Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a game I have been craving to play ever since it was suggested by a friend to check out the anime. Sword Art Online is a virtual reality game that puts players directly into the world of an MMORPG, and allows them to experience real world pain and emotions. Most of my excitement stemmed from the similarities of the .hack series, a franchise that has been long dormant, especially in the West. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is packed with content and offers players a gigantic world to explore, but the unprofessional translation/localization, overly grind heavy system, confusing maps, and nothing really driving the players forward, all hinder what could have been the best title on the Vita.
The players of Sword Art Online eventually become stuck in the floating world of Aincrad, and must begin clearing the 100 floors of the game to escape. There is a catch of course: if you die in Sword Art Online, you die in real life. This leads to a sense of panic and greed, and some of the players begin targeting others in PvP. Hollow Fragment is technically a non-canon entry into the story. The first season of Sword Art Online is broken into two arcs. The first arc follows Kirito through the entire completion of Aincrad, and the second arc follows his entry into an entirely new MMO while also covering the aftermath of being stuck in the game. Hollow Fragment takes place in between those two arcs and acts as a “what if” scenario for the events ending the Sword Art Online story. This bonus story is very welcome after watching the anime, but it also presents itself in a way that allows for newcomers to the Sword Art Online franchise to jump right in.
From the moment you begin the game it’s very clear how massive Hollow Fragment is. It’s almost nerve wracking when first starting up because the game doesn’t do very much to explain things. What it does explain (there are some minor written tutorials) it only comes off as confusing because of the translation, which I’ll discuss in detail later. The game is essentially split into two major portions: Aincrad which is the main story of the game, and the Hollow Areas which have their own story along with tougher enemies, challenges, and area bosses. Right from the start the game suggests starting out in the Hollow Area. After playing for a few hours it felt like the game should have suggested starting off in Aincrad. Aincrad is much easier in comparison and features enemies that are more in tune with a new player’s level, items, and skill set. The Hollow Area is incredibly difficult especially for a learning player, and going in the wrong direction can lead to a quick game over screen. After a few hours in the Hollow Area I was over leveled for anything that Aincrad could throw at me.
There was some confusion from Bandai Namco Games before the game was released. Through some choice words gamers believed that the title actually included two complete games, but instead Hollow Fragment is actually a remake of the PSP title Infinity Moment with additional content. Hollow Fragment actually released a few months earlier in Hong Kong with an English translation. Many fans imported it only to discover that the English translation was terrible and nonsensical. Once it was confirmed for NA there was a growing suspicion about which translation was going to be used. It’s sad to say, but Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is one of the most unprofessionally presented games I have ever played. As a consumer I’m actually surprised that this is the product that was released. Niche games from certain publishers are becoming harder to receive in the West, but generally speaking it was normally all or nothing. Either you get a game that has a proper localization and translation even if it is a downloadable title only, or the title would not be released here. The dialogue is difficult to follow, and at certain points, almost impossible to understand. Broken English is everywhere. Typos exist around every corner. And what could have been a promising social system with character interaction is just plain painful to read. I was using party chat with a friend while we were both playing and he was reading the dialogue out loud during some of the character interactions. It sounded like broken English coming from a drunk person. It’s actually quite comical as the story progresses, and most of the time the player will understand the main message of the dialogue on screen, but it also represents a total lack of quality control. If it comes down to it again I would personally rather see properly localized title than something that is lacking in quality.
The main draw of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is the massive world and skill upgrades. Kirito, the main character of the Sword Art Online universe, is the only person able to use dual wielding. This is also the starting skill set but players have the option to switch to anything they desire. Weapons are leveled through blacksmithing, and proficiency becomes better through increasing mastery. As the mastery of a weapon increases the available skills become more powerful. The skill tree is a sight to behold, but it can also be a little difficult to navigate. All of the weapon skill trees are tied together so sometimes you may have to level up a weapon you don’t enjoy to try out one that you want. This wasn’t really too troublesome because the grinding in the game can be pretty fun at times, but the downside is that the entirety of the game revolves around grinding. Everything presented is a grind in some fashion. Since the dialogue is so choppy, the driving force that was supposed to be present (story) doesn’t really complete its purpose. The entire experience revolves around the grind which can either entice or push away players. I initially burnt myself out from the title after playing it during all of my available free time in the first week. The structure of the title compliments a pick-up-and-play mentality and short bursts of play keep the experience fresh and enjoyable, rather than seeming like a chore.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment was one of my most anticipated games for 2014. In many ways the title delivered with its massive maps, huge skill trees, and available content for players. But in many other ways it was disappointing with its overly grind heavy gameplay, lack of direction, and the most unprofessional localization I’ve ever experienced. Role-playing and Sword Art Online fans will most likely enjoy the title, but gamers on the edge about downloading the title might not be as impressed as the others. In short, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a fun disappointment.