Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment – Review

Released in 2014, Hollow Fragment is an enhanced remake of the first Sword Art Online game, Infinity Moment. With updates like better graphics, arguably a better combat system, and an entire new area with its own story arc, the Hollow Areas. Though sadly, the Hollow Area feels like it should have been its own separate game, as it doesn’t flow seamlessly with the main game.

Story:

The game takes place in the virtual game of the show’s namesake, and you play as series protagonist Kirito in the climactic final battle against Heathcliff. The game takes place in an alternate timeline from the anime, where after Heathcliff’s defeat, a glitch in the system prevents them from beating the game, thus keeping them trapped in the game. The characters appear on floor 76, and find out that they are no longer able to go back to the previous floors. They then realize that they must complete the remaining floors and follow the game’s intended purpose of reaching the 100th floor.

This portion of the game is the remake of Infinity Moment, and probably the worst part about the game, especially in the story department. It’s largely non-existent up until you get to floors in the 90 region, and even then, you get random fragments of it here and there until the end.

So prior to the higher floor levels, the “story” is really just snippets of Kirito and his friends doing random things. These occur after clearing a floor, and when you are teleported back to the town, you have the choice of either talking to certain friends, or just ignoring it to go to the next floor. The majority of these scenarios are of the game showing Kirito’s relationship in his harem. These scenes either consist of the various girls trying to get in his pants, or the more humble scenes with Kirito just spending time with his wife Asuna and their “child” Yui. The group scenes usually have Kirito getting bitched at, or Klein being the group punching bag.

In this portion, they introduce Strea, who is only present in the game franchise. Not only is she the most forward with trying to get into Kirito’s pants, she’s also the only one with the story that’s relevant to the plot.

The second portion of the game involves the Hollow Area. This entire segment that’s original to the remake. This is also the part that has the most interesting story. Kirito gets transported to a forest, and comes across a girl with an orange cursor who tries to attack him (the cursor indicates she’s killed someone).

The fight is disrupted when a giant boss creature attacks the two of them, and they cast their differences aside and realize that dying is more important than fighting. After defeating the boss, the girl introduces herself as Philia, and only attacked him because she mistook him for the people who were after her. She explains they’re in a place called the Hollow Area, and she’s trapped there. Kirito decides to help her out while discovering the mystery of the Hollow Area.

This is the more interesting portion of the game. The main game of clearing floors gets kind of bland and boring after awhile, and it shows that the creators ran out of ideas for floors as the game went on. This one is more interesting, as there’s actually a story, and also has the major plus of not dealing with the harem. You can choose whoever you want for your partner in the Hollow Area, but sticking with Philia is the best bet for plot relevancy.

 

Gameplay:

The game plays in an action-RPG format, with standard leveling up mechanics. Though you start the game at level 100, and gaining levels actually takes quite a long time. So unlike traditional RPG’s where it implies that you just level up, this game makes you focus more on strategy and skill than just using brute force. You can grind, but for the early parts of the game, it takes a significant amount of time, so you might as well save your time and just take on the challenge.

You have burst attacks which lets you do significantly more damage to enemies. You can activate them by just attacking a certain amount of times to do it. When you learn more skills, you can actually attach them to hot keys to activate them whenever you want. Because of how powerful they are, they place a limit on them by having them take SP. You only get 300 SP and these skills take 100 SP. These do a lot to normal enemies, but when it comes to bosses, or when you’re at a low level with low level equipment, they start doing significantly less damage.

Bosses in Aincrad and the Hollow Areas play a bit differently. The floor bosses are conducted in a raid. So you have a large group of AI characters attacking the boss. They’re largely useless, and you’re still doing all the work, but it keeps the boss off your tail when you need to run off and heal. They also don’t really do much when it comes to attacking. They feel like the regular enemies, but with a large amount of HP.

Hollow Bosses on the other hand, are where the real challenge is. It’s just you and your partner. The bosses also feel like an actual boss, where they have multiple attack patterns. These require a lot more strategy than the floor bosses.

