Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

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Coming back for it’s third video game installment, Sword Art Online is one of the most beloved anime franchises in the world today.  Centering on an ever-expanding cast of characters that interact both in and out of the world of VRMMO (Virtual Reality MMO), the series capitalizes on the popularity of online gaming while also highlighting potential dangers of virtual spaces.  The first season of the show, for instance, focused on players becoming trapped in the virtual landscape, with the only means of escape laying in completing the game’s final dungeon; additionally, dying in the game meant dying in the real world.

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This particular game focuses on Kirito and his friends discovering an odd NPC that seemingly has motivations all it’s own, and unusual parameters that set it apart from other AI controlled entities in the game.  Saying much more would spoil the game, but let’s discuss the features and mechanics of the game.  Needless to say, if you’re a fan of the show or are just an anime fan looking for your next great adventure, you’re probably already considering this game.

“Virtual” Reality

As I’ve already mentioned, the game takes place in the world of a Virtual Reality MMO called Sword Art: Origin.  The original series takes place in the worlds of Sword Art Online and Alfheim Online, and this newest entry into the franchise is essentially the first game but remade.  It’s mentioned that the creators wanted to capitalize on the popularity and buzz surrounding the first game and it’s dire set of events.

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In the game, players use a VR device to “dive” into the virtual world and complete quests and interact with other players.  Players familiar with most traditional RPGs will feel at home here, with plenty of character progression and loot chasing to be had.  There are a multitude of skills to learn and use in combat, and at times it can feel a bit overwhelming.  I can understand that the developer wanted to perfectly replicate the experience of playing in an MMO, but having so many skills available to use at once feels like a bit much.  I say this as a veteran of other MMOs like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV; the latter is perfectly playable on consoles because the control scheme received some heavy focus on that compatibility.  This is one of the big negatives for me regarding the game.

At Arm’s Length

One of the key features of this entry is the Affection system, which lends personality quirks to the absolutely staggering cast of characters.  Something that’s worth mentioning first is that practically every character you see in the bustling Town of Beginnings (the game’s main social hub) can be added to your party, leveled up, equipped, and even romanced.  This is a departure from the first two games, which only featured strong interactions between the series’ main characters.

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The Affection system essentially focuses on building strong bonds with your chosen companions; you can join them on quests, have a walk around town to shop or explore, and even explore romantic options with them.  All of these interactions are backed by a system of personality traits that determine how that character behaves in battle.  Someone who’s caring, for instance, might be better suited as your party’s healer archetype.  Someone with a fiery personality might be effective in frontline engagements as your tank.  This level of complexity is a bit overwhelming at first, but I can’t fault it for fleshing out the world in a unique way.

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This system adds quite a bit to the game, and it wouldn’t be much of an anime-based game without having this romantic undertone added in; fanservice is a long tradition in the world of adaptations, and this game is no exception.  I personally didn’t really care about pursuing those relationships, but at least it’s available for those that do.

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of the series it’s likely that you’ve already considered picking this up; if you haven’t I’m confident in recommending it.  I will knock a few points off for the localization, which at times features very broken English subtitles that make it hard to understand what the characters are saying, but I’ve only seen a few instances of this.  Either way, fans will be pleased to join Kirito and Co. on another adventure in a virtual world.