Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment: Back to the grind

August 21, 2014


Emulating another genre within a game has been met with varying levels of success. Probably the most well-known of an MMO-within-a-game structure is the .hack series. That franchise spanned seven games and, for the most part, did its best to emulate the MMO structure inside a “regular” RPG of sorts. Years after .hack made an appearance in both anime and video games, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment rolls around with a similar premise. Is SAO able to raise the bar on this kind of formula?

Hollow Fragment is actually the second SAO game in the series, but due to the game’s Vita re-release in Japan, it’s part new content, part old content from Infinity Moment, the first entry in the series released back in 2013 on the PSP. The game’s set in an alternate timeline slapped between the two story arcs of the anime. Without trying to spoil too much about too much about the series itself, the players of Sword Art Online find themselves trapped inside the game by the game’s creator, Akihiko Kayaba. Should they lose all their hit points in-game, they’ll die in the real world as well. To survive, players much reach the Floor 100 and beat the game. The story revolves around Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya, an experienced player who initially thought he would be able to survive alone due to his experience in SAO‘s beta, but eventually finds himself befriending several people in his journey and realizing he can’t do it alone.

The game starts within the storyline of Infinity Moment with Kirito and several of his companions fighting Akihiko in a heated battle. Despite being promised that all the players would be free after defeating him, an internal glitch causes that promise to be broken and everyone finds themselves on the 76th floor of the game. Not being able to go back down, they learn they have to continue on through the game and reach the 100th floor.


However, after everyone advances towards the next floor, Kirito finds himself in another area of the game hidden from most players. In this area, high-level boss monsters (in a weaker state) can be seen roaming around fields freely. Thinking this is something definitely worth investigating later to solve the mystery of this game, Kirito teams up with Philia, a mysterious treasure hunter pegged as a “player-killer” who finds herself trapped within the Hollow Area, to figure out what’s going on.

Most of the story takes place in the Infinity Moment part of the game, which is the floor progression. The Hollow Fragment part of the story is where all the DLC and multiplayer parts of the game take place. Most of the Hollow Area requires you to play a lot of the other part of the game to achieve anything. The Hollow Area itself contains its own area to explore and conquer, as well as a selection of quests in the form of scanning out different elements to assist your missions. Completing these will give you various items and perks.

The game plays exactly like an MMO would: approach an enemy, and the game essentially auto-attacks, unless interrupted by a skill. Occasionally, your partner will call for you to do a certain action, such as “please perform a Sword Skill” or “please switch,” the latter essentially changing the enemy’s aggro focus on a character. Performing these successfully increases your relationship status with your teammate, as well as giving you additional SP restoration so you can perform skills more frequently. While it sounds like a mess on paper, it makes a lot more sense in action. While it took me a few battles to learn the ropes, the mess of it all feels more strategic in the long run.


The game incorporates elements of a partial dating sim as well. Kirito, in his SAO adventures, comes across a lot of women who have seem to take a liking to him. Despite the game actualy telling you he’s married to a certain character, Kirito is free to explore relationships with the many girls he’s encountered throughout the series. Depending on who you decide to court, it can range from perfectly normal to downright creepy. Despite the levels of awkwardness this game can reach, forging relationships do have an effect in battle.

Aesthetically, the game is bright, colorful and full of energy. With many RPGs on the Vita taking a darker route, Hollow Fragment goes in the opposite direction and brings out the beautiful world of Aincrad. Even in dark environments, enemies tend to stand out in a good way. All the character models, in conversations and on the field, stay true to the series and are one of the game’s main highlights because of it.

While there’s a certain amount of depth here, this game does have its fair share of problems. For starters, the game is extremely grind-heavy and, especially for some party members, it’s not exactly nice about it. You, as Kirito, start at level 100. The rest of your party? Their levels range anywhere from 97 to 70. While grinding is an expected part of the MMO nature of this game, it forces you to stick around low-level areas for extended periods of time just trying to get everyone on the same page.


It doesn’t help much that there’s almost 100 recruitable characters as well. While only a small handful of characters matter to the story, you can interact with many of the in-game players and form parties with them to help further your progress. With that in mind, these are the same characters who will assist you in boss fights as well. With fair warning, it’s recommended you fight bosses in large teams to give yourself a better chance at success. It’s almost painful how much grinding there is in this game.

Oddly enough, the camera is a mess in this game. Even if you’re not against a wall, attacking an enemy will likely leave the camera in a really awkward spot, often clipping into characters and leaving you in a position that doesn’t assist you in any shape or form when being mobbed by enemies.

Inevitably, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment appeals most to fans of the anime. They’ll love all the tropes and references, as well as the gratuitous amounts of fanservice the game provides for many of the female characters. If you can ignore the never-ending stream of grinding it throws at you, you’ll feel right at home exploring what Aincrad has to offer.

Pros: Bright, colorful environments, Stays true to the original series, Lots of things to do in-game
Cons: Grind heavy, Will most likely only appeal to fans of the series, Occasional uncomfortable moments

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.