I’ve been wary of purchasing Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for some time now. There are numerous reasons for this, all of which I’ll gladly explain.

The number one reason is that I’m admittedly not a huge fan of anime. That may be surprising to some, especially since I absolutely love RPGs but it is what it is. I tried getting into the Sword Art Online series when I first heard about the game and well, it’s just not my thing.

Sword Art Online HF conversation

The second reason I’ve been holding off on SOA, is because many have complained about the terrible translation job. Even if I don’t have perfect grammar, I am still a writer so it irks me to high hell when there are a lot of typos. Needless to say the “English” in SAO is more like “Engrish.”

There are a few other reasons why I’ve been holding off too. Namely the $40 price tag is a turn-off, especially when you hear about so many nuances from various review channels. I like to get familiar with a game before I spend my hard earned money. Unlike most reviewers I spend my own money on games, so it really sucks when I pick up something that’s – for lack of a better phrase – a piece of shit.

Sword Art Online HF character customization

As you’d expect, I jumped the gun and picked up Sword Art Online. After a lengthy download period – where I snatched up all the free DLC too, including the software patches – I jumped right in. I am happy to say that I absolutely love the game, and don’t regret the purchase one bit.

A Vita Action RPG at Heart

While SAO has been designed to slightly mimic MMORPGs, at its core it is a very compelling single-player action RPG. The MMO elements have been added more so to provide a sense of immersion than gameplay mechanics. For example, you receive frequent messages from in-game “friends” who are really just NPCs. What these elements offer is a sense of life. It really feels like the world of SAO is living, breathing and more importantly, interacting with you.

For some time I’ve been craving a deep action RPG on the Vita, and while I do own Persona 4 Golden, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace and Valhalla Knights 3 – those games don’t really scratch the itch. There are other options like YS: Memories of Celceta, Final Fantasy X and X2 HD, the Atelier games and more but for some reason I gravitated towards SAO.

Sword Art Online HF Tutorial baddie

Even though I have no interest in anime or the original content, I found SAO to be quite captivating. That’s especially interesting considering a lot of reviewers have lambasted the game, saying only seasoned fans would enjoy it. For all intents and purposes, SAO is the action RPG I’ve been looking for on my Vita. To think it was right under my nose this whole time.

Plenty of Content

It wouldn’t be a true “RPG” without a whole slew of content to beef up the game, and SAO is not shy in that department. On top of all the original content for the game, there are a few software patches that add new stuff as well as some free timed DLC. It’s worth noting that the DLC won’t be available after November, according to the game devs.

Sword Art Online boss fight

Even without the DLC and extra content, SAO:HF would be a pretty expansive game. I’m not even halfway through, and I’ve already invested a solid 30 hours. That’s nothing, I’ve seen reviews and forum comments that allude to it offering well over 100 hours of gameplay. It doesn’t take a genius to see there’s a lot of shit to do in SAO, and that’s impressive for any game, let alone a portable one.

Unique Combat System

Due to the shoddy translation during the tutorial, it was a bit confusing getting used to the combat mechanics. Once I started playing around however, I grew to adore it. SAO uses a pretty unique combat system that requires you to pay attention. With proper timing – pressing the appropriate button per a prompt – you can dish out some pretty badass attacks. Kirito – the main character – begins attacking as soon as you target an enemy. As you press the attack button, a white sphere or burst will expand from his body. Pressing the attack button in sequence with these “circle” bursts will execute a chain attack. Once you do enough of them, you will execute your burst attack – which is essentially a finishing move – provided you have enough SP (energy). You can swap out your burst attack (finisher) at any time, for another that you have unlocked.

You can also use the trigger buttons to pull up two separate custom skill palettes, which allow you to manually execute attacks or skills during battle.

Sword Art Online HF slime baddie

While battling, your companion will also be attacking the enemy. You can praise your ally with cheers and chants, which informs them they’re doing a good job. If you do this enough, they learn how you expect them to fight. So, for example if you want your companion to heal more, praising them every time they do it will eventually lead to them using more healing skills.

As you battle, you also increase your risk meter. This is essentially your risk for aggro similar to an MMORPG. With your risk at the max level of 5, you will take increased damage from enemies and both your burst meter and SP meter will refill slowly. To shed your high risk level, you can press down on the d-pad to shift focus to your companion. Your risk level will reset, allowing you to recharge both your SP and burst meters faster, and assault the enemy with more powerful attacks.

Sword Art Online HF chat system

It seems a lot more complicated in words than it really is. If you do decide to pick up this game, I highly recommend watching some Let’s Play videos – namely GadgetGirlKylie’s SAO series – to better understand how the combat system works. Sadly, the in-game tutorials are pretty shitty, so if I were you I’d also take a look at the digital manual.

In Summary

All in all, I’m extremely happy with my purchase. I will be sinking a lot of time into this game – especially when my wife kicks me off the computer and I can’t play anymore Shadow of Mordor or Alien: Isolation. Before my purchase I thought that $40 was pretty steep, but now that I’m balls deep in the game I can see I was wrong. In my opinion, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is worth the money. It’s not just a fucking awesome portable game, it’s an awesome game in general – minus the shitty Engrish translation, of course.