Players will continue the story of deadly MMOs in Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization. RPGamer Pascal Tekaia got a chance to try out the next installment of Bandai Namco's series based on the popular anime.
Catching up with and grasping the intricacies of a multi-installment JRPG series can be daunting enough already. Getting a crash course in the history of Sword Art, a series of game-within-a-game entries, based on a game-within-a-show anime is quite another. Well, that’s what I needed when I showed up at Bandai Namco's booth as a Sword Art newcomer to get a hands-on impression of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization. Luckily, brand manager Pearl Lai was there to bring me up to speed.
History repeats itself in Hollow Realization: players are once again stuck in the MMORPG that they've been playing, killing them if they disconnect or die within the game. Only this time the game they're stuck inside of is the fictional Sword Art: Origin, a game actually based on the previous virtual death trap, Sword Art Online. In this sense, Hollow Realization marks a kind of reboot for the series, almost coming full circle. This time around, the game isn’t just portraying characters stuck inside an MMORPG — it’s actually designed to look and play just like a medieval fantasy MMORPG. The interface layout is based on modern MMOs, with scrolling combat text, rows of button bars, mini map, enemy health meters visibly displayed, and commands for your party members. During my brief time with the game, while running through dense jungle-like foliage, slaying a few enemies in my path, I even spotted a whole other party, apparently also logged into the MMO server, engaging enemies, completing the illusion that this really was a breathing, heavily-populated world.
Hollow Realization will be playable solo or in multiplayer mode, allowing for up to four players to join together in a group with an additional up to four AI-controlled character, enabling a raid group of eight characters. When playing solo, players control just the main character, issuing commands for what other party members should be doing in combat. The characters will be familiar to fans of the series, being the same characters as found in the other games. Reki Kawahara, the writer of the original novel series adapted by the anime, has been brought on as a writer, and according to Pearl, the script is a whopping estimated 800,000 Japanese characters long.
We aren't far away from a release date; PlayStation 4 and Vita owners can already look at a fall 2016 release for the game. The final game will remain voiced by its original Japanese voice cast, with subtitle options in English and a variety of other languages.