Starter Tips for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Hollow Realization is the latest video game installment based on the wildly popular anime series Sword Art Online. This mock-MMO JRPG is quite expansive, taking players back to a world inspired by the original arc’s Aincrad, though without the real-life perma-death feature. And while it’s sometimes overly verbose, Ainground does a surprisingly bad job at telling the player how the game actually works.

Over the last few days I’ve managed to sink nearly 30 hours in to the VRMMO-like, so I wanted to share a few tips to help make your starting hours a little less painful.

Let’s get started!


1) Multi-player takes about 10 hours to unlock.

Yep. You read that correctly. 10 fucking hours. If you’re interested in picking up Hollow Realization to play with your real-life Asuna or Klein, you should know that it’s not a feature that’s readily available straight out of the box.

Instead, you’ll have to complete the entire first area, along with defeating its big bad raid boss at the end, before the multi-player feature unlocks.

I was at the 12-hour mark by this point, but I have a bad habit of letting the game idle in the background since there’s no pause feature (it’s supposed to resemble an MMO, after all). If your only interest is multi-player, you could probably skip the dialogue and bum rush the objectives significantly faster.

2) The A.I. is fucking awful, so get used to manual commands.

Hollow Realization has some of the most atrocious A.I. controlled party members I’ve ever experienced. They don’t do much on their own, aside from resurrect you when you fall in battle.

The only way I’ve gotten them to do anything productive is to use the game’s manual commands, which you can access by holding down the L1 button in combination with the d-pad and face buttons.

L1 + right on the d-pad will order them to attack all at once, while L1 + down asks them to take a step back and replenish their missing health. There are also manual commands that ask your party members to draw aggro away from Kirito, which is handy if you just want to pound away at things, along with the powerful Switch ability.

3) Since the A.I. is bad, just party with whoever you like the most. Maybe not Asuna.

Hollow Realization features a pretty meaty cast of all your favorite Sword Art Online characters, but with the A.I. being fairly questionable, just party up with three of your favorites and have fun.

You can choose your party by opening up the Friends menu and pressing L1 over their name. Kirito can venture out with three of them at once, or fall back on his original arc’s anti-social “solo player” gimmick if you just want to forget the second arc’s incest bit ever happened.

Each NPC has a specific roll, like tank, buffer, attacker, or healer, but it has yet to matter thirty hours in. Since you’re constantly telling them what to do, anyone can essentially fill any roll. Klein remains the highest DPS in the game for me, even above my own Kirito, but I had just as much success taking Silica, a healer, out for a round of questing.

Why not Asuna, though?

4) All A.I. party members get new weapons as they level up, except Asuna.

As I quested around with Leafa, Asuna, and Strea, I couldn’t help but notice that Leafa and Strea would frequently equip new weapons as they reached higher levels. Asuna, however, did not.

It turns out that Asuna will only equip weapons that you “gift” her back in the Town of Beginnings. This can be done by standing next to her and pressing square, then selecting the “walk” option. While you’re on your little stroll, hit square again and choose the “gift” option this time. Asuna can only equip rapiers, so hand over the best one you have in your inventory.

So what’s the downfall here? At level 20, my Asuna dished out less than 100 DPS with the best purchasable rapier. That’s 400 less than Klein, Strea, Agil, and Sinon, who all obtain new weapons based on their level.

Why is this a big deal?

5) Multi-player XP gains are tremendously better than questing. It’s no contest.

Once you’ve unlocked multi-player, you’ll have the option to drag one party member along with you as you group up with three real-life players to tackle boss monsters. These players are typically a much higher level than you, as fans have been playing Hollow Realization obsessively since launch, and chances are they’re farming these end-game bosses repeatedly for specific pieces of loot (or Col; gold).

Therefore the XP gains are ridiculously unbalanced, though (arguably) in your favor. For instance, I went in to my first random multi-player match at level 17. Within an hour of boss farming I was already level 43.

While every other familiar NPC in the game levels alongside Kirito, present or not, Asuna doesn’t. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived back at the Town of Beginnings to see that Asuna hadn’t budged an inch. There she was, stuck at level 17 with the 2nd weakest rapier in the game, while everyone else on the roster was in their 40’s.

This is partially my fault since the game doesn’t really explain how to bring an NPC with you on your co-op adventure, so I ended up going alone. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have done a bit more research and actually taken Asuna with me to avoid the debacle entirely.

6) Want to speed up the grind a bit? Buy the XP Gains skill.

In the Skills tab between the spear and axe skill trees is a helpful little buff called XP Gains. If I recall correctly, it only costs 3 skill points to purchase, which you should have the moment you gain control of Kirito.

This helpful buff provides +15% increased XP gains to you and your party members for 5 minutes, and can be refreshed at any time for just 100 SP. SP refreshes fairly quickly, so you can efficiently keep this buff rolling throughout your entire adventure.

Eventually you’ll start finding and earning XP boost potions, which stack with the XP Gains buff.

7) You can basically ignore the quest board.

Back at the Town of Beginnings is a quest board that continues to add new quests faster than you’ll ever complete them. While this is a decent way to earn some Col early on, it becomes obsolete fairly quickly.

Not only are they boring and repetitive, adding nothing to the story, but once you’re just a few levels ahead of them, they’ll no longer provide you with XP. Just items that you probably already have a bulk amount of.

The worst part is that completing these quests for random NPCs causes them to bombard your message inbox with useless chatter. This is only handy if there’s a specific unfamiliar NPC out there that you’d like to build up your affection level with in order to party up with them out in Ainground. Unfamiliar NPCs all start at affection level 1, and will need to be raised to 3 before you can invite them to your party.

