After acquiring Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization (SAO:HR) last year, I have finally scratched the game from my backlog. To be more accurate, I gave up on the game at a meagre 59 hours in. Yes, that is a long time to realise I no longer want to play a title.
What is Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization?
The game is a semi-adaptation of the of the Sword Art Online (SAO) anime and light novels, though it’s a direct sequel to the previous video games in the series. It is developed by Aquria and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment.
Taking place in an alternative universe to the anime, SAO:HR follows series protagonist Kirito and his friends as they explore the beta of a new MMO called Sword Art: Origin. It’s supposed to be a near-identical world to the original SAO. Upon entering the game for the first time, a strange girl stares at Kirito and then vanishes. He receives a private message from an unknown user that references the original world of SAO: Aincrad.
Unfortunately, the story’s pacing is on the sluggish side, which means it can take a while to push through. At least SAO:HR has numerous side-quests, though these, too, became tiresome rather quickly due to one single anime trope: harems.
Almost every woman that the main character meets wants to have a relationship with him, which includes his cousin (whom he refers to as his sister) that and a large-breasted AI he adopts as his daughter. This aspect of SAO:HR leads into another of my biggest complaints with the game…
A bit on the game itself
SAO:HR features a relationship mini-game where you can woo other characters into liking you. This includes staring at the character lovingly, leaning in for a kiss, and touching their sides all the while nodding along to whatever they are telling you. While it was interesting at first glance, I quickly tired of it. The only way to give other party members new weapons and equipment is to have a higher relationship status with them, which means plenty of dating. And a higher status means you can eventually spend the night with that character m and be shown an exclusive cutscene of the character in sleeping attire.
For a video game that simulates an online MMORPG, there is a distinct lack of variety in mission types. Apart from the main storyline, other characters throughout the world will ask you to bring them back different items or slay a variety of monsters. The game will generate an infinite amount of loot quests for the same items for the same characters over and over again. These quests will generally just give you currency as a reward with no XP, either, which is a problem when there’s very little to purchase in SAO:HR. Couple that with an extreme lack of variety in dialogue for interactions and private messages with non-party members.
What really kept me playing for so many hours was the combat system. I found SAO:HR’s fighting to be both satisfying and rewarding. It’s a fast-paced action RPG where combat takes place in real-time. You can mash the standard attack button, use special abilities, or chain combos with your party members. It’s easy to get lost for hours on end, slaying all manner of digital creatures and fiends.
So why did I shelve the game?
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t enjoy the harem aspect of SAO. It feels monotonous, samey, and I didn’t want to have all of my female party members in my bed just for a few PS Trophies. I am not throwing away the dating game from a moral standpoint but from a gameplay one. It was boring and felt very limited in its scope and interactions.
At 25 hours into the game, I told myself that I was giving up on it. What SAO:HR does right is to mimic the addictive and cathartic elements of MMOs. It was finally at just over 59 hours that I removed the game’s disc from my PS4 console. I realised that all I was doing was fetching items for NPCs, while forming relationships with no lasting effects.
There are only so many times I can watch as NPCs repeat the same lines over and over again.
SAO:HR has all of the makings of a good RPG. The combat is enjoyable, the story can be funny and engaging, and the graphics are beautiful. Unfortunately, it just misses the mark in most areas and keeps this as an above-average experience.
Through all of the negativity I have for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, I did enjoy a good portion of my time with it. In fact, I will recommend it to fans of SAO, but general fans of JRPGs may want to give this a miss.