Video Games

Review: Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

by on December 19, 2016

For those who the term “Online” triggers them, do not fret, just cast away your worries, the term Online in the Review: Sword Art Online does not refer to mandatory online play, heck, the online functionality is hardly there in the game, it is just a title of a game no more no less. I know this might sound strange because there are considerable amount of players who got bored the hype train of online gaming, but there are also select few, sole souls  who prefer to indulge into world of gaming in single player fashion, and because of that, I was kind of depressed when I read the term Online in the title’s name, but heaved a sigh of relief the moment I realized that this game does not require you to pair with real life players, it is a single player action RPG game hat so charmingly portrays some aspect of MMORPGs, it  is a game where the developers has poured a considerable amount of hard work to marry the world of MMORPGs with kind of single player offline RPG of sort.

With zero knowledge about the source material, the universe of Sword Art Online ( SAO, for short) I have took upon myself to unearth information about the franchise and did my homework about SAO and it turned out to be game based on a well-accepted and critically acclaimed Japanese anime of the same name.  The anime basically revolves  around a sort of virtual reality online MMORPG game where the players can log in, forge teams and take on quests but with a twist, the players who logged in the Sword Art Online are stuck there with no way to log out of the game, moreover, failures and deaths in the case have severe repercussion that lead to the death of the actual character in the real life, in a nutshell, Sword Art Online is a creepy virtual reality MMORPG where there is no Respawning, only death.

The palpable sense of urgency and unrest  is what have made the anime so amazing, it is that sense that gave the anime a unique identity, it overwhelmed we with excitement to experience it first hand with this game which takes up where the anime has left off, the story of the game starts after the events of the anime, after the dust has been settled, the question is: did the game portray that great sense of pure unadulterated unrest and urgency of the source material? The sense that made Sword Art Online so great? I will be answering that question in my review.

Firstly; Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization gameplay is a hybrid of action RPG and MMORPGs, the fans of the latter will be delighted of how impressively this game conveys the aesthetic aspect of MMORPGs as the screen is full of details. However, in the other hand the fans of the former will get confused with the density and overcrowding icons and details on the screen. You can form a party with up to three other players, assign a specific command to certain party members, and even though you can’t switch control with them; when prompted; you can command your party members to attack. With the threads not stringed together well; and lack of explanation of some of the mechanics of the battle system; oftentimes I have left confused and on my own in the midst of the battles, so I ultimately preferred to just mash away on the attack button.  The battles are simple and does not really require you to flex your muscles save for some rare occasions, granted, I might have overlooked some really incredible details and nuances in the battle system of the game like chain attacking with your companions or switching with them, but trust me when I say that the overstuffed pieces are so dense that you get lost in, sadly turning the battles into some sort of hacking and slashing, mashing the square and triangle button does the job in most of the battles, you’re soon start yawning at the pace of the battles.

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The developers evidently have worked hard into filling Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization with contents, but the lack of explanation and not stringing the threads well  together to make a cohesive whole have all resulted in a boondoggle of incohesive structure, there is a welcome addition to the interaction between the characters and NPCs in terms of reaching a level of intimacy with them, triggering romance, the developers hint at some sort of correlation between the intensity of your relationship with the characters and their performance in battles and the way they develop, that’s really super neat, I did raise the bar of my expectations way high, expecting to get special treatment and care from characters with which I share deep bond, and yes, I got disappointed, there wasn’t really any degree of reflection at all. Seriously a thick cloud of vagueness is there, the system is not properly explained this and this game literally exhausts you!

One thing that suffers from this issue is the character developing Skill Tree System, I really dig this system but in this game is a mess of icons and unexplained titles, I suffered from terrible headache as I tried to grasp some of the skills and to understand their effect in the battle. Since the Sphere Grid System of Final Fantasy X I have grown infatuated with the Skill Tree system but trust me when I say that in this game it is meaningless and nontangible.

Regarding the game’s world, one of the weakest link of the game is the graphics. Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization environments are downright generic, the apple has not fell far off from the tree as this game bears so many generic resemblances with other RPGs. The frame rate although runs well it dips considerably when you are in the main town hub and some overcrowded locals.

