I have to admit, though a lot of my friends have said great things about the anime and its previous games, for some reason I never got into the franchise called Sword Art Online. That said, as a newcomer who dove head-first into this with only a slight inkling of familiarity with the series on which it’s based on, I was told that Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is actually a good starting point to immerse yourself in.
In this game, rather than taking place in any previously discovered locations, SAO: Hollow Realization is set in the new virtual world of Sword Art: Origin. To the uninitiated, this game tries to emulate your typical MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) tropes with a mix of action RPG and visual novel storytelling thrown in.
You take on the role of the main character Kirito who, in the game receives a single mysterious message — saying a cryptic “I’m back to Aincrad”, which draws the character back the world where he was once trapped in.
And Kirito you really are! Because for some reason, even though the game allows you to customize your character in terms of name, gender, overall look and voice, it feels kind of pointless since during gameplay you still see and hear Kirito, which is kind of pointless when doing single-player.
Gameplay speaking, the game’s combat focuses around melee weapons, hence the title. And no you are not limited to swords alone, which is a relief. What’s good to mention here is that there is a staggering number of weapons to level up and specializations to play around, that it is fun to experiment and paired up with the games skill trees that (pun intended) branch out to each other.
Speaking of combat, in the game you are definitely not alone, as you venture out into the world usually with a party of three other NPC’s – either Kirito’s close friends, and characters encountered through story and quests. Like your usual RPG flair, these characters can be given orders to attack (and chain attacks for an added damage), heal, dodge, and even encourage teammates when they perform to your liking, influencing relationships in the future. Sounds a bit familiar?
While the most entertaining part of the game is its combat and MMO roots, it is also where you see a lot of the games unpolished aspects, the user-interface is really small and hard to read at times. In doing quests, usually in other games you can select a specific quest that you can focus on… Not in this game, where all quests are located and tracked in the menu itself, which can really be confusing at times especially when you are bombarded with a lot of stuff to do.
To add to this, when going about the main storyline, the game at times does not do a good job in explaining what you need to do. Yeah sure you might get specific instructions in progressing through the story, but once you put down the game and it jump back again after a few days, the interface and narrative does a poor job of getting you back up to speed at what you need to do.
The AI could really be worked on a bit, both in party members and in enemies. There are moments that the opponent just strafes left and right, back and forth doing nothing at you. Comrades on the other hand, sometimes block you path into a clear strike, wondering if he or she is really your ally.
And don’t get me started on the game’s dialogue typos, here is one of them:
Now, the real icing on the cake here to be frank is that the game really has a lot of bugs, and these are not just simple graphical annoyance that one can take a pass on, these are actual bugs that can really affect the overall gameplay experience. Good examples on this that you should be aware of are that at times, the attack buttons seem unresponsive until you perform a jump, which can be really frustrating. There are also some quests that after I accomplished a task, icons would still show up as if I still need to do something for it, then vanish and re-appear again. Those are some of it that I find very annoying, hoping that an update patch be implemented soon, because it really affects the whole enjoyment when playing the game.
To wrap things up, Sword Art Online Hollow Realization tries its best to imitate an MMO game. I have to say that the game feels like one, but at its heart it is more JRPG than MMO. While there are tons of stuff to do and explore here, the game is really aimed for fans of the franchise. As much as I want to enjoy the rich fluff, there are a lot of things that detract me from liking SAO: Hollow Realization.
- A good jumping point for the franchise
- Lots of weapons and techniques to explore
- A lot of small bugs
- Some typos in dialogue
- Frustrating AI
Final Score: 6/10