Ah, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, what a tangled web we weave. The latest in a long dynasty of “harem” style RPG’s from Bandai Namco Europe once again follows Kirito and his entourage of comely lasses, plus Klein and Agil. This time around they find themselves inside a video game dubbed Sword Art Origin, a game based on the original Sword Art Online which trapped our heroes together all those years ago. However they don’t have to worry about death and entrapment, simply a fun adventure with all their friends. What could go wrong? Enter Premiere a mysterious NPC who has no background, no personality and has a quest that goes nowhere. Seeing her like some lost lamb and possibly because he needs yet another girl to stroke his ego Kirito decides to help her out. And from there Kirito and the gang are drawn into yet another perilous adventure.
With the basics of the story out of the way, I can discuss the nitty gritty of Sword Art: Hollow Realization and that’s the gameplay. At the beginning, you design your avatar but it doesn’t feel necessary as you are seen as Kirito through the eyes of the NPC’s. This is something mainly for the online section of the game but I’ll get to that later in the review.
The battle system is still addictive; you have a team of four characters comprised of your avatar and three of the many NPC’s you can join up with over the course of the game, over 300 recruitable characters just FYI. Another aspect of the battle system is the familiarity, many of the same battle mechanics return from previous SAO games clearly showing that the studio believes that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And this is the core problem with Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, everything is routine, it’s been done before in previous SAO games and in other RPG’s. It’s unfortunate that the large retinue of armour and weapons that the player has access to are being put to use in mundane missions that include timeworn item collection and monster-slaying quests. What elevates these missions are the options of playing with your online friends or the massive roster of NPC’s, I usually went with NPC’s because I have no friends but that’s beside the point.
On the graphical side of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization enemies and locations are varied. You won’t be short of enemies to dispatch with your friends online. There are many varieties of creatures, from ancient slimes to giant dragons. Sadly another issue will crop up when you’re traversing the plains, forests, and dungeons of Ainground. The level of detail of that has gone into the environments is unimpressive, and you will notice this because of the hours of walking you will be doing. The textures look like something from the the previous era of gaming; they are at times embarrassingly simplistic.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization was the relationship system, and I don’t know what that says about me, I’m worried. What is involved when playing this aspect of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a deft hand, excellent timing, and on point flirtation abilities. To anyone who has never played an SAO game basically what this is is a type of mode where you try and build romantic connections with the NPC’s around you. And it can get quite intimate especially when there is a tutorial on how best to seduce your partner of choice and further down the line initiate pillow talk. It makes for a refreshing break from all the monster slaying, but that’s it.
What sells Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is its addictive gameplay, it’s adherence to its manga routes, and the online community. Unfortunately, the story is uncompelling; the graphics are something from the previous generation of consoles, and there are not nearly enough innovations to justify this at full price.