What is Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization?
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is an offline recreation of an online role-playing game, in which players take on the role of Kirito (or their own created character), a master swordsman and Sword Art veteran, as they explore the fantasy world of Ainground. It's important to note that while Hollow Realization does a great impression of making you think it's a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), it's actually not - you can play this offline, in single player, and still have full access to all the features of the game.
Following on from the events of the popular anime series, Hollow Realization takes place in a brand new (virtual) MMO - and one that's heavily inspired by the original Sword Art Online. This time around, the plot revolves around an NPC, or non-player character the group meet early on, who has no memories, no personality, and seemingly no purpose. Deciding there must be something more to it, the team take it upon themselves to help uncover who Premiere really is, and why she came to be included in the game in the first place.
How do you play Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization?
As a traditional role playing game, your time with Sword Art Online will be spent either watching the story unfold through cutscenes and conversations between characters, or wandering around the game's forests, caves and dungeons slaying monsters, hunting for treasure and gathering materials - exploration is really the name of the game. Whether you're helping a character with a side quest, or working your way through one of the game's many story missions by making gunpowder; reviving golems in order to gain access to a castle; or gathering blacksmithing materials, there's always something new to do, and somewhere to go.
However, the world of Ainground isn't a totally safe place, and you'll likely run into plenty of monsters during your travels too. Together with your party of three other characters, you'll need to take on many an enemy throughout the game, in fast-paced, button mashy combat. By using a mixture of basic sword slashes, axe swings and club bashes (depending on the weapon you have equipped) along with a range of special skills, you can put up a pretty formidable fight with just a few buttons. Skills range from basic healing spells, to powerful sword thrusts, and even the ability to turn invisible for a short period of time, and are accessed via the 'palette' - a grid of icons that you can choose from mid-battle to unleash specific moves. Enemy attacks can be dodged too, with a red area of effect on the floor marking out where it's likely to hit, giving you enough time to move out the way and avoid getting hit.
How easy is Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization to pick up and play?
For the most part, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization isn't overly complex - it's about as difficult to pick up and play as many other role playing games. The battles, particularly, are easy to get to grips with, despite a tutorial that makes it sound a lot more complex than it really is.
In terms of complexity, perhaps the only thing to really note in Hollow Realization is the map and quest markers, as the game never makes it explicitly obvious where you need to head next, instead relying on you combining the information from two different maps, along with a healthy amount of exploration and "following your own nose".
As in many other role playing games, you shouldn't assume you'll be able to take on every monster you meet - sometimes, enemies that are much, much higher levels than you (think 10x stronger) will be wandering the map alongside enemies that are much more your level. When it comes to these, it isn't a sign you're going the wrong way, but nevertheless, you'll want to avoid them all you can, until you're tough enough to take them on. These formidable foes can be spotted by the 'NM' that precedes their name - but if any enemy's name appears in red writing rather than white, it indicates they may be a bit tough for you to beat at your current level.
Beyond the unique complexities, a solid reading ability is also a must for Hollow Realization - as the game is only voiced in Japanese, you'll be spending a lot of time reading the subtitles in conversations between characters, including instructions for specific story-related quests.
- "Oh, today's the day I promised Asuna I'd go questing with her. I should get in touch with her once I'm ready."
- "Aquatic monsters are evolving and coming ashore to wreak havoc. Stop them before they get their land legs!"
- "Have ya heard about the players runnin' around flippin' people's hoods off left and right? What gives?!"
Sitting somewhere in the middle for mature content, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization sees players fighting with fantastical creatures and human soldiers using swords, clubs and magical attacks to deal damage. Hits are accompanied by bright light effects and occasional cries of pain, although no blood spurts are seen at all. Swearing meanwhile is limited to a few utterances of b*stard and a*ss in the dialogue.
As for sexual content, female characters can be scantily clad, and the short skirts of some party members can be seen to blow up in the wind while they run, with the occasional glimpse of their underwear. You can form bonds with the female party members, take them on dates, and eventually take them back to your bedroom for 'pillow talk', although these scenes aren't particularly sexually explicit. Instead, pillow talk is just essentially extended conversations with the character in question, who just happens to be lounging around on your bed in a provocative pose whilst wearing fairly revealing lingerie. Other miscellaneous scenes during the story see a male character accidentally grabbing a female's breast following a fall, and two swimwear clad characters in a bath house. One female character also likes to comfort others with 'boob hugs', which involve holding the victim's head to her rather large chest.