Good translation makes a huge difference. Honestly, it can make or break the experience, and it’s genuinely hard to do.
I picked up Hollow Fragment a few months back on the Vita. It was a really, really interesting game mechanically set in a world that I find really compelling. I can’t talk much about the story because if you haven’t seen any of SAO it drops enormous spoilers within the first five minutes or so of the game, but the game’s concept is a sort of extended “what-if” sequence, which is really interesting and something I haven’t seen in game tie-ins.
I put a solid 15-20 hours into the game before quitting– as much as I loved the gameplay, the translation for the Vita version was atrocious, so much so that I didn’t really have a clear picture as to what I was doing wrong in particular sections nor did I have any idea what was happening in the story. I was fighting exceptionally difficult enemies and dying frequently, and didn’t have a lot of intelligible feedback on what I could do to improve. At the same time, the dialogue was garbled to the point of being incomprehensible, so I could get a vague emotional tone but very little else. It made it difficult to figure out where to go and what to do.
Loading up the new (retranslated) PS4 version was stark. I had a clear picture of what was going on almost immediately, and I suddenly understood how a bunch of game mechanics worked before even leaving the tutorial. One of the big things that the retranslated version did was clarify how the game is structured. There are two separate areas that you can progress through, and it wasn’t clear to me which the right one was. On the Vita, I had this helpful hint:
“For ready players, advance through floors of Aincrad. If still collecting loot and exp, try the Hollow Area.”
Based on that, I jumped into the Hollow Area straightaway. Why not collect loot and exp until I feel “ready”? The PS4 version translates that line a little differently:
“If you’re still getting used to the game, try some of the early floors of Aincrad. If you’re an advanced player and want to test your skill and get rewarded with loot and lots of exp, try the Hollow Area.”
SLIGHTLY different. It explained why I was getting pummeled in my entire Vita playthrough– I was basically trying to advance through the special advanced bonus dungeon right from the start. This playthrough, I started playing through the ‘appropriate’ sections first, and wound up basically crushing my way through the first few sections, largely thanks to the skills I’d honed fighting things way out of my weight class on the Vita.
What I’ve discovered is that the game is much, much more nuanced than I’d realized, mechanically. I can’t talk much about the story, but it does a really good job of interspersing the ensemble cast and keeping all of the characters at the forefront (which the show didn’t do quite as much) and keeping the story relevant– there are a ton of events that occur in between going out and beating up monsters, but you can spend quite a bit of time just doing that if you like, and you have a ton of characters you can level up.
Because the game drops you in the middle of the action, you start at a pretty advanced level with quite a few skills and resources– it’s a little odd to start a game at level 97, but it works pretty well in this context. You’ve got enough abilities to start to make things interesting and you can slowly explore them, but because you’re so overleveled for the starting point (a thematic staple of the series), you can ease into things. It also doesn’t waste any time with introducing things you’ve already covered in the series– the only catch-up it does is letting you know how the game diverges. This probably isn’t great for anyone who hasn’t seen the series, but it’s kind of an obscure title to pick up if you haven’t watched Sword Art Online. Cutting to the chase as far as establishing story and characters lets them get detailed and personal with interactions very quickly, as well as occasionally very silly.
Overall, I’m having a lot of fun with it, especially with a translation that lets me make sense of the story. Because the game’s story diverges hugely from a major plot point in the series, I’m interested to see where they go with things. I like the idea of the game building out into conceptual space rather than simply retreading the ground covered by the series, and I’d like to see more of that in game tie-ins. It makes me think of KOTOR, which created a whole new space for Star Wars that’s proven to be incredibly fertile ground.