Quick Summary: SAO: Hollow Fragment is an RPG for the PS Vita where you are thrust into the world as Kirito (though in non-cut scenes you have a customized character you can create) where instead of setting everyone free on floor 75, everyone is still somehow stuck in the digital world. Some sort of ‘error’ occurred, and Kirito finds himself in an uncharted area called the Hollow. Here you get to explore the levels above 75 as well as the mysterious Hollow area. All the familiar faces are available of those who Kirito met on his travels, as well as his cousin’s VRMMORPG character Leafa and Sinon from the second SAO. New characters not shown in either the anime or manga are also to be met. What exactly has caused everyone to be stuck still in this virtual world, and what part does the Hollow play in it all?
So I am a bit of a fan of the anime SAO, though it was a bit cliched and cheesy at some points, I couldn’t help but like it. When I heard there was a game coming out on the Vita for it, I did get a bit excited for a different paced J-RPG. It was like an MMORPG that was really just an RPG. It reminded me of the old .Hack//sign games that came out ages ago that I fell in love with. So my hopes were set high.
Now I am doing this review without actually finishing the game just yet (it takes quite a while), though I do already have some solid opinions on what I have played through so far.
The game itself is in Japanese with English subtitles, and what sounds like the original voice actors. I actually enjoyed this fact since when I first watched the show it was a Sub and not a Dub. It made the game feel more familiar and authentic in a strange way. One thing I am still getting used to though is the button commands. Japan uses ‘O’ as the accept button and ‘X’ as the exit/return button. In Western countries it is often the opposite. So in SAOHF, it uses the Japan style of button commands, which has more than once caused me to accidentally kill myself when I accidentally open a menu instead of issuing a command. I wouldn’t pin this down as a negative thing, only an observation, causing me to pay a bit more attention when I play so that I hit the correct commands. It is interesting and fun to play in this opposite button style, though I know some would disagree with me.
The combat is free movement where you can issue some commands to your single partner that you are allowed to enter into combat with. I like this instead of turn base because it flows with the world that it is based upon where you are a character in an VRMMORPG. Though I have had difficultly backing away from a fight to use an item, which has resulted in my death quite a few times. You are naturally drawn towards the enemy when in a fight, and using an item is not instantaneous, it actually takes time. It can also be interrupted by an enemy attack-etc. So the fact that is takes an actual considerable effort to step away for a moment to use an item is a bit of a pain. I have better luck when I am in the ‘defensive’ mode of Switch: this means that the enemy is focused on my partner instead of me. Though many of my partners, thus far at least, instantly complain to switch back into the defensive mode instead of offensive.
Another issue I have (and maybe I just haven’t figured something out) is the auto-magick casting. You have essentially a MP bar which you can use to cast spells or use special attacks. Overtime and with timed parry attacks it will regain (or items). However, there are many times when I am saving my MP to hit its first ‘bar’ to use a specific spell (like healing) and the game auto-uses a sword skill on the enemy. This has been for me personally a point of frustration. I don’t like being forced to use my MP bar to have it be depleted back down to near zero when I had a strategy in place. Thus far I haven’t found a way to stop this action nor why it happens in the first place.
One positive the the weapons system though. You have Kiritos famous duel-wielding option, but you can also choose a different style of weapon to fight with. Different stats and abilities are tied to each style of weapon, and there is also a weapons leveling/building option with our lovely pink haired blacksmith. This option is really nice for those who don’t really like fighting with only swords or are used to an option of using different weapons. In addition, each character (main and other) you fight with has distinct weapons and fighting styles. This allows you to chose a partner that will actually make a difference in boss battles or side missions.
The exploration of the game is enjoyable as well. There is a typical missions board where you can accept item gathering/foe slaying side quests to earn EXP, money, or/and items. These can help break up just hunting through the Labyrinth for boss battles, and is actually essential into getting into those rooms. That aside, just seeing the new floors and what they are like is fun as well, and again makes it feel like a real MMORPG. The Hollow area offers a nice change as well since it has different styles of monsters as well as rare items you can find. If you get bored with one it is easy to switch up to the other.
Moving on the the characters, you seem to have the option of romancing or having romantic scenes with other female characters in the game. Even though you are married and in love with Asuna, it seems that other characters who have had a crush on you are able to pursue this notion and that are a few fan-service scenes where often…Kirito acts oblivious to said females true intentions. One example is with Silica who takes on a small inner-city mission to build her level. This for some reason is working at a maid café. You see her in a maid outfit, she acts bashful and said cute things, and ends up hand feeding you your first bite. It just seems a bit like…a cop-out? Maybe that’s just me, but it seems a bit distracting and a little unrealistic for this video game when Kirito was made clear to have feelings for only one person. Now, had it been not Kirito but a new character totally individualized and new that was playing, this would make much more sense and have a better flow to it.
I was expecting a lot more out of this game than I got, though I’m not saying it is all bad. I am enjoying playing it a couple hours at a time, I’m just not going to work that hard at finishing it as much as-let us say Persona 4 Golden. The graphics and music are lovely and the combat system is fun. These alone are enough to keep me playing, as well as my curiosity as to how they are going to end this alternate timeline of the anime/manga.
Overall score: 6/10.