While Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has returned to the more fitting MMO look of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, it’s actually shaping up to be a clever fusion of the best parts of both previous games. Despite all the skills and such you’ll notice on screen, the foundation of battle seems to based on Sword Art Online: Lost Song’s systems.
Battles have a quick pace to them, there’s no waiting for your turn as in Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment and you’re able to freely move around mid-battle. Where the more MMO side of battle begins to creep in, is with how the skills are now handled. While some skills can be assigned to buttons, you’ll have full access to your available skill set via the palette present in the middle of the screen. Using the d-pad you can browse your available skills and quickly set off some buff skills in preparation of using some of your physical skills (though some physical skills were already assigned to buttons on the controller).
My first impression from starting up Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization was how much of an a huge improvement it is over Sword Art Online: Lost Song. While Sword Art Online: Lost Song was surprisingly sparse with the detail in the world, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization seems like it’ll be the complete opposite of that. The demo only had one playable forest area, but it was felt populated, with lots of trees and detail. It looked like a forest rather just a green field with some trees in it. Now we’re out of Alfheim Online and back in Aincrad (sort of), we’ve lost the ability to fly but maps still offer a good deal of exploration. Instead of a series of paths, the area I could I explore was just one huge map, similar to what you would see in an actual MMORPG. It’s possible to jump up to reach cliff tops and explore areas that seem like they would be inaccessible.
One nice touch was the way the in-game quests were handled, players of Final Fantasy XIV might find this sounds familiar. As you’re exploring in the world, you’ll notice small highlighted areas on the map. Entering one of these areas begins a quest and in the demo, it usually just to defeat certain nearby enemies. While it’s not quite the same as the Fates from Final Fantasy XIV, the implementation just reinforces the MMO feel of the game. For me, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment went too far with it’s MMO direction for my personal taste, whereas I enjoyed playing Lost Song but I felt it went the other direction and stripped back its MMO elements too much with its small areas and lack of content outside the main story. Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization could be onto a winning formula here, successively making an action RPG that looks and feels like an actual MMORPG.