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Sword Art Online: -Hollow Realization-

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Aquria
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Some people really enjoy games to such an extent that they would love to be able to play a game inside a game. It almost feels like thatís what weíre doing with the Sword Art Online series, except to a lesser extent. Regardless of what you think, weíve got the chance to explore another chapter of SAO in Sword Art Online: -Hollow Realization-.

Most people would probably say itís par for the course by this point, but I always enjoy being dazzled by good graphics. -Hollow Realization- doesnít disappoint in this department and I found myself greatly enjoying the much sharper graphics. The environments were very beautifully done and youíll definitely notice that theyíre a step up from the last entry in the franchise. The character models were also very well done and blend in nicely with the various backgrounds youíll be seeing as you explore. Much of the story is still told using 2D renders of the characters involved, which is a bit disappointing considering how nice the 3D models look, but fortunately there are some moments where the characters will be represented with their normal models. I liked that quite a bit.

The music is generally one of my favorite things about a game and I feel the music in -Hollow Realization- is pretty spot on. Many of the environments feature tracks that you would expect to hear because of how well they fit the area, such as a forest area having a tranquil, mellow tune playing as you explore. There wasnít really much that got me hyped in terms of music while playing, but I believe that those softer tracks are just as important as the more hype tracks you may see in other games. They all offer an enjoyable experience and relate to the atmosphere of the game, which is all we really want from our music right?Ē Youíll also notice that the game has Japanese voice acting as opposed to English, but as usual, there are subtitles so players can easily follow along with whatís going on. I feel like thatís perfectly fine, but thatís just my opinion.


Gameplay:

Fans of the previous Sword Art Online games will find it very easy to transition into Sword Art Online: -Hollow Realization-. The (Square) button allows you to attack and pressing it repeatedly will unleash a combo that leads into a sword skill which does much more damage. You can also press the (Triangle) button to instantly activate a sword skill, which will increase the attackís power, but also consumes quite a bit of your SP. The (X) button allows you to jump and the (Circle) button allows you to perform a parry. You can also dodge using the (R1) button combined with the Left Stick. The commands while youíre inside a city are similar, except youíll only be using the Left Stick to move and the (X) button to jump. There isnít anything to attack, but you can interact using the (Circle) button. Youíll get used to the controls in no time, so donít fret over them.

No adventure would be complete without a main hub linking everything together, right? SAO: -Hollow Realization- has such a hub known as the Teleport Gate Plaza. Thereís four areas that are linked together that players can explore and interact with the different townspeople roaming around. Thereís plenty of shops where players can purchase gear or items and you can also accept quests from the different quest boards posted around town. When youíre ready to go out and explore, you can return to the main plaza and use the teleport gate. This will allow you access to the map and you can select a destination. Locations open up as you progress through the game, so donít get sad seeing just a few on your map.

The most fun to be had lies in the great outdoors. Once youíre out the gate and at your destination, youíll be able to explore the location to your heartís content. One thing to keep note of in the field is your HUD. Youíll see your characterís HP, SP, and Experience bar at the bottom. Your partnerís bars will be displayed to the left. The mini-map in the top right corner will help you from getting too lost in the field and itíll even light up treasure and enemies for you. On that note, you should keep in mind that there are several types of treasure chests that youíll come across. Brown chests can only be opened once. Blue chests require you to kill a strong enemy nearby, but their contents respawn periodically, allowing you to come back and plunder them later. You may even get different types of items, like a super rare item!

Everyone knows itís dangerous to go alone, and thatís why you take a reliable party with you. You probably guessed, but youíre able to take along party members whenever you go to explore an area. Theyíll follow behind you and help you defeat enemies, which makes taking down stronger enemies significantly easier than if you tried to do it by yourself. You can recruit people from the town to tag along in your party, but you have to build affinity with them by talking to them before they'll join you. Once youíre out in the field, you can issue commands to your party by pressing the (L1) button. From here, you can assist your allies, order them to heal, target an enemy, or even just encourage them.

Field exploration is generally the same no matter where you go, but Sword Art Online: -Hollow Realization- features Event Fragments. While exploring, you may come across an area marked with a colored circle. If you enter it, youíll trigger an Event Fragment which comes with its own set of objectives and these will change depending on the type of Event Fragment you come across. The best thing about Event Fragments is their episodic nature. Completing an Event Fragment will trigger the next part of that quest, Youíll be rewarded for each Event Fragment you complete and finishing a series may have you walking away with some pretty rare loot. The quests do get progressively harder as you advance through a chain, so you may want get stronger before attempting to complete certain chains.


Difficulty:

Many MMORPG games donít feature a difficulty setting, instead opting for scaling game content. True to this fashion, Sword Art Online: -Hollow Realization- follows a very similar scheme and fans of previous entries in the series are probably very familiar with it. Your character starts at level 1 and itís up to you to slay monsters or complete quests for precious experience points to level up your characters. As you go to different areas, youíll notice that monsters are steadily getting stronger and stronger as noted by their levels. Trying to fight, say, level 20 monsters when youíre level 4 is an easy way to get a Game Over screen. Keeping the team youíd like to use even in level with the enemies in whatever area youíre going is a sure way to have an easy time while exploring and find success. You should also keep some items on hand. You never know when youíll need a quick heal.

Game Mechanics:

Combat in Sword Art Online: -Hollow Realization- is pretty straightforward in that you can have success by just hacking away at your enemies. While this is true, you can have a significantly easier time by utilizing two interesting combat mechanics. The first is staggering. By timing your sword skills to hit right after the enemy uses a skill, you can stagger the enemy for a moment. Staggered enemies take more damage from your attacks, so you can defeat them in a much shorter period of time. The second mechanic is the Combo Ratio. As you attack an enemy, youíll notice a number start racking up. The higher the number, the more damage youíll do to the enemy. Using both of these mechanics will ensure you wipe out any enemy foolish enough to cross swords, or claws, with you.

While lone wolf style isnít the worst thing, having help from others usually makes the difference in a battle. Your party will always fight with you, but you can greatly increase your chance of victory by using chain attacks. By pressing the (L1) and (Triangle) buttons together, you can initiate a chain attack with your party. Each of your party members will then perform a series of combo attacks in sequence and greatly raise the damage multiplier. While they attack, you can also unleash your skills for an even more devastating combo. A chain attack is a good way to get some heavy damage off, but watch out for your teammates since they are defenseless during the chain attack.

If youíre a fan of the previous Sword Art Online games, youíll more than likely be a fan of this one. The game feels very similar to the previous games, but a fresh story and some new faces set this one aside from the others. However, if youíre not a fan of SAO, then you can easily skip out on this one. As is the case with most anime games such as this, theyíre made mostly to appeal to the already existing fan base. If youíre not part of that fan base, I donít see you enjoying this game, but most people probably already know that. With that said, letís get back to enjoying the grind! Funny joke, right?


-SS-54, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ren Plummer

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