The game lets you go out with a partner, and partners do make the experience a lot better. They can also use burst attacks and such, so essentially adding the damage to bosses. The problem with partners, is that it doesn’t really matter who you have, as they all play the same. So you really just go out on a romp with your favorite girl and just go on with that.

One aspect of the game that’s probably the most obnoxious is dealing with the affection system. Unlike the Persona games where it gives characters advantage in battle, and also lets your summons get EXP boosts, this game doesn’t really do that. The only advantage to increasing affection is that you can change a girl’s equipment. The two ways you increase their affection is by praising them in battle, or by walking around town with them by “talking” to them. By talking to them means that you initiate a conversation in certain areas in town when they pop out a yellow word bubble. This is where you just spam a correct answer until their meter fills up. When their affection reaches a certain level, you can bridal carry them to your room, and you “spend the night” with them.

This feature really does nothing for the game, unless you’re going for trophies. So it’s safe to say it’s there to just please the fans to brag that they slept with their favorite girl.

Visuals:

The graphics aren’t bad. It’s definitely a bit more blocky due to it being a PSP remake, but it’s still a night and day difference. It is kind of disorienting when you get a closeup of the ground, and the texture is pixels, but it really could be a lot worse.

The dialog scenes are all in a visual novel style, where it shows a “cutout” of the characters speaking. The developers probably did this to save time and space with how many there were. It’s kind of boring seeing it this way, but it does let you speed through all the bullshit scenes.

The game does have a few FMV scenes, they could be really enjoyable, and the quality is there, but there’s significant playback issues. It’s really hard to watch a video when its stuttering. It’s like the developers thought that the video should load while its playing, instead of giving you a loading screen, which would be nice, but they didn’t optimize it at all. Luckily the later games are better optimized.

 

Music:

The OST has a style that’s typical to JRPG’s with an orchestrated feel, and it’s well done, but not very memorable. It’s very well done, but with all the different areas and floors, but with a limited soundtrack, it does get kind of redundant after awhile. Particularly with the music in the various floors.

 

Verdict:

Hollow Fragment is a pretty decent game, though heavily flawed in the story department, particularly with the story in Infinity Moment. The fact that every time you clear a floor “rewards” you with a scene of Kirito getting in trouble with one or all of the girls, or just a bullshit fanservice scene sometimes makes clearing a floor not worth it.

The Hollow Area is where the game really shines, the challenging bosses, and pretty interesting story makes this portion of the game worth playing. The entire game as a whole, is definitely catered to fans of the series. Excluding the game original characters, the game basically implies that you already know who the rest of the cast is, and all that happened before the events of the game. So unless you just want to jump in blind, it’s probably best you’re familiar with the show before you go in.

A definite plus about this game, is that there is a lot you can do in the game. It is definitely not hard to drop close to 100 hours in the game. The two main portions of the game are both pretty lengthy, along with the two bonus areas: the Concealed Area, and the Discard Area. The two bonus areas will definitely add several hours to your play time.

The game is definitely worth a play for fans of the show, but if you’re not, and if you definitely don’t like anime harem tropes and scenes, then stay far away.

Music: 6/10.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 7/10.
Story: 6/10.
Content: 8/10.

Conclusion: 7/10

Advertisements

Dragon Quest VII Remake – First Impressions

About a year ago, I reviewed the original Dragon Quest VII, and is a game I quite enjoy. It’s a game that’s infamous for its length, though apparently a game very few people have actually seen the end of. It’s a game that’s fairly difficult for keeping people’s attention to the very end. The game also takes a really long time for you to level up, while it does artificially inflate the time, it’s still a really long game regardless.

15 years later, I finally get my hands on what I hope is the definitive version of the game. The graphics in the original were a bit dated for being a late release on the original Playstation. The remake looks very good. It’s nice seeing the characters moving their mouths when they’re talking, including the NPC’s. While the music isn’t orchestrated, the midi soundtrack sounds pretty good so far.

