Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization - PlayStation 4 Review

sword-art-online-hollow-realization-capture-image-1

Game Info

  • System: PlayStation 4, PS Vita
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
  • Developer: Aquria
  • Release Date: October 27, 2016 [JP] | November 8, 2016 [NA/EU]
  • Pricing:$59.99 [Standard Edition] | $149.99 [Collector's Edition] | $179.99 [First Press Limited Edition]
  • Rating: T
  • Genre: JRPG
  • Official Website: http://www.swordartonline-game.com/en/games/sword-art-online-hollow-realization/
  • Players: 1-4 [unlock multiplayer]

Who it caters to

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161109092529
JRPG fans will most certainly find Sword Art Online: Realization to be an attractive title, rewarding players with unique experiences as they traverse through the huge terrain, battling a variety of monsters along their path to restoring peace to the SAO universe. SAO enthusiasts will, of course, find themselves comfortably at home with this one, since it’s the successor to the popular Sword Art Online: Lost Song and features some of the characters you found in the previous installment.

Having a plethora of options to choose from in the game, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is bound to keep you on the edge of your seat for hours on end, as you constantly seek out quests to boost character performance and watch as characters tell the story in a meaningful and charismatic manner. It’s a fresh new story on the franchise created by original author Reki Kawahara, so veterans and new players alike can take part in this wonderful series and enjoy it without feeling too out of place at times.

What to expect

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is an experience that you’ll most definitely want to have, since it provides players with a fairly in-depth character creation system that allows you to customize things to your liking, and as you progress further into the game you’ll be allowed to take part in various activities such as dating other characters and taking part in extended quests known as Event Fragments and Episode Quests.

We’ll get into that part later, but what we’d like to emphasize is that this game is incredibly vast in terms of its gameplay and there’s never a shortage of things to do as you scour through environments collecting items, battling large enemies in event fragments, or simply just galavanting around town looking for the latest weaponry. Whatever your playstyle is when it comes to JRPGs, SAO:HR will most certainly have every option covered with its spectacular visuals, and immersive gameplay experience both offline and online with multiplayer.

Sword Art Hollow Realization Trailer

Story *Spoilers Ahead for the Show/Manga*

The year is 2026, Sword Art: Origin, a new VRMMORPG has emerged and along his journey, Kirito encounters a young girl who leaves him with a very enigmatic message: “I am back to Aincrad”. What Kirito’s about to realize will change his life forever, as the game he once knew and escaped several years ago has now evolved in a dramatic way.

Gameplay

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161109193454

Introduction - Tutorial | Create your Character

Continuing with the trend of our gaming reviews, we’d like to start you off with the tutorial system in Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization to let you know what it’s like to pick up and play the game. One wonderful trait pertaining to Bandai Namco is that they really want their audience to feel well acquainted with their titles, and this one is no different as the tutorial covers a very vast array of things to learn on the fly.

You start off by creating your character who is Kirito by default, but you can change the gender and name quite easily and go from there. You can select from a wide range of options such as the type of weapon you’d like to wield, down to your facial features and voicing which is quite typical in most JRPGS. Once you’re totally satisfied with your creation then that’s when the adventure begins, and you’ll find yourself learning new things on the fly.

As you go through the earlier parts of the story and sift through the dialogue between characters, the game does a great job of guiding you through the city while emphasizing the important points along the way. You never stop moving unless there’s a dialogue scene to watch, which feels nice because as fans of JRPGs, we want to dive right into it all and really get a sense of what things feel like.

The tutorial teaches you everything from how to use the blacksmith feature, to better understanding the UI when playing. This serves you well because there’s quite a handful to learn as you move along, but the game does a splendid job of letting you know that the tutorials can be accessed via the main menu. With that all being said, let us move into some of the features that make SAO:HR stand out.

