NOT THE VR YOU ARE LOOKING FOR
The world of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is based upon VRMMORPG. The characters even comment on how real everything feels in the Full Dive system where all five senses are engaged. Unfortunately, that level of realism stops when us players turn on this game. Make no mistake, Ainground is beautiful. Everything is well detailed and (most of) the animation is smooth. The water effects are pretty amazing. The problem is that despite simultaneous release on the PS Vita and the PS4, this game looks like it was ported from the handheld to the console. The PS4 has more than enough processing power to have characters move from one area to another without load times, but even the different parts of the Ainground hub are separated by load borders. The draw distance is quite far but when you see a large monster in the distance moving at less than 30fps, you kinda wish that it were obscured. Probably the worst offense lies with the characters themselves. In the above picture you see the story’s main heroine, Asuna. The outfit differs ab it from her original but it follows her color scheme. Each member of the main cast has a similarly recognizable scheme. You should not have to even look at the name to see who is who for this reason but for some reason the in-game models have a color palette that does not match properly. I would have run past Asuna more than once, thinking her a random character if her name were not there. This would be a minor gripe, but you are dealing with anime fans. Detail is extremely important.
I am sorry to say that I have not played the previous titles in the Sword Art Online game series. While having watched the anime gives one enough knowledge to know the characters and the situation, the games take place in an alternate timeline where the story progresses from the first game to Hollow Realization. Fortunately, this game is enough of a standalone story that you can follow what is happening without knowledge of the previous games. The narrative of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is its strongest point. Providing a level of intrigue and mystery not seen since the first story arc, fans will love it. General JRPG fans unfamiliar with SAO will enjoy themselves as well. As JRPGs go, you can do a lot worse in terms of gameplay and there are not very many brand new titles available on the PS4 this year. The slightly wonky gameplay can be countered by properly timing your attacks and learning how to manage your party and keep them healthy during battles. There are graphical shortcomings, but make no mistake that the designs are beautiful. Screenshots do this game no justice. In all, I would recommend this to JRPG fans and not only those of the SAO franchise. Bandai Namco picked the absolute worst month of 2016 to release this game. However, unless you are forced to pick one RPG between this game and Final Fantasy XV, you will have two 100+ hour adventures to add to your PS4 library.
† A review code was provided by Bandai Namco PR