Sword Art Online might be pretty bad as an anime in terms of writing, which unfortunately transferred somewhat to the second game in the series. The first time Hollow Fragment released on the Vita, it had a completely mangled almost machine-translated script that was more than a bit illegible. Thankfully, a PS4 version was released that fixed this, and the Vita version was patched.

However, the only thing that did was expose just how awful the script itself was. It had decent gameplay, but the story was a wreck. Now after the follow-up Lost Song, we've returned back to the gameplay from Hollow Fragment in Hollow Realization, all with a new story. Although the writing has improved, the game still suffers from a largely uninteresting adventure with pacing and performance issues on the Vita version.

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Hollow Realization is about how Kirito and his friends have moved on to a new version of SAO called Sword Art: Origin, which is supposed to be the game that SAO should've been, without all that 'being trapped in a life-or-death game' nonsense. However, it's only a matter of time before Kirito and his friends get caught up in a quest to save the game from bugs that crop up. There's a new mysterious AI that shows up in the game, and they are the impetus for the following events in the story. I wish I could say the plot is interesting, but getting from one major plot point to another takes so long that it will test your resolve to get to the interesting parts. There's a lot of grinding and pointless padding in the game, so it takes forever to get to a raid boss that block access to a new region.

Speaking of the gameplay, the game is very much in the vein of Hollow Fragment, forgoing the style from Lost Song. You still do basic attacks, use skills with SP, and issue orders in battle. Switching is still largely the best way of dealing with enemies, where you ask your Switch partner to draw aggro in your place, so you can recover or launch surprise attacks. Doing this while an enemy is about to attack can stun them. There's also a combo system that multiplies you damage output the higher it gets, making skill chaining devastating. It works, but there are still some problems with the game.

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The story has less terrible writing and off-putting lewdservice moments thanks to the assistance of the original light novel author. Note that this means less, not an absence. (At least stuff like Silica getting caught by a clothes melting tentacle monster doesn't happen in the first twelve hours.) On the gameplay side the Vita version's performance tanks during boss raids. The little hardware just can't hack it, and the framerate is just barely acceptable. You are better off playing this game on the PS4.

Aside from this, the game has some issues with telling you how soon it will teach you things. It doesn't immediately show you how to get party members, new equipment, or change switch partners and get them to heal you. They tend to heal themselves when you order them to, so any healing you need will have to be done by you. At the end of the day, Hollow Realization is fun, but it's only just barely an improvement from Hollow Fragment. I'd wait for a sale if you are really into the series; otherwise, there are other better games to play similar to this.

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VERDICT:

The Good: The script has less cringe-worthy lewdservice moments thanks to the light novel author being on board.
The Bad: The Vita is too weak of a console to handle the boss raids.
The Ugly: There's no way to improve your party's armor despite being able to improve weapons.

SUMMARY: Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a slightly improved follow-up to Hollow Fragment, but that's about it.

FINAL GRADE: 

Promotional consideration provided by by Bandai Namco

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