In 2013, Bandai Namco released the first game based off the popular anime and light novel series Sword Art Online. Titled Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, it was released exclusively in Japan for the PlayStation Portable. Since it came along so late in the PSP’s lifespan, Bandai Namco then remade the game for PlayStation Vita one year later. The Vita release, titled Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, wasn’t just a prettier version though, as it also included plenty of new content for us to sink our teeth into.
Why is all this information relevant? Well, now PlayStation 4 owners can purchase Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, which is yet another version of the PlayStation Portable title that released in 2013. Say what you will, but Bandai Namco knows how to make the most out of its series, seeing how the same game managed to make it onto to three distinctly different systems in a two year span. Since the game does have PSP roots, Bandai Namco has priced it accordingly at $19.99. But, is it still worth checking out on a system that it obviously wasn’t designed to be played on?
The main chunk of Re: Hollow Fragment, which comes directly from the PSP title Infinity Moment, takes place at the end of the first major arc of Sword Art Online. Instead of following the canonical ending, a glitch occurs inside of the game-world. This causes players to need to travel through the 25 final levels of the dungeon that make up the virtual reality MMO world that is Sword Art Online. While this set-up may sound confusing to those that haven’t watched the anime or read the light novels, any fans of Reki Kawahara’s work will feel instantly at home.
Since the anime takes place inside an MMO, the gameplay found within Sword Art Online is modelled after such games. So, despite being a single-player experience, it has all of the trappings of a multiplayer game. Players will find plenty of computer-AI controlled heroes out in the battlefield taking on monsters and doing quests of their own. While they are typically just window dressing, there are rewards for the player if they decide to help out.
The main game flow has you completing several quests which are sadly generic tasks, such as collecting 5 items, or defeating 10 types of enemies. These quests then gain the player intel on each floor’s boss enemy. These enemies are gigantic, challenging beasts that will have to be defeated if you want to get to the next floor of the dungeon and eventually reach level 100.
Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment features combat that, like the structure of the game, plays almost identically like an MMO. You can equip your character with several skills that run on cool-downs after being used. These range from attacks that dole out massive damage to spells that inflict enemies with status ailments. The combat is very customizable, and unlike the anime, the player can use several types of weapons – not just the dual-swords that Sword Art Online made famous.
There are over 25 floors to work through, with each of them taking around two hours to complete. Throw in the very lengthy dialogue sequences, which are admittedly well-written thanks to a new translation, and you have quite a long experience. Very few games offer as much content as Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment does, let alone at the budget price of $20. That being said, the content isn’t always the most interesting. If you get hooked on the grind, and love the battle system, then you can overlook the dull quests, but most will find the game repetitive.
Besides the core goal of getting through the final 25 floors, players can also visit the Hollow Area, which was introduced in the PlayStation Vita remake. This area has around 30 hours of additional content, tough enemies and even more quests to complete. It is all completely optional, but what’s here is undeniably fun.
Finally, you can team up with other owners of Re: Hollow Fragment in the multiplayer mode, which allows you to take your character from the main mode and online to achieve quests. While the online play works great, it should also be noted that these multiplayer offerings can also be done solo. So, don’t worry about missing out on content in case you can’t get online with the game.
The one area where Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment’s PSP origins show is in its visuals. It wasn’t a breathtaking game on PlayStation Vita, and it straight up looks bad for a PlayStation 4 release. Even the stellar art direction can’t hide the embarrassingly poor textures that make the game look more like a high resolution PS2 game, not something that was designed for PlayStation 4. The budget price definitely softens the blow, but it just becomes clear that Bandai Namco did not design this to be played on a home console.
Visuals are not the game’s only shortcoming, though. Despite being on a system that is much more powerful, Re: Hollow Fragment suffers from some serious frame-rate issues. This doesn’t typically occur during combat, but rather in the game’s town where players purchase items and interact with other characters. Things starts stuttering when there are too many characters on-screen, which is unacceptable considering the game’s portable roots.
For those willing to overlook the sub-par graphics, and repetitive design, then Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment features an amazing amount of content. The value found within this $19.99 package is unparalleled, as it can entertain players for over a hundred hours with how much content it includes. Plus, with hours of dialogue, fans of the show will find plenty to like as all of the characters from the anime show up. That said, if you don’t have an attachment to the world of Sword Art Online, then there are definitely better RPGs to check out.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with for review.
There's a ton of content to be found in Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment, but unfortunately, its portable roots hold it back.