What might be a drawback for those who loved the inaccessible aspects of the original games, would be how aspects of the game feel a bit streamlined and toned down. A lot of the beginning was cut out to get you to the action a lot faster. In the original game, it was a good two hours or more to go through the beginning dungeon, and you finally get to your first battle. In the remake, I was 90 mins in, and already on level 5. What this also means, is that leveling up doesn’t seem to take as long, well so far at least.

The beginning of the original game did do a good job at making you curious at the mystery in that shrine, it does seem odd to have a scavenger hunt to get you to the dungeon, and an even longer time going through a lengthy dungeon with lots of puzzle solving. Most RPG’s try to get you to the action in the beginning to introduce you to the battle system, which is what you’ll be dealing with a majority of the time. The original game? Nah wait 3 hours.

One aspect of the remake that I feel makes things less annoying, is the tracker for the shards. In the game, you collect shards to unlock pedestals to access further places in the game. The original game had you search every nook and cranny in the hopes to find them. The remake makes that a lot easier, there’s an indicator that flashes one is nearby. I’m sure somebody out there enjoyed that the original game had you search high and low for them, but honestly, it makes it annoying to backtrack in the hopes of finding a shard. This is one of those cases where making it easier is a lot helpful.

The remake of the game so far is very promising, and honestly, I’m not sure how they could really mess it up. ArtePiazza’s remakes of other Dragon Quest games are very faithful and very good remakes, so there shouldn’t be any way they could ruin this remake.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE – First Impressions

Tokyo Mirage Sessions, a mashup between the Shin Megami Tensei series and the Fire Emblem series. While I have never played a Fire Emblem game, I was quite interested to see how it would turn out. Developer Atlus, or even the Shin Megami Tensei series itself isn’t a newcomer to Tactical RPG’s with the Devil Survivor series, it made me expect that the mashup would be a Tactical RPG. Well with the results in my hand, clearly my assumptions were wrong.

Normally mashups give me a bad image. The mashups I have an experience with, are with characters from two series thrown together with a shit happened bullshit backstory, that took 30 seconds to explain, and the audience is supposed to just accept it. So typically it comes off as just as fanservice to see your favorite characters from two series either duke it out, or fight side by side. Basically the type of shit you’d see concocted by a middle schooler on the back of his notebook, then debated about on message boards.

Well in this case, they made it work. It takes a typical SMT type of scenario, and just slid in Fire Emblem characters. The thing that makes it work, is that you can take out the Fire Emblem characters, and the game could still stand on its own. While you could argue that the Fire Emblem characters are in some ways there for fanservice, it doesn’t seem forced. It takes the trope of characters from another series being in an alternate dimension, but Atlus molds it into a situation that works in a game you would expect from them.

In the Megami Tensei games, usually the bosses and summons, or creatures that aid you, are based off of different mythological creatures, they instead just use Fire Emblem characters as the base models. Which explains why I believe this game would still stand on its own if you remove the Fire Emblem characters. Instead of falling into the trap of throwing in your favorite SMT characters, or even just the characters from the popular Persona series, Atlus said “fuck it, new game, new characters”, and crafted a new game out of that.

Onto the game itself. While I think the concept of having the characters as idols, or aspiring idols, and the monsters feeding off the “performa” of said idols, the actual game is pretty fun. I really enjoy how they based the concept of battle off of the Digital Devil Saga games, rather than recruiting the FE characters, like in the main SMT games, or like Persona where you use them as summons. It’s nice to see that the characters become the classes from Fire Emblem.

The battle system has the familiar flair from a SMT game, and it’s nice that they do add in a different twist. Knowing the weakness of your enemy still plays a role in this game like in the others, but instead of just having your character who exploited said weakness attack again, or just having an extra turn, the advantage in this game makes it to where you get to chain attacks to do more damage. It reminds me a bit of Breath of Fire 4 in a sense.

