Following the events on the 75th floor, the game should have ended. Instead, all of your items glitched and you remained stuck within Sword Art Online. Now, the whole game is having issues, and one day you get transported to the Hollow Area. Welcome to Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment.
Hollow Fragment goes into an alternate universe from the regular events of Sword Art Online. Before playing this game, I had never watched or read anything related to SAO. I went in completely blind and needless to say, I became lost. Now, however, I feel like I have a bit more of an understanding of what’s going on.
Upon arrival on the 76th floor, you find that all of your items have become glitched and that you can no longer visit the previous 75 floors. Additionally, people show up that shouldn’t even be there with your group. One day while Kirito’s exploring a dungeon, he gets transported to the Hollow Area to participate in a “high level” test. Here he meets Philia, a player with an orange cursor. She’s trapped in this area, and Kirito decides to try and help her get rid of the cursor and get her out of there.
In Hollow Fragment you have two storylines to follow, and completion of the Hollow Area adds more to the main story. For anyone new to SAO like I was, you are going to be confused. There’s pretty much no introduction to the characters. Both storylines also take a little bit to get into their true story of what’s going on. While you have to progress floor by floor to proceed through the main storyline, the Hollow Area story is available at any time.
Hollow Areas are a lot harder than the usual areas. With that said, the rewards there are also much greater. You’ll find better materials both earlier and just in general. The same goes with equipment. You’ll be provided with greater opportunities to level, which is good considering you need to level up a bit to finish. Yes, this is despite the fact you start at level 100, though this is definitely useful for clearing the first several sets of floors, and even for starting the Hollow Area.
With that said, leveling up does feel extremely slow. Perhaps I missed some way of leveling up well, but by the time I finished, I had only gained 28 levels. I imagine there’s somewhere good to level up seeing as there’s a trophy for hitting level 200 but I never found it myself.
Equipment in the game can comes from a few places – treasure chests, last attack bonuses on bosses, events, shops, and forging. Oh, but you can only actually forge weapons. The best weapons come from forging though, so I guess that’s at least something. The best equipment I found was from last attack bonuses, but I never got high enough to wander into too many high level areas of the Hollow Area. Well, that is when the last attack bonus gear isn’t for females only…
Which brings me to my next point. Character creation allows you to create either a female or male character with a variety of faces, hair styles, and voices. However, you’re always going to be referred to as Kirito no matter what you name your character. The female characters are also going to be flat chested, because apparently it was too hard to make them not so. Oh and that “female only” gear? You still can’t wear it, even if your character is female. What that really means is that it’s for the heroine characters you can have in your party.
While out exploring in either the floors of Aincrad itself or within the Hollow Area, you can bring along one other party member. You’ll be able to praise them for skills they use or give them general orders on what to do. I say general because you’ll press the button and then they’ll decide if they want to or not. I don’t know how many times I’ve said “Withdraw to the Rear” and they still just hang out hitting the enemy.
Gameplay is what I found to be the most enjoyable part of Hollow Fragment. The story felt really confusing with a lack of introductions for newcomers to SAO. Gameplay, however, was just how I like it – go beat up the enemy! Sure, I had to make sure neither me or my partner died because that meant game over. Sure, I had to do some restarts on bosses if one of the NPCs who was there decided to die. I really did enjoy it though, as I love being able to just go smash enemies. Sometimes you need to time some defense though between using your buffs, stunning, and using Parry to stun the enemy.
Helping out NPCs to boost your team strength for bosses will eat up quite a bit of time. They’ll send you emails asking for you to help them with either leveling up or getting item drops. There’s no easy way to track who asks what though, unless you dig through all the emails, have a good memory, or go and write it down. Considering my “friend list” was gigantic by the end of the game, writing down who asks for what is probably best.
Your heroine party members will also make requests of you. These, however, involve going to the Hollow Area and completing missions there. My best comparison for these missions is they’re like mini-FATEs from Final Fantasy XIV. Set in a specific area, you need to fulfill whatever condition is asked in the time period. Special ones, such as those for the Grand Quest or for the story, have no time limit though.
Hollow Fragment faces some odd issues. In town, and even on some fields, if there are too many character models condensed together, the game just slows down badly from lag. The camera is extremely iffy as well. Sometimes it will get stuck on a super close-up of your character that won’t get fixed until you go to another area, and rarely won’t even be fixed until you restart the game! The camera also likes to get stuck in objects and walls, which leads me to suggesting to turn off the special camera movement for skills. It doesn’t completely fix it, but it does help some. There are also a couple glitched trophies, though I’ve heard that they are looking into these.
The game also features a multiplayer side, though I hardly actually touched it. You can choose to either find a party, start your own, or just play solo. You choose the objective you want to go after – a particular Hollow Mission – and then you can also choose bonus side objectives. If you’re playing solo, you can recruit people onto your team including the Heroines. That’s about the extent of what I looked into for Multiplayer however, so I can’t comment beyond this.
I did enjoy the soundtrack to the game, though it was a bit loud. Sure, I could have turned it down in the options, but I was at least able to turn down my TV. Some of the tracks were enjoyable, such as the tracks for the final bosses. Others did get a bit old hearing them all the time. The game is voiced entirely in Japanese. While I tend to prefer an option of either English or Japanese voicing, I was fine with this game just having Japanese. Granted, it made it a bit weird when I went to watch the anime in English, but oh well.
While Hollow Fragment has enjoyable gameplay, the story will make you completely lost if you’re new to Sword Art Online. The lack of character introductions to any character that wasn’t new to this particular game is a bit off putting as well. The game also suffers from some issues that really make you question if you’re really playing on a PS4. I get that it was originally on the Vita, but the lag was really, really bad in some screens if there were too many NPCs. If you’re looking for a giant time sink of a game though, check out Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment. Trust me, it will be a giant time sink. Even just finishing it for review took me 90 hours, and I skipped doing some stuff like the majority of requests from the heroines!
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment Review Score
A lack of character introductions along with the major lag issues lead to some issues, but the game is overall quite enjoyable thanks to fun gameplay.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment is available now for PS4 on PSN and Amazon.
I would like to thank Bandai Namco for providing me with a copy of the game for review.