I’ve always been a fan of the Sword Art Online anime and manga series. But even as a fan, I found the slow-paced cutscenes and interactions in Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization made me want to put the game down at times. However, the game does a good job at bringing together both the characters you loved from the series and implementing many MMORPG features that make the game enjoyable and frustrating at the same time.

Hollow Realization is a direct sequel, but one with a new story line, to the original Sword Art Online series. After receiving an odd message from someone he doesn’t know, protagonist Kirito and his friends come together to play a new in-game VRMMO – Sword Art: Origin, which is basically a version of Aincrad (the original SAO world), minus the whole floating tower and imminent threat of death. Kirito is here to discover the identity of that mysterious someone, and why they sent him this no-less mysterious message.

SAO: Hollow Realization review

Unlike in the previous game, SAO: Hollow Fragment, this world is rather flat: there is no tower to climb, as each floor of the original was loosely transferred into this new, large world. The game world also has a more traditional MMORPG feel to it. However, like its predecessor, it still has similar pitfalls like extended events which turn into long sessions of talking that make you wish you could just skip them altogether, especially when they are irrelevant to the story or plot.

Hollow Realization introduced quite a bit of changes to the game mechanics, menu layouts, battle system and graphics. Hollow Realization feels more like a real MMO game, mainly by borrowing many different aspects from other MMO games. But there are still some weird design decision that can annoy veteran MMO players. Not being able to move the UI around, not being able to lower the opacity of your expanded map so you can see while your running or fighting, even being able to increase the size of the font in the “chat box”. None of these ruin the game but are just some of the things that could have been addressed to make the experience even better.

I found the AI system for the party’s to be pretty reliable and your party members are able to hold their own pretty well with out to much interference. Using your skills in battle with your team creates skill chains which greatly increases the damage you do. Your team’s battle and healing skills will come in handy and with the AI improvements you will be able to focus on your fighting styles and combinations a bit more than in previous games. While you are out in the world of Sword Art: Origin, you’ll be able to build up your relationships / affinity levels by complimenting your party members on their support. Understanding the affinity and affection systems is key to building a strong group. Depending on how you compliment them, your party members will learn and develop their style of play. In order to give your team armor and weapons upgrades you will need to increase their affections levels to level 4 and 5 which I found to be somewhat long and tedious.

SAO: Hollow Realization review

Hollow Realization brings the illusion of an MMO to a single-player game. The maps of this world are huge and navigating them can be very time consuming. Teleportation stones help with this by allowing fast travel between areas you are in and the town. They do help make things easier by allowing you to teleport to different areas directly from the map if you have been to the zone before and there’s teleportation stone nearby. However, these stones are not on every map, and going from one stone to another may take you up to a half hour of running.

I found Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization’s gameplay to be enjoyable, and the story interesting. Playing through the game was like watching the series with the opportunity to join in on the fun. However, while Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization does bring in some good improvements and visually looks much better then its predecessors, it does have its pitfalls. Each aspect of the game has some minor nuances, and it feels like the developers missed the chance to hit a home run. All in all, even with the overly large maps and the slow interactions, fans of the series and the RPG genre, who want to play an MMORPG without the whole human interaction thing, should definitely give Hollow Realization a try.

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