Features: Blacksmithing (Enhancing / Transforming) | Dating

Blacksmithing

Blacksmithing is a really cool feature within the SAO:HR universe that allows players to collect weapons during their journey and upgrade them to create even more powerful tools of destruction. As you upgrade your weapons, new skills can be acquired which will serve you well on your long journey. Known as Enhancing, you can take your weapons in to enhance their power by collecting specific items that you’ll find along your way during battles or even through quests. This little feature encourages you to explore different areas to see what rare things you can find, then bring them back to see if they have any merit pertaining to enhancing your weapon.

Transforming is another cool feature that allows you to completely transform your weapon into an entirely new one with new skills added, and this is where the game truly shines because you can constantly transform your weapon to create the most deadly tool to ensure your enemies get sent to the next dimension in style.

Dating

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161111134120
Dating is one of the new additions to the SAO series and this is one feature that we truly loved because it really made you feel more connected to the other characters in the game but more created a more livable environment where you can interact and even develop loving relationships.

This feature allows players to charm NPCs by taking them out on dates, which initially start off small but if your pickup game is strong you’ll most certainly bag your favorite girl in no time. You can take your favorite character out to cafes, sit them down on benches along the waterfront, and use specific gestures such as ‘Touch Waist" to build tension. This was really fun to play around with just to see how the girls react, but it’s truly a challenging experience because you really need to spend a lot of time with the character to progress to the bedroom.

Interacting with NPCs throughout the game is not only satisfying for dating but also using them in battle as well as you develop a strong bond with them. Building strong bonds in SAO:HR is important because it greatly affects the morale of your party going forward, but it also boosts their skills as well which makes things much smoother on your quest.

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks is that you can’t customize any of your party members in terms of their clothing or appearance, but you can keep track of how they feel using the Affection System by pressing triangle on the gamepad. This brings up a screen with various traits tied to that character, and you can choose which ones you find to be more valuable than the other so you can focus on them while dating, etc.

Battle Systems: Skills / Allied Skills | UI | Quests

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161112112748
Now this is truly where the meat and bones lie because the battles are where most of the action take place unless of course you really enjoy flirting with the girls and seeing how far you can take them. In any case, battling is what you’ll be doing frequently during quests and understanding just how everything works is what we’ll home in on. The battle system in SAO:HR is quite straightforward despite how everything looks at first glance, and those who’ve played any MMORPG will know what we mean.

Skills / Allied Skills

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161112112736
Attacking with your character is used by pressing the square button while using various directions on the stick can initiate other actions that you can customize in the skills section which we’ll cover momentarily. What’s cool is that you can dash both on the ground and in the air by pressing the R1 button, but be mindful of your SP meter since dashing takes up quite a chunk of it and you don’t want to be left empty-handed when in an intense battle. Using the L1 button in battle will bring up various actions that you’ll need to become accustomed to because this is what will help you strategize your approach, and will decide whether you live or die.

Actions such as telling your party to dodge, attack, heal, or focus on one enemy, is going to be imperative because you’ll encounter some really strong foes along the way, and if you aren’t organized it can spell the end of your quest. There are two types of actions, one of which is the directives we just explained, while the other is more catered towards using your entire team to take part in what’s known as Allied Skills.

Allied Skills is a feature in the game that triggers all characters to focus on attacking all at the time, creating powerful blows simultaneously which increase your attack ratio meter. As you continue to attack in sequence and build up your combo meter, the ratio meter will continue to increase which in turn will enhance your attacks causing incredible damage over time. The more you sync up with your team, the faster you can take out strong enemies and generate more experience as well.

During and After the battle, you can congratulate your team or boost their morale by selecting the ‘Thumbs Up’ icon which is a nice way of keeping the team intact and avoiding any disconnect between your party. Compared to the Lost Song and Hollow Fragment, you can now have up to 4 players which include your character, which adds a lot more tactical thinking to your approach.

