Spanning several light novels and now onto it’s second anime series, Sword Art Online is a popular anime these days in Japan as well as in the west. It’s popularity even led to a PSP game, Sword Art Online – Infinity Moment, but this was never released outside of Japan. However, the latest one for PS Vita, Sword Art Online – Hollow Fragment has thankfully been localised for international release and has arrived with a bang.
The game is split into 2 sections: One is from the first half of the anime season (Aincrad) where the players were stuck in a death game. Think of it like hardcore mode Diablo (for those who haven’t played Diablo ,think of it as 1 death = game over). The second half is based on a new story where Kirito gets teleported to an unknown area called Hollow Area. The beautiful in game cinematic shows us a blonde girl running towards Kirito and starts a fight with him. During the fight a monster boss manages to find them , which happens to be a boss that was also shown in the first chapter of the anime. The pair decides to team up to take it down as it was the only option for them to survive.
This battle served as a tutorial to the game. Like most games, every character has a HP bar which is critical in this game since if you die, you end up at the last check point which can be a big impact to the player’s motivation. Burst is used to determine how much damage your normal attack does and as you slash away against a monster the burst meter slowly drops.
There are two ways to recover the burst meter: either stop attacking or switch. People who watched the anime may wonder what is switch that they keep on yelling during a fight. Switch is pretty much an aggro switching ability meaning the monster will target the new player who has switch into place. During this action, your burst meter and risk drop down and you can hack/slash as much as you want. However you have to keep an eye on your companion’s HP as well and it is possible to get the aggro back onto you.
Last of all is the SP bar. This bar is where you can execute your special moves including the ones which has been shown in the anime. The game also has large range of weapons and armour to choose from which allow flexibility as well as unique opportunity to throw away the sword and use a completely different weapon such as bows, spears, axes etc.
The combat system is well designed with a large range of skills and utilizes all the buttons possible on the Vita. You’ll have to be very careful on what skills/items you assigned to your palette tree (Palette tree is basically the skills/item triggered based on the buttons pressed) since it is impossible to switch your skills around and reassign items when in battle. So, you’d want to make sure to at least have 1 button assigned to potion or teleport crystal.
The burst bar was a feature which I didn’t like due to the fact that I had to wait for that bar to refill just to do more damage. The pace of the game seems to be designed around 1 on 1 combat. Facing more than 1 enemy at a time is very punishing. So far I’ve only played the game with dual swords however I am not sure if spears does AoE damage during normal attacks.
The Aincrad storyline is pretty similar to the anime; reach the top of the tower by defeating the bosses along the way. In order to beat the bosses you need complete quests to unlock the scene where everyone decides to meet up for the boss fight. During the boss fight, you battle in a group with AI npcs. If you like trophy hunting, make sure non of them dies and also make sure you have the last hit on the boss. The person who last hits the boss get unique drops which cannot be obtained outside the boss fight.
Hollow area storyline involves Kirito and Philia investigating the area and why they were summoned to this place. Philia however is not part of Aincrad so she cannot enter there.
Knowing more about what happens after the anime for Aincrad was good and interesting. Introduction of new character Philia for the hollow area was also a smart idea to split the game into two section which gave the player more content to play with. The hollow area was also more rewarding than Aincrad as the quests in the Hollow Areas slowly unlocks unique skills which aids you in battle. Though these skills are only available in Hollow Area and the monsters are much more stronger; there are times where I face monsters 20 times higher than me and I can’t hit them at all..
Players can also can party up with a large range of girls from the series (Asuna, Lizbeth, Silica, Leafa, Sinon, Klein and Yui). One new character is also introduced in Aincrad as Strea. Pairing up with the girls will give you the chance to boost their relationship level. Once you reached a certain level you can unlock events such as the screenshots above and also perform certain in game features such as hold hands or even the bridal carry.
The additional content of interacting with the NPC is great which develops a dating sim situation. It also allows you to unlock their storyline which can unlock special features. The down side is the chat system in game with the girls; the conversation seems to be broken and doesn’t make it that challenging. You can spam one button and still get a full chat meter as long as you don’t initiate the chat when they are not interested. However the special scenes are definitely worth unlocking as they are well drawn and you can even use them as wallpapers if you do some Photoshop.