat preceded this game’s release but how does the game actually compare to its predecessors?
Hollow Realization centres around a new VRMMO based upon the original assets from the original death game SAO. This new game named Sword Art Online: Origin has recently opened for public beta and Kirito and crew have decided to take part day-one, as you do when you have a history of having your life threatened by VRMMO’s. The opening of the story spends some time explaining how there was a lot of concern about using assets from SAO and that the new VR headsets have been made to ensure a disaster is not repeated. Now, this is where I got lost; the games take place in an alternate timeline, we’ve been to Alfheim in Lost Song so surely assets from SAO have already been used in that game as have new headsets been made. Maybe my knowledge of the light novels and anime is working against me here but the set-up of trying to make this game seem scary in any way was completely lost on me.
Unfortunately, it seems that the story within the game hinges very much on the fact of reused assets. Characters are constantly making reference to Aincrad with this world being set in Ainground (awful name) and I feel that takes away from the enjoyment, in my case anyway. The way they act as if they have re-entered the same death game really throws me out of the immersion whenever I play. I can understand what they set out to achieve by doing this but it just lacks the intended impact. The story itself feels very barebones to me focusing on an NPC whose program directives have been set to null and of course, Kirito wants to go out of his way to help.
Outside of the very bare main story, you’ll spend a large amount of time meeting up and interacting with each individual member of Kirito’s harem. Usually, you’re locked into each event for about fifteen minutes at a time and subject to a lot of throw away text. Sometimes the characters will undertake a quest but you don’t actually get to play you just get to click through the text until it ends. There’s a large focus on your romantic relationships with the ladies of the game which is monitored through affection levels. This adds another aspect of the game (that I don’t care about) for players to really invest their time in. It does enter the weird pervert realm though as you’re able to literally lift a female of choice off their feet and take them to your bed and engage in pillow talk. Only with that particular character’s consent of course. This is coupled with the fact that you can easily see your teammate’s panties as you wander through the field. It’s so noticeable that you have to really angle the camera to be almost top-down so you can’t see them.
Hollow Realization sees a return to developer Aquria and with it a lot of what we saw in Hollow Fragment, only improved. Now I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hollow Fragment and Hollow Realization just feels like more of the same. Lost Song, from developer Artdink, while massively simplified in terms of combat and customization, was a lot more enjoyable. Hollow Realization, like Hollow Fragment, starts with a needlessly overcomplicated tutorial talking about features that are quickly rendered useless almost immediately. Unfortunately, I’m sure by experiencing this tutorial some maybe turn off the game as soon as they started. Though if you’ve played any of the previous games then you’ll be in familiar territory.
Hollow Realization really pushes for that MMO experience that you expect from a game based on a series set in an MMO world. I personally feel that it’s a step too far, the maps are vast which is great but they take forever to travel. You can easily teleport from place to place once you have activated the portal you wish to travel to but that still doesn’t make it any less of a time hog. Like proper MMO’s, enemies barely give you any experience leaving you to make do with hacking down thousands of enemies to claw your way to the next level. EXP potions do exist though so make sure you’re taking them when you can find them that is. Quests will help you earn money but you’ll constantly be repeating the same quests over and over again, usually the fetch type or beat a certain amount of this monster. Needless to say, they will get really repetitive.
The combat system, as I mentioned, is similar to those of Hollow Fragment and Lost Song. While Lost Song simplified the system and made it a lot more satisfying Hollow Realization has improved upon the Hollow Fragment system and it just doesn’t feel enjoyable. Regardless of the tutorial, it’s not that hard to master. You can give commands to your AI teammates easily enough much like the previous games but unfortunately, they rarely do anything to help you. This might be to do with the fact that I’m not trying to woo each and every one of them but to say they really couldn’t care less if I die out in the field is not an exaggeration. You mostly don’t need the help of your teammates but it would make boss battles a little less challenging if they actually played a part. If their actions in battle are entirely down to how much time you have spent trying to woo them then that makes the game even more of a chore than it already is.
Visually Hollow Realization is pretty good it’s definitely an improvement compared to the previous entries in the franchise. It’s not up there with the likes of AAA developed titles but it’s a nice upgrade. Field maps are considerably more packed with enemies and objects than previous games and maintain a decent frame rate even during battles. The hub town, however, doesn’t fare too well this is most likely due to the sheer amount of NPCs walking about. In terms of the audio, the soundtrack is largely forgettable though the game does come fully voiced which is nice but expected at this point.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is, to put it bluntly, a little disappointing. I was expecting a lot more from it and the promises of improved combat etc… nothing really feels like it’s been changed all that much. Sure it looks nicer and the maps have a lot more going on but overall it just feels more of a chore to play than the enjoyable and fun Lost Song. Hollow Realization is far from a bad game it just didn’t resonate with me or meet my expectations, unfortunately. If you’re a fan of Sword Art Online and enjoyed Hollow Fragment and are looking for more of the same then you’ll enjoy Hollow Realization.