Between the main story quest, the character-specific side-quests, grinding weapon skill points, and multi-player raid farming, you’ll have more Col and XP than you’ll know what to do with. Don’t waste precious hours picking up random items for 0 XP. It’s just not worth it. By the time you need those items to improve your weapons and armor, you’ll have already found better ones in the many, many treasure chests while exploring.

8) Stuck on a quest? Look for blue circles on the map.

Hollow Realization does a pretty awful job at guiding you along on your quests. With such helpful hints as “keep exploring!” you’ll be on your own, for the most part.

If you’ve explored the maps and haven’t found your quest objective, select the map tab in the menu and look for blue circles. Follow them. Once you get to that section of the map, you’ll notice a blue circle with two crossed swords. This is a story progression event.

Just remember, blue circles progress the story, green circles are optional events that award XP and items.

9) Don’t miss out on the optional character quests!

Whenever you’re back in the Town of Beginnings, press the Options button and hop in to the Event Log. Your primary story objective will always be at the top of the list, but anything under that is an optional story quest.

Event Log is your best friend, since it ensures you don’t miss out on character development and additional narrative bits. Exhaust your options before moving on, particularly the ones notated by the star icons, as these are all side-stories that are linked to PSN trophies.

10) Kirito’s dual-wielding skill isn’t available from the start.

Those of you familiar with the anime know that Kirito’s preferred combat style is dual-wielding one-handed swords. However, this option isn’t readily available at the start.

To my knowledge it’s never actually explained how this skill is unlocked in-game, but from what I’ve read online you’ll need at least a 250 skill level in one-handed swords, along with landing 2,000 one-handed sword skills (emphasis on land, as missed attempts don’t count). The last thing you need to do is purchase the Star Sabre ability in the one-handed sword tree’s upper-right.

You can open up the Skills tab and hover over each skill to see how many times you’ve used it, but since the attacks actually need to connect, just use this number as an estimate. It’s 2,000 skill attacks from any combination of one-handed sword skills, not 2,000 from one of them.

Once the criteria has been met, the Celestial Blade EX ability will appear on your skill tree and be available for purchase.


If you have any additional tips you’d like to share, drop a comment below. I’ll get it added to the list as soon as possible, crediting you of course.


17 thoughts on “Starter Tips for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

  1. From what I hear the AI learns depending on how you praise it. If a character casts a heal for example and you compliment them they are more likely to focus on healing in the future. Dunno if that works out in practice though.


    1. Yeah, it doesn’t work as intended at all. So the praise system ends up just being a way to regain SP in combat and build your affection levels. It’s a long, unrewarding process for quite a while and kind of forces you to play with the same party for bulk amounts of time.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve had a similar mindset about all three SAO games; that if you like the anime at all, you will find stuff to like in the games. They’re far from perfect, but as a fan of the anime I’m still enjoying myself quite a bit. There’s tons of dialogue that add to the character depth, nods to the first two story arcs, and it really does feel like adventuring through a VRMMO. Though I’d *only* recommend it to fans of the series and no one else.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hear so many good things about Sword Art Online. The one thing that always pops into my head is this AMV a friend of mine found that seamlessly tied together SAO and scenes from FFVII Advent Children. It. Was. Amazing. So whenever I heard about SAO I immediately think about that, and it’s bumped the anime up on my ridiculous list. That’s a shame the game doesn’t hold up.


    1. As someone who spent the last 13 years heavily invested in various MMOs, it was totally relatable. Finding groups of people that I connected with and accepted me more than the ones I was surrounded by in real life, forming these bonds and spending time immersed in these virtual worlds that eventually felt like a second home. It’s also just a fun anime with lots of great characters, action, and silly video game-type tropes that I enjoy. I know folks were turned away by the 2nd arc, which takes place in a different MMO with some of the same characters (and has an incest bit that never sits well with western audiences), but I thought it was great. I don’t watch a lot of anime, so my opinion could very well be in the minority, but of the ones I’ve watched in the last few years it’s definitely my favorite. And the games just build on that by staying true to what made the anime so enjoyable for me, despite their obvious flaws.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even though it’s still utterly gross, I think Game of Thrones is making incest acceptable at least in terms of fiction. It’s…not, but the show is making possible to stomach it. The books are even more so.

        I’ve watched my share of non-domestic films and it’s so interesting how different they are in style and mien. There’s a French film that had a sort of incest motif where the main character was obsessed with his sister and ended up falling for a woman who looked just like her (the sister was deceased). The movie didn’t portray this as weird/odd. It just was what it was. It wasn’t lauding it, but if it had been an American film, there’d have been much more of an ick factor portrayed. It’s very interesting.


        1. It’s taboo here, but in other cultures it’s totally acceptable for cousins to have intercourse and marry. I actually had no idea that was a thing until *after* watching SAO, haha. There was a huge thread about how it’s weird for western viewers but not so much the east.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yup! I know in ASOIAF there are quite a few noble houses that marry cousin to cousin and it’s not a scandal in the least. Closer relatives obviously are, but cousins are considered far enough apart that the risk is pretty mitigated. I believe Eleanor and Theodore Roosevelt were cousins, though I don’t know if they were first or more.


  3. It’s funny how i’m one of he rare cases where i almost hate the anime, but i actually really like the games. I’m pretty good at finding things that i like about games and using those to carry me through them. It might sound like I’m brainwashing myself, but it’s led me to a pretty happy life in gaming.

    Liked by 1 person

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