After more than a year after its release, I finally played Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. Playing a hundred hours in it, my only regret is not buying the game when it was first released. It’s so damn fun!
Based on the insanely popular Japanese multimedia franchise, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment follows Kirito Kirigaya as he tries to finish the game by reaching the 100th floor. What’s the reward for finishing the game? It’s freedom, baby! Kirito is one of the 10,000 players trapped inside the virtual world after logging in; clearing the game is the only way for them to get back to the real world. The game is not that simple though, players found out the hard way that if you die in SAO, you also die in real life. *cough* Matrix rip-off *cough*
Anyway the game starts at floor 75 after Kirito defeated Heathcliff, the leader of the Knights of the Blood. It turns out that Heathcliff is actually Kayaba Akihiko, the creator of SAO and the man responsible for trapping the all the players inside the game. Dumbfounded they didn’t taste freedom after beating Heathcliff, Kirito and his friends continued to push up the floors.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment feels like two games fused together to form one content-rich game. A chunk of the game is the Aincrad part where Kirito tries to clear all the floors, almost all of the plot are in it as well. If you’re into harem (personally, I not), you’ll enjoy Kirito’s hijinks with the ladies as they try to win him over. Most interactions with the ladies does not progress the plot, some scenes are just plain awkward. There’s plenty of fan service but there’s no hentai in it though. *groans can be heard from afar*
The second and best chunk is the Hollow Area. It’s a totally different world with its own quests and story. Here you’ll team up with Phillia, an angsty teenage girl who’s mysteriously transferred there. Your goal in the Hollow Area is to find out why it’s there and find a way for Phillia to get back to Aincrad.
Originally, SAO: Hollow Fragment is a PS Vita exclusive but it was later ported to the PS4. The graphics in the Vita is superb, considering that the Vita is just a handheld gadget. Hollow Fragment’s graphics in the PS4 is not that groovy, it looks like NamcoBandai upgraded the Vita version just a bit. There are frame rate drops in both Vita and PS4 versions especially in Arc Sophia where there are lots of NPCs. The Vita frame rate drop is forgivable but the PS4 version is not; the console is too powerful for that.
Kirito’s face, hair, and voice are fully customizable. The armor and swords that Kirito and his friends are shown, so it’s worth getting all the cool looking ones in the game. One thing to note is that you have to increase your relationship levels with the ladies so you can ‘unlock’ the command for them to change their clothing.
Combat is fast paced and feels like an action game combined with RPG elements. Let’s talk about dodging first. There are two kinds of dodges: one is the auto dodge which is based on your Evasion stat. The second is the manual dodge where you press a button to evade attacks. You can also parry attacks but the Parry skill has a cool down so it can’t be used that often. What’s great about Parry is you gain some SP and the monster is temporarily stunned if you successfully parry its attacks.
Kirito can attack even if you don’t press a button (auto attack) but the damage is small the auto attack is practically useless. It’s only useful when grinding for Weapon Skill Points. Your main way of damaging an enemy is by using Sword Skills that consumes SP. You can string together a number of Sword Skills if you implemented the Original Sword Skill (OSS) which you can get by finishing quests in the Hollow Area.
Monsters equal or near your level are pushovers, the real challenge is the monsters 20 or more levels above you. Monsters and bosses in Aincrad are weak; it is on the Hollow Area where you will spend most of your hours leveling Kirito and his harem. From the Hollow Console, you can also teleport to the Concealed Area. This map-less map is swarming with powerful monsters and has a total of 125 floors with lots of treasure boxes waiting to be opened.
Leveling up is a tedious task once you get to level 120 (you start at level 100). Currently, I’m at level 144 and leveling is grindier than a drunk slut in a club. Level grinding is also dangerous when done in solo play because you lose all your progress if you or your party member dies. The safest way to grind is in Multiplayer mode where you can play with a friend in ‘Together’ using ad-hoc connection or you can just play ‘Alone’ in that mode. You can ‘rescue’ fallen party members but it will be Game Over if you die. The best part is you won’t lose your progress and the loots.
Quests in both Aincrad and Hollow Area are repetitive. It’s either collecting a number of items or killing a number of mobs. One shitty type of quest is the reconnaissance quest where you have to avoid all monsters otherwise you’ll fail the quest. This is particularly annoying if you get this type of quest in maps with narrow corridors.
Overall it’s a very good game with lots of content. The price is definitely worth it and better yet, it’s often on sale on the Playstation Network. The only thing you will regret is not playing SAO sooner, like in my case.
Graphics (for the Vita version)
Plot (intriguing and dialogue is pretty funny)
Huge content with lots of things to do
Framerate drops in crowded areas
Level grinding is such a chore
Quests are repetitive