Over the course of playing the game; I have been considerably growing affectionate with how excellent the game portrays the real life MMOs, it is literally set up as one. Having said that; as you complete quests and gain fame; you will be bombarded with a plenty of friend requests. You will be constantly socializing with your friends, strolling around the town with them, and even going out to dates with them! The relationship system is so cool, and it is basically consisted of walking with them, talking with them at certain spots, doing so will trigger some minigames in which you nod and answer to their questions and opinions, making bold moves might either help advance the feelings of that character toward you or result in putting your friend in bad mood if what you did is considered as something out of the line by them. As the level of intimacy grows between you, when you are close enough, you can hold hands, carry your date in your arms and even engage in pillow talk with them!  now this is a neat distraction of the main course of the game.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization’s presentation outshines some other aspects, half action RPG and half visual novel , given the fact that this game is based on Animes, I was not surprised when my eyes have started treating with an influx of Anime cutscenes, static character conversations all with  Japanese voiceovers ( there is no English voiceover in the game) and yes, a gazillion of lines of recorded dialogues between the characters, make no mistake, when I say gazillion, the dialogues is so too much here, that you will eventually fed up with, almost most of the time you will be listening to lengthy static conversations between the characters. Now don’t get me wrong; I really appreciate when the game engages with some heavy topics but the slow and tedious pace that the Japanese RPG games are all ill-famed with is here, the story although interesting and excessively gracious with fan services and all, does not pick up not until after 20 hours of playing the game.

“Please; do not shake me from my calm repose” if I would summarize the whole narrative of the game I would choose this line. The game lacks the well known balance of black and white, evil and good, dark and light, it lacks the balance of calm and trauma, danger and safe, resulting in a game void of any sense of urgency.  Admittedly; I appreciate the way the game address the post trauma calm of the characters, and theoverflow the characters bask in, for ten hours or so I enjoyed seeing beaming faces, zealous expressions, and all; but come on this is too much! The status quo continued and on and I grew impatient as this way; with the absence of proper balancing of times of danger and times of calm; the emotions of calmness and sadness has eventually drained up of their values and meanings and became meaningless and void of any quality in the process. As long time gamers; we all know that the absence of sense of urgency, the existence of pervasive air of everlasting and never ending calm from the threads of the storyline devoid Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization from so many qualities leaving it flat and meaningless.

Finally, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is without a shroud of doubt, a product of hard work. The labor of the developers hint at great mechanics and aspects but it sadly falls short of realizing any. The game is stuffed to the brim with fan services enough to delight the fans of this beloved Japanese franchise. The game’s shaky infrastructure is squashed by the overcrowding of the dense mechanics, vagueness and lack of explanation will exhaust you, the battle system is simple and the game is generic to other RPG to the point you hardly tell it apart from other games in the genre, all in all the game falls short from reaching the incredible mechanics it hints on and ends up as a well appreciated endeavor in blurring the lines between the MMORPG and offline RPG.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 digital code of the game provided by Namco Bandai. The game is also available on PlayStation Vita in digital stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.

What we liked

• Portrays the real-life MMORPG aspects so well.
• Filled with fan services.
• Hidden nuances and hints of high potential aspects.
• Excellent anime presentation.
• Lively world
• Nice marriage of aspects of MMORPG and Offline Action RPG
• The relationship system

What is not fun

• Simple battle.
• Littered with typos.
• Mess of icons and unexplained mechanics.
• Lacks the unique identity and the sense of urgency of the source material.
• Too much conversations.
• Meaningless Skill Tree system.

Editor Rating





Replay Value

Final Score

Our final verdict

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization incorporates some smart ideas, but sadly some of them are drowned under the sea of vagueness and unexplained mechanics, whereas others have just hinted to and not realized. The sense of everlasting calmness peels the unique identity of the source material off the game, leaving a generic action RPG in the process, I have honestly believed that I might be singing a different tone about the narrative but that sadly did not happen.

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