Title: Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment
Release Date: MONTH, XX, 2008
Publisher (Developer): Bandai Namco (Aquria)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence
Bandai Namco has really been kicking it up a notch when it comes to localizing anime-inspired games. Sure, we didn’t get that 3DS Attack on Titan title, but we’ve been getting Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, and One Piece games galore. Most importantly, we also have received Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment and as a fan of the series, I think I speak for everyone when I say it’s much appreciated.
Fighting their way back to life.
The Sword Art Online anime has become famous, even those who haven’t seen it have some idea of Kirito’s plight. Set in 2024, a new technology called the Nerve Gear allows players to actually experience life inside of video games. The first game to make use of it is Sword Art Online. Sadly, Kayaba Akihiko, creator of the game, traps all 10,000 players inside of it on the first day. Their avatars suddenly look like their real selves, and they are told they must reach level 100 of the dungeon to escape back to their real lives. However, if someone dies in the game or has their Nerve Gear removed, they actually die.
Now, for the spoilers. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is an alternate reality game that begins just after the first Aincrad arc of the series ended. In the original media, all of the players discovered Kayaba was playing as well, he and Kirito dueled after the 75th floor, and Sword Art Online “ended.” In Hollow Fragment, Kayaba disappeared because of a glitch, perhaps one tied to the Hollow area, and the players must still reach the 100th floor.
Flailing towards the future.
I’m a fan of Sword Art Online so consider take that into consideration as I say this – I had no idea what to do in Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. Players are thrown into the adventure with very little consideration. The adventure begins with Kirito and Philia in the middle of a chase, and only a few screens of text serve as an introduction to surviving a boss encounter. Thankfully, the tutorial battle is far from terrifying, but it doesn’t do much teaching either. I came away with the vaguest of understandings of many complex concepts.
Just look at that screenshot above, from the aforementioned, tutorial battle. There are are burst, risk, and SP gauges, to start, as well as four action buttons on the left that pertain to skills. None of which, by the way, were explained in the tutorial. Pressing a shoulder button brings up more skill buttons. Plus, there’s Philia’s stats on the left side to watch, as well as a need to know which character is being targeted. Factor in the notion of considering the partner’s needs and performing when he or she says to for a boost, and it’s just plain overwhelming.
It took me about an hour of battling general mooks before I even had a vague idea of what I should have been doing all along. It all happened because there’s no consideration for the player. I suppose we’re expected to have just absorbed knowledge from watching the series? I’m not really sure. I do know that, for the most part, I button mash my way to victory, occasionally switching to lower risk and cater to my partner’s needs. It may not be stylish or pretty, but it works.
Which is sad, because there really is a lot of variety here. There’s a lot to do between the 76-100 floors of Aincrad and the Hollow areas. Sure, most quests fall into the various fetch quest or kill X rabid bunny tropes, but I found that forgivable seeing as how Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is set within a MMORPG. The vast array of weapons and skills is impressive as well.
Though, it’s the opportunities to interact with the characters I knew that I liked best. There were many translation hiccups, where things could have sounded a bit smoother, but I loved how many opportunities players had to interact with the other characters from Sword Art Online. I suppose it reached a point where because I could get a general idea of what was going on, I was okay with characters not sounding right. It’s just a shame that some of these other party members are never worth taking on adventures into the dungeon. For the most part, I stuck with Asuna since she was the closest in level to level 100 Kirito.
Satisfying for those who loved the Aincrad arc
Sword Art Online‘s anime has its ups and downs, but fans will be pleased to know that Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment doesn’t touch upon the unpleasantness that tainted the show. Instead, it can be seen as a means of preserving those happy memories formed from the first arc. All of our favorite characters are here, as we remember them, and though this isn’t canon, I prefer to think of this as what happened after Aincrad, rather than Fairy Dance. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment may stumble, but this is a game for the fans, and they’ll appreciate it for what it is.