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Sword Art Online: Re Hollow Fragment – First Impressions

I know that this is my third post on Hollow Fragment, but strolling around on PSN, I saw the Bamco anime game sales. I saw that this game was on sale for $5, so I figured why not. I beat the original game, so why not dick around in the remaster?

To be honest, I’m not completely sure why this remaster exists. Is it because they were going to make more money with a PS4 version, because the Vita has fairly lackluster sales? Is this game really popular enough to remaster a remake of a PSP game? If it really was that popular, why is it still only available as a digital download? Hell I might have actually paid $20 for a physical copy. They really should have released this alongside the Vita game, like the other two games, and have it cross compatible.

I was initially content with how the game looked on my Vita screen, and it still looked fairly well on the PSTV (or is it the Vita TV?). Not dogging on how it looks on the PS4, I expected it to look better. Though if you owned the original, don’t get your hopes up that much, as it’s really just a much higher resolution version of the Vita game. I will give Bamco credit for having the decency to not have the lower-resolution Vita cutscenes just upscaled to 1080P, like other remasters have.

The game plays pretty much exactly the same, just ditching touch screen features. Though the game does play at a higher framerate, so grinding affection at dating spots doesn’t feel quite as long. If you own the Vita game, you can transfer your save, and play it as a new game plus. It’s sadly not cross compatible like Lost Song, or Hollow Realization.

The game is supposed to be a director’s cut of sorts, I just haven’t researched into what extra stuff was added. In all honesty, if you own the Vita version, you’re not missing out much. It just feels like a game that should have came out a lot earlier, instead of later. If you didn’t, check it out if you want a lengthy JRPG to spend time on.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization – First Impressions

Bamco has released the third (well technically fifth) game in the popular anime franchise, Sword Art Online, and this time they decided to go back to the style of Aincrad. While these games have been mixed on a critical level, it must be selling fairly well if Bamco is cranking out a third game, with one of them having been remade, and getting a remastered port, because apparently people want to re-visit Aincrad over and over.

Anywho, this game takes place after Lost Song, and we are graced with the game called Sword Art Origin. A world based off of Aincrad (now called Ainground), and the mythology is that it’s the origin (shocking!) of the world of Sword Art Online. Unlike the previous games, this world is entirely non-canonical with the original franchise (I’m basing this on the fact that I haven’t read the light novels).

The developers seemed to have mixed what people liked from the previous two games, and they decided to mix the two together. The combat plays a lot like Lost Song, but the overall way the game plays is very reminiscent of Hollow Fragment. For those who were sad that the dating mechanic was missing in Lost Song, it’s back in full swing in Hollow Realization.

This time maxing out your favorite girl’s affection is a lot more time consuming. I will give them some credit, that with one of the updates, they sped it up significantly. You get to run around town with your favorite girl, and like Hollow Fragment, you take them to special “date spots”, indicated with a heart. Then you can chat them up, and you can either nod or shake your head depending on their questions.

This is actually pretty time consuming if you’re just trying to grind affection (which doesn’t seem to add anything to gameplay, besides trophies and bragging rights). Before the update, maxing out the level 5 affection was obnoxiously long. I grinded the affection for about two hours straight, and I barely saw any progress. Now you can grind a girl’s affection to max in about 45 minutes. Still pretty long, but beats sitting for several hours to max out one level. Don’t worry perverts, you can still bring a girl to bed and sleep with her, I mean “pillow talk” with her. Wow, my head went to the gutter there, because a girl spewing hearts of affection, and wearing sexually suggestive clothing, is going to just share a bed with a guy and not have sex. Hopefully Kirito can’t get virtual HIV from Yuuki. Sorry for the dark joke guys, won’t happen again.

So far the story here is actually kind of interesting. You meet an NPC named Premiere (minor spoiler), and her position in the game is very confusing. She comes off like a defunct NPC, but as the game progresses, you slowly discover her purpose. Also there’s something about NPC’s becoming more humanlike, kind of like Yui and Strea, but for the entire game. Also when they die, they die forever. Hopefully this is actually explored in a good way, because Seven’s experiment in Lost Song was incredibly lackluster.

So far I’m enjoying the game, the goofy cutscenes aren’t as frequent as Hollow Fragment, and so far aren’t as ridiculous. It’s also nice seeing Argo getting a bit more spotlight, as she’s very humorous, and is the only girl (besides Yui for obvious reasons), that isn’t trying to get into Kirito’s pants. Though SAO fans, don’t worry, your hero Kirito is still dimwitted when it comes to girls.

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

Sword Art Online: Lost Song – First Impressions

Previously I talked about the previous Sword Art Online game Hollow Fragment, and while an enjoyable game, the fanservice cutscenes were a but much. Also it was a remake of the first SAO game, Infinity Moment, with basically an extra second game attached to it, so it feels like two games in the same engine patched together.

