Role-playing games usually lead the main characters as far away from the starting town as possible. They explore distant regions and visit new villages while rarely looking back. That being said, it isn’t too uncommon for a game to have a home base or main area players come back to. Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment isn’t too far from the latter structure with a central city the characters return to after each expedition. However, I’ve never seen a game bring forward the day-to-day aspects of living as much as Hollow Fragment.
For those unfamiliar with the Sword Art Online license, there’s some background information you need to know before we get too deep into the game. The franchise is mostly known for its anime series, the first arc of which is about a bunch of people who get stuck in an MMORPG. If they die in the game, they die in real life. To escape this virtual world, they must work together to complete the main dungeon. Simple enough, but it’s a task that ends up taking almost two years to complete.
A society starts to develop within the structure of the game. Some players take combative roles to progress through the dungeon and others stay in town to craft goods or provide services. But since they’re unable to leave, all other aspects of their lives also take place here.
The actual real-life game on PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4, Hollow Fragment, is largely a single player RPG set in the MMO’s world. It’s a lengthy game with a lot of the visual novel style cutscenes that focus on random conversations the “players” have.
In this world where characters are supposed to be fighting for their lives, there’s rarely the feeling of a looming threat. The gameplay aspect of the MMO is their equivalent of going to work. They do their job, come home, eat, resupply and enjoy the little moments in life with others. Shopping together, playing games and even taking vacations are not uncommon activities between missions. They’ll venture out of Safe Zones simply to go on picnics, visit hot springs or do some sightseeing.
But how do you make the mundane interesting? I think building a game around this type of content requires characters with a lot of charm in addition to good dialog. You have to be able to simply enjoy their company even if there’s very little character development happening.
This is where Hollow Fragment falls on its face. Remember how I said Sword Art Online is an anime? Because, man, this game is the most pandering fan service harem garbage the world has ever seen. There are literally six, or sometimes more, companions fighting over the main character throughout the game. You’ll witness hours upon hours of girls accidentally, or sometimes purposefully, rubbing their breasts and booties all over him.
There’s a constant stream of suggestive conversations, you’ll see the girls in all sorts of lewd positions with varying layers of clothing on and most scenarios end with them calling the main character a pervert while he yells that it’s a misunderstanding. Some characters and story arcs in Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment are surprisingly okay , but it’s completely muddled up by forced sexual tension and pleas for love.
Even with all the harem garbage on top, there’s something nice about leading a leisurely life mixed with an RPG. I can see a game where this could work well, but I don’t think the Sword Art Online license will ever deliver on this. It simply would be unfitting of the source material. Ultimately it’s game for the fans of the anime, who probably want and love every aspect that I hate.
“But the Persona franchise,” you say. You’re probably right. I have no experience with that series or some other popular light-hearted RPGs, like Recettear and the Atelier games. From what I’ve heard about Persona, it nails incorporating everyday activities into the RPG structure. However, I’m not sure if it emphasizes the trivial in-between moments like Hollow Fragment does. My gut tells this game has a unique feeling to it. But if Persona or some other game achieves this, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’d be curious to see other portrayals of everyday life in an RPG.
If you’re wonder about the gameplay side of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, I have another post on that.