UI

The UI is tailored to look like you’re actually playing in an MMORPG, with all the trinkets you’d find in that genre. You have the skills tray that has all of your abilities that you can swap through using the d-pad, but you can also add in extra items such as potions so that you can self-heal during battle. At first, it felt a bit weird because playing an MMORPG requires certain hotkeys on a keyboard for instant access, but once you wrap your head around it all it’s quite easy and will play a major role going forward.

Using the d-pad you can scroll up and down on your tray to access other options such as showing emotions, celebrations, and chants so this pretty much acts as a shortcut option to make things easier. If you don’t like the tray always in front of you, you can turn it off by pressing the left side of the PS touch screen, and by pressing the right side you can increase the size of the map.

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161112112949

Quests

Now let’s take a closer look at quests and how they play a major role in the gameplay moving forward. As with every RPG, quests are integral with regards to leveling up your characters, but also some may tie to the main story so it’s always imperative to pay close attention. Quests can be accessed via the Bulletin Board, which you’ll find scattered all across the city so you’ll always know where to find them.

SAO:HR splits the quests up into their respective objectives such as collecting, episodes, battling monsters, bosses, which is nice because a lot of RPGs tend to throw you into a quest and you’re totally unsure as to whether you need to battle a monster to get an item or travel around the region to gather them. This made things a lot easier and organized, which actually made the experience feel more unified and less scattered.

One thing we didn’t really find impressive however was that after completing your quests, you weren’t given a celebratory animation like most games do, but rather you’re shown a little tab at the top of the screen saying you’ve completed it. This turned us off because as you battle these unforgiving creatures you want to feel rewarded in some way, but it just didn’t do that unless you were doing Event Fragment Quests in the field which provided a big bold ‘Success’ in gold letters.

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161112112914

Honey's Gameplay Consensus:

“Poor Camera..Why do you do this to us?”

Of course, a game can’t be a game without having a camera to help direct you, but a lot of times in battle this little thing would just have a mind of its own and become a great hindrance, especially when fighting a group of monsters. Using L3 to lock onto your opponent was nice but at times the game would just drop the auto lock, not because we pressed L3 by accident, but because the camera decided it wanted to on its own.

Quite a disheartening experience since there are many times when the tension builds while trying to fend off a horde of deadly creatures, only to have Mr. Cam go nuts and place the angle behind a tree to obscure our vision, or randomly have our auto lock on a creature that already died. Despite all of this, SAO:HR is most definitely a charming experience for both new and vet players of the franchise, and will certainly have your attention for hundreds of hours if you dedicate yourself to it.

Honey's Pros:

  • Incredible visuals
  • Massive environment with hours upon hours of gameplay [over 70+ without DLC]
  • Skill tree system was very well developed and allowed for versatility.
  • Character creation system was solid.
  • Dating system was very fun and engaging
  • The tutorial was on point.

Honey's Cons:

  • Poor camera angles at times turned us off.
  • AI didn’t really feel ‘smart’ at times.
  • Long dialogue which dragged on for a while, and took us out of our zone.
  • No option to customize our party was a drag.
  • Drop in framerate during boss battles was huge.

Honey's Final Verdict(Thoughts):

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161111161726
SAO:HR is truly a wonderful experience that takes you on a crazy journey of battling beasts, dating girls, and taking on wild quests. With so much to see and do in this vast game, you’ll never feel bored because there’s such a long line of things you have to get through in order to move onto the next part of the story. All of the new integrations in the game will be a treat for many who’ve played past SAO titles while bringing a fresh take for those just wanting to try out a new JRPG for the holiday season. Whatever your flavor may be, SAO:HR provides what you need and just a little more so be sure to have fun out there in the wild!

As always for all things sweet, with all the buzzing news straight from Japan, be sure to keep it locked here on Honey’s Anime.

Rob

Editor/Writer

Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.

100% Vegan. A passionate fan of gaming, writing, journalism, anime, and philosophy. I've lived in Japan for many years and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love to travel around Japan and learn about the history and culture! Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles and join me on Discord! Take care!

Previous Articles

Top 5 Anime by Rob "NualphaJPN" B.