The backstory of SAO is extensive, but the game makes it easy for new players. As mentioned earlier, soon after the game begins a cutscene/montage will explain exactly what is going on and what events led up to the start of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. It doesn’t really do the backstory justice, but it’s the best thing the game could have done to give context to the huge story.
This narrative also takes some time to get off the ground, but the time in between major events is driven by the colorful cast of characters. Each of Kirito’s friends has their own set of storylines and events that play out as the Hollow Area and Aincrad are explored. Enter the dating sim elements of the game: Kirito is able to “go on dates,” “hold hands,” and otherwise enjoy some R&R.
Together with the combat, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment does a great job of making the player care about Kirito and his buddies. Wandering about the town with a partner in tow is cute in that virtual dating sim kind of way. In-between conversations and buying food for Kirito’s latest flame, he can use free time to stock up on weapons, armor, items, and upgrade his weapons at the forge.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a great experience but is marred by a couple issues. On the minor side are a bunch of continuity issues from the original series. Fans of the series will likely be disappointed over how the game handles characterization and pretty much the entire narrative. There are a bunch of inconsistencies, but they don’t really detract from the overall experience.
The game’s other problem is its translation. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment was not localized to English, only subtitled from its Japanese voicing and region-coded for the West. Too many of these subtitles seem to be “machine translated”, a process that often yields unnatural vocab and phrasing. It’s not a game-breaking issue, but it is annoying enough to warrant notice. Fortunately, the game is good enough to withstand a few typos and the overall experience isn’t soured by them.
The PS Vita does a fantastic job with the game. In only one instance does it hiccup, and it’s when too many NPC’s are present in one small area in town. Combat is always fluid, and the visuals and sound are stunning and crisp. Since the game also includes the PSP title Infinity Moment, now remade in glorious HD, English-speaking players get the upgraded experience of both games wrapped up in one beautiful package. And there’s multiplayer, if the 100+ hour single-player with New Game+ isn’t enough.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a great game that is held back by some translation issues and very intimidating learning curves. That same complexity however creates an incredibly engaging experience backed by a fun story with even more immersive characters. Even if you’re not a fan of Sword Art Online, this is a great action-RPG worth trying.