Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) developed by Aquira and published by Bandai Namco. It is based on the multi-media Sword Art Online franchise which includes light novels (short books for young adults), manga, two anime series and four video games, none of which are actually an online game. Hollow Fragment is actually a remake of the third game, Infinity Movement, released for the PSP only in Japan, with additional dungeon, characters and a new area, the Hollow Area.
To understand the game you should know the Sword Art Online story. In 2022 a Virtual Reality Game, SAO, set out invites for 6,000 players to beta test the game. Your hero, Kirito, is one of them. Once logged into the world of Aincrad, they discover they cannot log out. The creator of the game announces that the only way they can return to the real world is to beat all 100 levels of the game and beat the boss. If someone tries to pull them out from the outside, they will die. If they die in the game, they die in real life. Kirito gathers a group of friends to get to level 100, facing threats from in-game monsters and other players alike.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment starts off with Kirito waking up in an area he does not recognize. He remembers exploring a cavern in level 76, but somehow he ended up here. Running into another player, Philia, they team up to survive the area. They both discover the have a strange mark on their hand. They explore the realm, called the Hollow Area by a mysterious voice, and complete a mission to rid an area of ogres and arrive at a sphere which lets Kirito return to level 76 where his friends await in town, including his in-game wife and fellow player, Asuna.
The game then starts properly, explaining what happened. In a departure from the books and anime, Kirito faced off with the end boss Heathcliff (a knight, not the orange cartoon cat) for a change to end the game right then and there. During the fight, the game glitches. Kirito uses it to his advantage and as he is about to finish Heathcliff, he disappears. Dismayed that they still cannot log off, Kirito and the other players move to the next level, where they find another town and discover they cannot go back down. With a new area to explore and with old friends and new at his side, Kirito sets out to get to level 100, and explore the mysterious hollow area.
The gameplay and graphics are good, and use the PS Vita’s system well. Since the game is supposed to be a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, there are a lot of “Player Characters” to interact with throughout the game. You can even pursue romance options with one of the many, many, MANY female characters that find Kirito irresistible, despite it being known that he is (in-game) married to Asuna. You can romance her, too.
When you go out into the wilds of Aincrad, the fighting is in real time, with you pressing one of the four face buttons for attack, defend dash or stun. As your character is pretty high in level, so are the enemies. You can either take jobs from the job board in town or proceed to Level 100, grinding your way through the levels. You can earn gold to buy newer weapons and armour or find rare items in the filed. Shops in town level up as you do so you can find the appropriate gear for you level.
I have mixed feeling from this game. First of all, having no idea of what Sword art Online was, I was lost from the get go. I thought it would be more like Ragnarok Odyssey and was disappointed there was limited customization for the main character (and he looks his default look during cinematics.) The start of the game was pretty confusing for a newbie, starting with the area that you start in and all the girls, well other characters to, but mostly girls, swarm you when you return to town. Once the cinematic explaining what happened previously and the events on level 75 does the game make sense. They should have started with that, then moved into the Hollow area.
The overall gameplay is enough to keep you playing/Feeling like a MMORPG, you can manage your equipment in menus and combat is fast and furious. Other characters can help which comes in handy on the bosses. You can choose your companion in town, equip them for battle and have then accompany you through your quest. You can even do social interaction with them to improve your relationship. This leads us to the dating sim aspects.
Like many JRPGs there are dating sim aspects in the game. For some reason, Kirito is really popular. Maybe it is because he is the leader and everyone looks up to him. Maybe it is because he took on Heathcliff and lived. Maybe it is his devotion to Asuna that gets the girls hot. Maybe it is his tight black pants. No matter what it is, all the girls want him, even though this is just a virtual form, and the real Kirito’s cheetos-encrusted body is wasting away in the real world. All of his female friends seem to harbour a crush on Kirito despite his being with Asuna. From Lizabeth the blacksmith to Sinon the strong, silent girl to Leafa, who is actually Kirito’s cousin, who he though was his sister. That’s just a few.
The translation is good, but the Japanese voice over remain. Sometimes the translation seems off, and I am not sure if the double entendres were done on purpose or was just a bad translation. All I know is the words coming and come were used a lot.
Overall, it is a decent, and deep game. If the point of the game was to draw more into Sword Art Universe, it worked on me. I definitely want to watch a bit of the anime. Despite the rough start the game gets interesting as you proceed. I bought it on sale during the PS Vita anniversary sale so the price was right. If you are looking for a MMO like experience in a portable game like Ragnarok Odyssey, you might like this. If you are a Sword Art Online fan, this is right up your alley.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is available digitally from the PS Store. It is also PlayStation TV compatible. Checks online for pricing