Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is the latest game in the Sword Art Online franchise. Starting out in Japan as a series of light novels before turning into a full-fledged franchise of manga, anime and video games, Sword Art Online has become highly popular worldwide. The first video game in the franchise was Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment for the Playstation Portable, however it never got a proper release outside of Japan… Until now.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is part sequel, part remake, and part expansion. The product information will tell you that Hollow Fragment includes a full copy of Infinity Moment, but the truth is that both are one giant amalgam of Sword Art Online goodness. You’ll start off with a tutorial that introduces you to the Hollow Area, and teaches you the games basic controls before being teleported back out to a portion of the Infinity Moment story. From this point on, you’re pretty much free to progress as you wish. You can push forward with Infinity Moment’s goal of clearing floors and moving through the world of Aincrad, or you can warp back to the Hollow Area and proceed with trying to uncover the secrets of this zone.
As a result of the way Sword Art Online integrates the original Infinity Moment content with the updated Hollow Fragment content, there is absolutely no shortage of stuff to do in Aincrad. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment has more content than is necessary and most players won’t complete it all without doing more than one playthrough. From the main story and clearing the Hollow Area, to building relationships with your companions and mastering the game’s more complex mechanics, there’s more hours of gameplay than I dare to count.
The downside to Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is that it can be extremely complicated. Some of the game’s mechanics don’t get much coverage from tutorials, and some spotty translation can make it confusing at times. I found myself consulting the internet on several occasions to find out how mechanics actually work. This probably won’t be anything new for gamers who have played other similar Japanese RPGs, but it can be pretty off-putting for people who are just looking for a game to pick up and play.
“the game’s mechanics don’t get much coverage from tutorials, and some spotty translation can make it confusing at times.”
The other major issue comes from the story. Set in an alternate timeline that branches off from the end of the anime’s first story arc, you’ll get lots of characters thrown at you, and at times the story just feels poorly constructed. This may also be impacted by the English translation of the game. Granted, it’s better than I’ve heard other versions of the game are, but it’s still spotty and having characters refer to each other by name while standing side by side can be jarring. Despite the age-old anime debate of sub vs dub, I’m also a little disappointed that there is no English voice-work for Hollow Fragment. It’s by no means game-breaking, but I feel it’s just one more thing that will detract for gamers who aren’t hardcore anime fans too.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment can be a really fun game to play, and the single-player MMO design works pretty well as far as the gameplay goes. Once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be beating bosses and clearing floors like the pro that Kirito is. The boss fights may be where the game really shines as you’ll be joined by a team of NPCs and have to wage war against some pretty epic monsters. The anime style works really well to keep visuals relatively crisp, even on the models that have been upgraded from the original PSP version.
At the end of the day, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a game that provides good gameplay with a ton of content. This is exactly want you want from a portable title, and PS Vita gamers on the go might want to consider this as a way to make their commute a little more epic. The biggest problems come with the story, which probably won’t appeal to anyone but the most hardcore of Sword Art Online fans, and the localisation. These problems aren’t unheard of, particularly when it comes to eastern RPGs, but they can make the experience tedious and break immersion in a world that is otherwise spectacular.