What would you do if you were locked in virtual reality? This question has been the backbone of several stories since before I can remember. Stories like Tron and The Matrix show a hero liberating a virtual world from the clutches of evil. These stories speak to the escapist side of or personality that is always looking to go on an adventure. How amazing would it be to find yourself in a completely different world than the one you were used to, one that needed you to step up and be the hero? That fantasy is what built Sword Art Online, then science messed it all up with brain destroying nerve gear helmets. And now, several years later after its creation, we finally have the game we all deserved.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization isn’t the first game in the series, however, it is the only one worth playing. Not only does it manage to bring the feel of the 2012 anime but it is also packed with several features that make the game an amazing experience. For the first time in Sword Art game history, you finally start at level one. This is a weird request, but being able to feel yourself getting stronger is way better than starting off at level fifty and going from there.
Monster mobs are unique and pose several different challenges and status effects right from the start. Combat is a dance you will have to learn if you don’t want to die in your second encounter like I did. SAO:HR also allows you to fully customize what your hero is wearing armor wise as well as the weapon he/she is using. Each weapon changes your skills and attack patterns which are important to remember when facing different enemies.
The map in which the game is played on itself is also chalked full of life. From roaming enemy mobs to computer controlled players that can assist you to take down harder enemies, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization tries its hardest to make it feel like a living breathing world. Boss battles also feel over the top and force you to be careful of all your movements. If you strike at the wrong time the punishment can be severe. I had a battle with at Trent go on for almost twenty minutes but the loot from the encounter was well worth the time. Not to mention, halfway into the battle, I stood up off of my bed because I just got that into it.
Quest are given out on several mission boards in the hub city and involve you doing everything from tracking down monsters to collecting items. Treasure chest fill the map but can only be opened by clearing out a particular mob of monsters. This has yet to get too repetitive as the higher level you are the easier it is for you to clear out the mobs. The center focus of SAO:HR is the recreation of Sword Art Online.
A company has made a game called Sword Art: Origin which is a replica of the game Sword Art Online. Our hero and his friends had decided to dive into Sword Art: Origin in order to clear all the dungeon bosses and beat the game. While doing this they come across a nameless NPC who seems to have to purpose at all. It is secrets like these that entice the player of SA:O to investigate further into the weird things happening in the game.
I love it when RPG’s pretend to be MMO’s. My favorite instance of this is the 2002 PS2 game .hack//INFECTION. Since the world is an MMO you game have what is essentially metagaming and it is totally legit. Characters can simply not be online because they have things to do in the real world and that will alter your team building. Not only that but you can make friends with every player you see in the game and have them join your party. This makes talking to everyone not seem like a huge waste of time. Not only that but high-level field bosses can appear in certain areas at certain times, so having a bunch of powerful friends on standby just in case you need them isn’t a bad idea.
Everything isn’t roses in the virtual space however, there are still a few gripes that keep this game from being perfect. It’s all too easy to get stuck on the environment in combat which can spell the end of your hero. Special mission bosses have to go through the same introduction animation every time you enter the area, which is a lot if you are questing. The story is a bit slow moving, with lots of dialogue to get you caught up if you didn’t watch or play any of the other properties. This means that you will spend a lot of time listening to people talk before you actually get to do anything fun.
Overall Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a step in the right direction for the series. Hopefully, in the near future, we get the SAO game of my dreams. A 4-20 player co-op experience kinda like Destiny where the main plaza is filled with real players that you can make friends with and party up with to take on harder bosses. If anything, games like Destiny and Elder Scrolls Online have proven that you can have that large scale fantasy RPG on the PS4.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
I’m back to Aincrad
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 9/10
Story - 8/10
Full Dive into Fun
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a brilliant take on the Virtual RPG genre. The are many mission to dive into, character to befriend, and bosses to slay that will have no time filling up your playthrough. Minor development issues and long-winded dialogue scenes plague this game a little but that won’t stop you from getting lost in the beautiful world around you.