ONCE AGAIN, INTO THE FRAY
When I was finally able to really control Kirito (the beginning is slow), things pick up quickly. Know that this is going to be a grind-heavy experience for you, but expecting otherwise from a JRPG would be silly. Know that Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization only holds your hand enough for you to walk on your own. The rest is up to you. To illustrate what I mean, let us look at the first field outside of Ainground’s starting area. THe monsters are level 2-3, which is great since you are level 1. Take a few more steps in and you get your first mini-quest where you defeat five giant red boars. They are probably level 5 or so, but they are slow and your quartet will down them with ease. The game advises you that a harder quest lies ahead and it isn’t lying. The boars have a boss: a level 12 grey boar boss that has two full life bars. If that is not enough for you, come back at night where those level 2 monsters are anywhere from level 7-10 now. A new quest is in the middle of the field and as you approach you see this:
I have played a lot of crazy RPGs, but none that sic a level 36 giant, evil walking tree on you when you are level 5. Hope is not lost however, because your ability to dodge attacks and how well you issue commands to your party can take you a long way. Kirito is known for overcoming insurmountable gaming odds. A good video game makes you feel like you are that character. When you have a full team and grasp the controls, you can last a long time against enemies more than twice your strength. Results will vary depending upon a foe’s aggressiveness and you do not want to run into too many at once. The active combat system only lets you directly command Kirito, but the commands he shouts to his (up to three) partners are heeded quickly.
When you are back in town, the gameplay switches to more traditional roles of item management. The buying and selling of items, weapons and armor is standard fare. The multitude of monster pieces and ores you will accumulate can be sold for Col (the game’s currency) but some are more useful in the creation of armor or weapons. The hub town itself is one big recruitment center as every player you meet can be recruited into you party if you befriend them. That brings us to one of the biggest “minigames” I have ever seen. The affinity meter and management of such is essentially a dating sim built into the main game. At least sixteen of the trophies are tied to maximizing affinity with different characters. Building these bonds leads to everything from holding hands to the princess carry and even “pillow talk.” Including Kirito’s friends, there are over three hundred potential partners in the game.
Unfortunately, building affinity is not the part of the game most likely to annoy you. The combat can leave a lot to be desired. The formula is sound but its execution seems wonky. Often I have targeted an enemy, only to have Kirito blaze a path of sword slashes in the wrong direction. This is especially frustrating when you activate your switch combination and could potentially stun or knock over the opponent. If Bandai Namco can patch that one issue, I would forgive even the endless talking because the combat is fun quite often. Even with that major gripe, the developers did a good job of making this game feel like SAO, the anime. Fans will have much to enjoy.
† A review code was provided by Bandai Namco PR