Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization's Yosuke Futami

by Todd Ciolek,
Sword Art Online's stock is still rising if its attendant video games are any indication. Namco Bandai brought Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment to the West only in carelessly translated digital form in 2014, but this year's Hollow Realization gets a physical release with a lavish special edition on the PlayStation 4 this November 8.

Set three years after the incident that trapped protagonist Kirito and hundreds of other players inside an online RPG, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization explores new territory with a storyline about AI characters. For further details, we spoke with producer Yōsuke Futami about the game.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment was digital only, but we've since seen a physical release for Lost Song and now a big special edition for Hollow Realization. Why do you think the games are getting more popular?

Futami: I'm really grateful that more and more players can enjoy these games, so the rise in popularity is great. Japan already had several collector's editions, but we haven't done any for the Western version yet. We really thought the Western one should be a special set. And I think the reason it's growing in popularity is that players are enjoying Sword Art Online across various media: movies, TV, books, and so on.

What do you think Hollow Realization does better than Hollow Fragment or Lost Song?

Well, the graphics are dramatically better now that it's made for the PlayStation 4, and the MMO factors are much-improved. In Hollow Fragment players could add a party member from 100 characters, while Lost Song had 30 characters, but in this game, players can choose from 300 different characters.

Lost Song let you fly. Is it true that we can't fly in Hollow Realization?

[laughs] No flying!

You've been asked that before! [laughs] Why is the flying gone? Was it just because the setting changed?

Well, the stage of the game was changed from Lost Song, where players could fly the sky but the RPG elements were not as strong. In Hollow Realization, players battle on the ground, so the map is a lot wider and the RPG portion is a lot stronger.

So there's more space to cover and more to do within that space. You've also moved from Artdink, the developer of Lost Song, to Aquira, I see.

Yes, Sword Art Online has two lines of developers. Aquria specializes in sword-swinging, Artdink specializes in flying through the sky. So I changed according to the developers and their own special skills. And it takes two years to develop the game, just like Call of Duty!

How large is the overall Hollow Realization game world compared to Lost Song?

So Lost Song runs about thirty to forty hours to complete the game. Hollow Realization lasts for about forty to sixty. However, to finish all of the subquests, it'll last at least eighty hours, twice the size of Lost Song. In the overall size of the world, it's also about twice as large.

How does the new setting for Hollow Realization play into the storyline?

Hollow Realization has an original storyline supervised by Kawahara, and the game is all about AI characters.

And there's a new character named Premiere? And another named Genesis? How do they fit into the game?

Well, we just announced the other day that we have another new character who looks a lot like Premiere! The game explores how AIS raised by a good person can be good, but if they're AIS raised by an evil person, as Genesis was, they're not so good.

So are the AIS raised like pets or children?

It's more like making a friend. The AIS also respond to how their friends behave.

Yes, you have a system called Emotion Void where you can interact with other characters. Is it similar to the dating system in Hollow Fragment?

The Emotion System lets you communicate with other characters and join them in battle, and you gain more relationships as the game goes on. The emotions grow as well, as they're governed by your behavior, even by something as simple as nodding.

And how many characters can you interact with? All three hundred? Yes, the Emotion Void system includes them, as adventuring with the characters will generate some emotions. Characters like Premiere can be raised, and even NPC characters will respond if you raise the levels of emotion.

How will the online multiplayer work with a party of four characters? And is it true there's no local multiplayer?

Local multiplayer is not available. However, we have a lot of options for online multiplayer. You can have four people playing, with an AI partner for each character, so it's eight characters to a party.

What RPGs do you look to for inspiration when making Sword Art Online titles?

I try to take a lot of influence from both online and offline games, and it's not so much the game as it is the style and communication methods of the game…how other players react when they're online.

And when it's an offline RPG, I look at how the storyline branches and how it ends, and how you level-up the characters, and how the game is balanced. So I look at both games and take inspiration from both sides.

When I interviewed you last year, you mentioned that your favorite character from Sword Art Online was Alice, and that she wasn't in Lost Song. Will she be in Hollow Realization?

[laughs] I'll try my best! Personally, I'd like to put her in, but there are lots of things to overcome to make that real. Although Alice is my number-two character right now.

Oh? Who's your number one?

Premiere!

Why is that?

Well, I still like Alice, but Premiere is an original character and I was involved in her creation, so maybe that's it. As the player will see, she's not really human—she's data—but she's always trying her best to overcome things, so that sentiment makes me like her a lot…more than Alice. [laughs] But I still like Alice a lot! I want to show her in the game…but the best I can do right now is Premiere!

While it's about an online RPG, Sword Art Online sometimes branches into other genres—like the recent Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax. What fields would you like to explore?

Me? [laughs] Shooting games! Or maybe simulation. The FPS genre is my favorite, but I'd also like to try a real-time simulation game. So if I could, I'd like to bring Sword Art Online there.

If you were playing Sword Art Online, what character class would you play?

I'd be a Game Master, like the one who created the deadly game.

Is that allowed?

Yeah, I'd be like Kayaba, the leader of the knights of blood, since I'm the leader of the staff!


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