Lost Song, while technically the third release, is the second game in the Sword Art Online game franchise. Taking place in the second MMORPG in the series, Alfhiem Online, it incorporates many of the elements from the show into the gameplay. While the gameplay, including combat, was fun in Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is a massive upgrade. You have two different sword attacks, and you also have the option of casting spells. In Hollow Fragment, you really just had one sword attack, and you kept mashing X until it goes into burst attack, and if you weren’t a high enough level, the burst attack/sword skills were really the only way to get damage on enemies. Lost Song, all your attacks do enough damage. Also it’s much easier attacking multiple enemies at once. In Hollow Fragment, battles are constrained to one on one, despite the fact that multiple enemies can attack you at once. At times it got annoying when two or more enemies attack you.

The map screens were already decently sized in the previous game, Lost Song’s world’s are massive making exploration very fun. A feature of the game in the anime was flight, and good god is it amazing in this game. On foot exploration is a bit slow, but honestly, if you have the option to fly around without any consequences, why walk when you can fly? Regular flight mode is already fast enough, but since the worlds are large enough, you can also do a burst of speed. The only downside, is that they add a stamina meter, so you can only burst for a bit until you get too tired. Though you can stop speeding right before your stamina completely depletes, so you don’t pause from being too tired.

With flight, they also incorporated flight combat which is very fun. It works very similar to on foot combat, but flight combat adds a certain level of chaos (the good kind) to battles. Also aerial boss fights are a ton of fun. More regarding battle, you can also have two partners in your party as opposed to one. If you have two characters that have a lot of long distance attacks (like Sinon), they can whittle down the health of enemies while you go and tank them. Also with your partners, the other characters actually add different experiences of combat. With the previous game, the characters were very similar, so you really just partied with your favorite girl, but this time, it actually makes a different. Another feature, is that you can play as the other party members instead of just being Kirito. For the sake of simplicity for developers, you’re still Kirito in cutscenes, but in battle, you can have your player character as anyone in your party. So if you’ve ever wanted to play as Asuna or Silica, your dream has come true.

With the story, there’s more of an actual story so far in the game. Hollow Fragment had bits and pieces very sparsely placed in the game, but so far Lost Song has more of a story going on. Sadly the fanservice cutscenes are still present, and are basically the same as the other game. There’s still some typical ones like the girls trying on cat ears and asking who the cutest one is (Philia if you’re asking), but there’s racy ones like Strea making Asuna a set of underwear and having her try it on for her darling Kirito. Sadly I doubt they’re ever going to release a Sword Art Online game without these scenes, as it’s basically part of the anime, so it’s probably something that’s never going away, but at least they have more story going on. Hopefully they don’t drop the actual story somewhere along the game and just give you wave after wave of fanservice. Also in regards to fanservice, they added in alternate costumes, including swimsuits and bath towel costumes. To add “flair” to these costumes, they added boob jiggle physics. If that’s up your alley.

With all this in mind, Lost Song is a very fun game. If you enjoyed Hollow Fragment, then Lost Song is a guarantee like. It still has some of the flaws from the previous game, and they’re still catered towards people who have actually seen the show. Though if you can get over fanservice cut scenes, it’s still a very fun game, and aerial combat makes it almost worth it.

Sword Art Online – Hollow Fragment – Short Review

Ah, Sword Art Online, an anime I have mixed opinions over. With it’s interesting premise and world, yet questionable storywriting, it’s a fairly polarizing series. You either love it or hate it. Personally I’m in the camp that thinks it’s just okay and needs a bit more polishing.

Anyone can argue over the quality of the series, but you can’t deny that it’s an incredibly popular series. Like many anime series before it, it becomes a cash cow franchise spawning off all kinds of merchandise and media, and now an almost requirement, a video game spinoff. Though unlike other anime, like say To Love Ru, that gain a video game spinoff, this one on paper seemed the most promising.

Like the .Hack series before it, it’s a series based on characters playing a role playing game. So unlike other anime that either just make a visual novel or a fighting game, the series is already a video game with an established world. So all the developers have to do is just come up with an interesting story and do their best not to fuck up the gameplay. Hell they went to Bandai Namco who’s famous for their Tales series, so how could it go wrong?

Hollow Fragment starts off on the right foot, you (playing as series protagonist Kirito) and as part tutorial, and part technical show off, you fight a gigantic monster. It does give you a great feel of how gigantic the bosses were in the anime, and you get to experience it first hand in the game.

After quite a few hours of playing the game, I can say that while the game is quite enjoyable, it does have quite a few flaws. For the actual game itself, I wouldn’t call it directionless, but for the most part, there isn’t necessarily a large point or much direction in the game.

