Sword Art Online is an anime about 10,000 gamers trapped in a VR MMORPG where if they die in the game, they die in real life. So of course it was only a matter of time before they made a game about it. Unfortunately, if you aren't already a fan, there is little in this game for you but boredom.
Good – A Twist on the Old Story
The story of Hollow Fragment is an alternate universe story to that of the novels/anime. At the start of the game—the end of the first arc of Sword Art Online—Kirito faces off against the final boss on the 75th floor as he does in the anime. But at the critical moment, a series of glitches occur that allow him to cleanly win the battle. Instead of the game ending, it continues on—leaving the players no choice but to push on through the death game's remaining 25 floors.
Thus the event of the anime's—often disdained—second arc never happen. Of course, that doesn't mean the characters of that story are simply forgotten as the continuation of the online death game has changed their fates as well.
For the most part, the story of the game is told in visual novel-style cutscenes, all voiced by the actors of the anime. Many of these are optional and are little more than fanservice; but they are still enjoyable enough and are a welcome break from the gameplay after each boss.
Of course, there is one important note about the story. Last year saw the release of the PSP game Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment. Hollow Fragment is actually the exact same game but with graphical updates and additional content. But as Infinity Moment never saw a Western release, it's unlikely anyone outside of Japan will mind the reuse of story.
Good – A Whole New World
In addition to the main game carried over from Infinity Moment, Hollow Fragment contains a brand new expansive open world area. It is filled with new quests, monsters, and environments that add over thirty hours of playtime to the already lengthy game. There is also a new side story complete with a new partner character that deals with some of the death game's PVPers (read: murderers).
But perhaps the most notable new feature is the ability to play with up to 4 players via the game's local ad-hoc mode. While you can't coop any of the returning Infinity Moment content, the Hollow Fragment open world becomes coop enabled as soon as you complete the game's short tutorial.
Good – Refined Battle System
The biggest major change made from the PSP release is the completely retooled battle system. In Infinity Moment, all the skills you could use were relegated to a pop-up menu that you'd constantly open in battle to perform special attacks and skills. However, this has been streamlined in Hollow Fragment to three sets of button shortcuts—basically allowing you to only have 12 skills equipped at a time. While this does take out some of the freedom of the game, it also forces you to play strategically as well as keeps you out of cumbersome menus in battle.