While I’m only done with Chapter 1 of the game, it’s still enough to see that this game will continue to be enjoyable as I continue on. While I do think I’m missing out a bit for not getting the Fire Emblem references, it’s still fun for an outsider to the series to get into the game.

Breath of Fire – First Impressions

Having played two other games in the Breath of Fire series, I decided to check out the original game. There definitely has been a lot of series progression, but I can still see familiarity from this to the newer games.

Compared to the newer games, this one does feel a tad bit archaic, but seeing the era and console it came out on, you can’t really give it much flack. Though I will say that this game doesn’t feel as unique as BoF 3 or 4. So far it kind of feels like a generic sword and sorcery RPG. Hopefully the game gets better as it goes along.

One complaint I have is with battling bosses. The part where you deplete a boss’s HP and then they glimmer and then have an extra spurge of HP seems kind of pointless, and feels like the bosses are being padded out. It makes the concept feel more of a gimmick than adding tension to a boss fight, and also just makes it plain annoying. Maybe if it was say a big time boss, or the final boss, but for just a run of the mill boss, it just feels unecessary.

Phantasy Star II – First Impressions

Sega’s original main RPG franchise, Phantasy Star II was the first for the Genesis. It’s been re-released on multiple consoles throughout the years, so it’s not hard to find a copy lying around.

Released in 1989 in Japan and a year later in North America, this game does feel a bit archaic for those used to modern RPG’s in both graphics and in gameplay. Though for the time, it was actually one of the most advanced games in the genre on consoles, especially for the North American market. Dragon Warrior came out a year earlier, and Final Fantasy came out months after Phantasy Star II. Sadly the Genesis won’t pick up steam until a year later when Sonic The Hedgehog came out, so while Final Fantasy feels more outdated, more people came in contact with it.

Despite being a 16-bit game, it does feel like a slightly souped up NES game in the graphics department. Though we can’t give it too much flack, as it was still very early in the life of the Genesis, so it won’t be until later games where developers know how to take full advantage of the hardware. Also the first Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games on the SNES were just as guilty at looking like slightly better NES games.

Also like many early RPG’s, there is a lot of grinding involved before you can really do anything. It’s one of those aspects of the genre from this time period, as it’s basically in every console RPG at the time. Also new party members will also be underpowered, and also require grinding.

All in all, this is a pretty good game so far, but keep in mind it might be a bit hard to get into if you’re used to modern games. If you’re into early RPG’s, then this should be no issue for you.

Trails in the Sky – First Impressions

The Legend of Heroes series, definitely a very below the radar series. It’s definitely a well regarded series, by the 5 people who know the series exists. With a botched release history, and, starting with this title, a name theme being added, it’s no wonder a lot of people in the West haven’t heard of it.

Trails in the Sky is the first in the series that became notable in the West, and it’s translation is also infamous with being troublesome for publisher XSeed to translate. Despite being a critical darling, its low sales definitely didn’t help push the series into popularity, and its subsequent sequels within the Trails in the Sky trilogy were stuck in translation hell for years.

Upon finding an elusive copy of the game, I can definitely see why the publisher had “fun” translating the game. It’s very dialog heavy. Not only is the story very dialog driven, there’s a ton of different character interactions that move the game along. It’s almost like playing a very interactive novel. There’s also a metric fuckton of dialog to deal with in the game, which isn’t a bad thing, and does flesh out the characters and the world.

The gameplay itself is pretty fun. It’s nice that it’s an actual 3D world, not just characters moving around on a “three dimensional” pre-rendered background. Those types of games seem to be more interesting for me, and make it a lot more fun to explore. The battle system is a lot of fun as well, it reminds me a lot of the Grandia series, which isn’t a bad thing. You can build up on your special points, and unleash your super attack and give hell to your enemies.

So far this game is definitely a lot of fun, and it’s a bit sad that it didn’t sell very well. Definitely looking forward to Second Chapter whenever I decide to get a copy of that.

