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Digital Life

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment feels like a real MMORPG

Published on Jul 21, 2014 5:46 AM

Based on a popular anime TV series, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment puts you in the shoes of Kirito, a boy trapped in a virtual massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) where dying in the game means dying in real life.

The game takes place in an alternate timeline, with events occurring differently from the TV series.

Aimed squarely at fans, the game thrusts players into a confusing beginning that barrages them with esoteric terminology from the get-go, with zero explanation.

Want to know what an orange player is or what a "hollow area" means? Expect to stay in the dark unless you are a fan of the series.

Kirito is trapped in Aincrad, a gigantic floating castle of 100 levels. The only way to escape is to climb to the 100th level and defeat the boss there.

The game starts on the 76th level and it is a long game that is full of content. It takes about 70 hours for a complete playthrough.

It helps if you can understand Japanese, which is the language of the audio. If not, you can choose English or Chinese subtitles. Fans will enjoy the authentic voices from the original voice actors, but those unfamiliar with the series may not enjoy having to read everything.

The localisation seems unpolished, with occasional grammatical errors and spelling mistakes in the subtitling.

The game is a third-person action RPG with the usual role-playing elements such as levelling up, skill trees, item gathering and equipment crafting. Fans of games like Phantasy Star Online will feel at home with the combat system, which is deeper than it looks.

Kirito uses a variety of weapons that include dual swords, rapiers, axes and hammers. Executing an attack precisely at a certain time will maximise damage, while a Risk and Burst gauge makes combat more strategic. The Burst gauge lets you attack, dodge and perform other actions, while the Risk gauge affects your recovery time between actions.

The Burst gauge decreases as players attack, while the Risk gauge increases. This means that carelessly attacking will leave players unable to attack and open to counter-attacks.

The graphics are a letdown. They are decent but do not amaze. Their biggest flaws are the blurry texture of the environment and character models. The PS Vita is definitely capable of much more, as Toukiden: The Age of Demons and Phantasy Star Online 2 show.

There is a multiplayer co-op mode, but it is such a shame that this is not available online but limited to local players. This is a severe limitation because it means that you need to be physically near the other players.

Despite this, the game puts admirable effort into staying true to its roots. As the story takes place somewhere around the middle of the TV series, little details help to cement that feeling. From the start, Kirito is already at a high level, reflecting his progress in the series. The quest log shows completed missions and there are items in the inventory corresponding to his belongings in the show.

The game does an impressive job of feeling like an MMORPG. In the course of their travels, players will come across other characters battling monsters; monitor in-game leaderboards that show how many players are dead or alive; and discuss strategies for taking down bosses - nice touches that enliven the world.

Rating: 8/10

  • $74.90 (PS Vita)
  • Action RPG