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Experience the world of 'Sword Art Online' in the palm of your hands

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment
Namco Bandai

Based off the popular anime, Sword Art Online, about a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game where players killed in-game actually die in real life, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment -- headed to PlayStation Vita later this month -- places gamers in the shoes of series main character Kirigaya Kazuto, known as Kirito in the online world, for a game exclusive journey featuring returning characters as well as some new faces.

Hollow Fragment includes a remake of the last year’s PlayStation Portable title that released solely in Japan called Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, as well as a brand-new area called the Hollow Area.

Despite many restrictions due to being a handheld exclusive, Hollow Fragment does an excellent job of emulating the look and feel of a real MMO. Customization lies at the bulk of combat, where players can assign attacks and other abilities to skill palettes to best suit their play style.

“You also have this huge range of different skills that you could set in skill palettes,” said Associate Public Relations Specialist at Bandai Namco Games America Grace Liu. “What the skill palettes are, you have your basic four moves, and if you press either the right or left [shoulder] button it changes the palette so you have a whole other set of skills, and you could totally customize it so different skills are in different positions.”

During combat, players will have a non-playable partner that they can control indirectly by giving commands such as guard or heal. One neat little feature that contributes to the MMO illusion is that enemies will only attack a single player at a time, and you can opt to switch with your partner to regain health and SP after you’ve taken a beating.

Each level essentially plays out the same way. The player is tasked with traversing through the map until they encounter a boss at the end. Once the boss is defeated, you can move on to the next stage. While the path is not exactly linear, it’s not open either, and players should have no trouble reaching the end of a level... other than a few deadly monsters, of course.

There’s also an online feature, where gamers can “team up with up to three players online, and each player also has their own non-playable partner, so it’s really like there’s eight players on the screen at once, so it’s more like a raid,” said Liu.

Since the narrative is separate from the series, players don’t necessarily need to be familiar with the show in order to play, however, some background knowledge can go a long way in terms of really understanding the game and the universe that encompasses it. Also, if you’re looking to get into the anime, then you might want to hold off on this game until at least after season one since some of the characters included aren’t introduced until the latter half of the season.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment hits the digital market on August 19 as a Vita exclusive.