For the main section of Aincrad, your whole goal is to get to floor 100. So you basically just run around a floor, find the boss’s location, then you warp back to town and complete a quest or two (or if you’re smart, activate the quests right before you explore a floor), as the quests give you the boss info. Then go back to the teleport center, and your girlfriend Asuna gets together a group of fighters to take on the boss of the level. Once you defeat it, the floor is cleared, off to the next floor! Rinse and repeat!

The Aincrad part of the game doesn’t deviate from that so far, at all. Occasionally you’ll receive a message from random players asking for help to ask you for help in defeating monsters, but they’re just random field monsters, not boss monsters, or even high level monsters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is quite fun exploring the floors, and they at least change things up by having new mechanics to overcome while you explore. It’s not just wandering around and “oh shit, I found the boss!”.

The other big section of the game, the Hollow Areas, are the new feature of the game. It’s almost like two games in one. Your new friend, game original, Philia asks you for help in exploring the secrets of the Hollow Areas. Basically she gives you a point on the map that you have to traverse to, and it happens to be a dungeon to explore. This basically plays similar to the Aincrad levels, just with larger areas to explore, and tougher enemies. As you start the game at level 100, Aincrad has weak monsters that give you shit for experience points, so if an Aincrad boss is giving you trouble, just run around the Hollow Areas to level up Kirito (or just gain more skill points) to wipe the floor with him.

Combat itself is pretty decent. You gain skill points that boost the power of your sword abilities. After awhile, you’ll literally kill enemies with a single sword skill attack. You also get to travel with a partner, which basically consists of Kirito’s ever-growing harem and Klein, but fuck Klein if you can have cuties/badasses like Asuna or Sinon travel with you.

From what I’ve noticed, none of your partners have a noticeable difference in battle, they’re just at different levels. Characters like Asuna and Philia are initially stronger, as they’re close to the same level as Kirito, while Sinon and Silica are on much lower levels. Though if you run around with the lower level characters enough, they’ll level up quickly and make the gap between the higher level partners null and void.

The only story required partner is Philia in the Hollow Areas. Basically your job is to get her out, and magically she’s the only one that can use the items you find to unlock doors and stuff to progress. Other than that, you can pick whoever you want.

Now for the flaws of the game. Largely the flaws have to deal with the “story” and dialog. There isn’t necessarily an overarching story and after completing certain events, they unlock cutscenes for the characters which is the biggest flaw of the game. These cutscenes pretty much just serve as fanservice bits. With bits like following Silica and finding out that she works at a maid cafe, or sparing with Sinon and she falls over and gets wet and shows off some butt action. These bits feel very unnecessary and just shows off the cuteness of Kirito’s harem.

Then there’s the times where the various girls get Kirito in trouble. I shit you not that when you first leave the Hollow Area (aka the game tutorial), you first get bitched at by all the female characters for being missing for several minutes, then immediately get bitched at AGAIN for mentioning that you met yet another girl. As more cutscenes appear in the game, so increases your times of getting bitched at by either a girl, or multiple girls. Not even 5 minutes later, another game original character, Strea appears, and starts hitting on Kirito, then the ever-so-clueless Kirito takes her to a bar. The girls then walk in on Strea sitting on your lap, and then you get bitched at a third time. Gotta love that don’t you?

Let’s not talk about the silly scene where they all get jealous of your sibling relationship with Leafa, and then all pretend that they’re all your little sister. Sigh

Then there’s the relationship portion of the game. If the cutscenes weren’t enough fanservice for you, then all bets are off on this one. From what I’ve noticed, increasing the girls’ affection towards you serves pretty much no purpose. The purpose it pretty much serves is that you get to walk around town holding hands with your favorite girl, and if you increase their affection levels high enough, you get to bridal carry them to your room and “share your bed” with them. Yes you get to be a manwhore and fuck every girl in the game. I shit you not.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the game has either mixed reviews, or just rated lower than it should be. Unlike other JRPG’s like a Tales or Final Fantasy, the game really just caters to fans of the show. Instead of introducing you to the world, or even the cast, the game pretty much implies that you not only know who everyone is, but what’s going on. Especially when this game seems to take place after both seasons of the anime (or if it wasn’t for Sinon, after the first season). The game expects you to already know who Heathcliff is, or the events of the anime.

If the game wasn’t unfriendly enough to newcomers, the copious amounts of fanservice sure as hell isn’t helping either. While a flawed game, it’s definitely got its merits and is quite enjoyable. The combat is fun, and the graphics definitely give justice to the artstyle of the show. It’s obviously catered to a niche audience who consists of fans of the show who also happen to be fans of RPG’s.

Conclusion: 7/10