Lunar Silver Star Harmony – First Impressions

The fourth iteration of the original Lunar game, Lunar: The Silver Star Story (there’s currently 5, but it’s really just a mobile friendly version of the second “Complete” version). This game is fondly remembered, not only for being one of the few quality games on the ill remembered Sega CD (or Mega CD for those outside of the US), or even one of the few traditional RPG’s on the console add-on. It’s just a quality game all around, and the remake on the original Playstation helped bring it into a larger audience (it’s also just a better version in general).

Before talking about this iteration of the game, it does beg the question of why Lunar 1 is the only game in the franchise that got so many iterations, and the second one only got a single remake. It’s a quality game in its own right, and depending on who you talk to, can be considered the better of the two. Maybe I’m just preaching to the choir, because I really enjoy Lunar 2. Aaaaanyway

Silver Star Harmony looks like an even more updated version of Complete, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s the superior of the three previous versions, complete with all the cutscenes and completely revoiced with new actors. The new voices sound pretty competent, and do sound less “Speed Racery” in the cutscenes. They did find a girl that sounds similar to Luna, and she can sing pretty well. Some of the new voices do take a bit of getting used to, but that’s just because they sound different instead of being bad. Most notably Nall. I’m used to him having a squeaky voice from the original CD and the PS1  versions, but his new VA seems pretty competent.

The graphics look really good compared to the older games, mostly because of it being on a more powerful system. It’s in an isometric view, so some of the new layouts of the towns and such will take a bit of getting used to, but it does give the game a bit more of a new feel to returning fans instead of just feeling like yet another rehash.

The music sounds really good as well. It’s still midi, but who cares if it still sounds good. The only major complaint I have about the soundtrack, is that the music fades out every time you change screens and starts up again when you get to a new screen. I’d understand if you were going to a spot with a change of music, as it’s kind of expected, but it’s really jarring when you’re going to a different screen in a town or dungeon (or enter a house), and the music stops, then starts back up again (at least it’s from where it left off). You’d think it’d be a simple thing to program to have it continue, as even basic programs like RPG Maker are able to do it. Who knows, it’s not game breaking, but it’s still an annoyance.

The gameplay and battle mechanics are largely untouched from the PS1 version. You can still move around the field and attack monsters based on your range, and Alex can still attack twice in a row. They even kept the aspect of being able to see the enemies on the field if you want to avoid them, though sadly they can still follow you around. It does make the concept seem null and void when many of the enemies are basically unavoidable. At least they didn’t bring back the random encounters from the Sega CD version. The biggest feature they added to this version, is that the characters basically have limit breaks. So like in Final Fantasy, the more you attack and such, your limit meter builds up. It also follows the FF10 model where you can save it for later, like Luna’s super heal when you’re in a tight spot in a boss fight.

Now a gripe, which is how the cutscenes are in a fairly low resolution. The 4:3 ratio is ignorable, as they most likely didn’t make those cutscenes in a wider screen format, but the low resolution videos seems like an odd choice. It looks really pixelated in many of the scenes, and was probably just copied straight from the PS1 game, and it’s not a PSP limitation, as other games have better video quality. It’s possible that those are the only versions of the cutscenes available for the staff.

Another possibility is that I’m playing it on the Vita, and on the PSTV, so it could make it more noticeable, like playing a PS1 game on the PS3. It does make the character images look more pixelated and the text more blurry, though some of the other PSP games I’ve played on the Vita don’t look like that. Who knows.

A gripe I do have with the game is the added intro to the game. While it does give some backstory to the game, it feels like a drag to go through a boss fight (which plays more like an interactive cutscene). It’s somewhat long and kind of annoying when you just want to get to the damn game.

Anywho, Silver Star Harmony so far is a very good remake of the game, and personally the best version of the game out there. Some might have nostalgia glasses on the older versions, or just prefer the top down nature of them, but it’s still enjoyable nonetheless.