I don’t think it’s out of place to say that Sword Art Online is a bit of a divisive franchise. You get people that hate it and people that absolutely adore it, I don’t think I’ve met anyone in between. The series that started out about players being stuck in a fantasy VR MMO started becoming more prominent for its harem elements. While the anime and manga have been going on, the series has gotten a number of games whose quality have been neither here or there. The previous games may have been consistently okay, but is Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet the game to bring the series into the limelight?
So let’s get one thing out of the way very quickly: if you have your reservations about the series you’re probably not going to enjoy Fatal Bullet from the get-go. While the game may start out with the player creating their own character, you’re quickly assaulted with popular characters from the series. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the game doesn’t really give anyone who may not have knowledge of the source material any real reason to take note of these characters, rather just expects you to be interested. There are a number of issues with how Fatal Bullet carries itself and most of them stem from a lack of player respect.
A long wind-up to the story
It may seem a little harsh to say but the opening moments of Fatal Bullet do a bit of a bait and switch when it comes to the player. You start out by customising the player avatar, getting a number of options to give your character a personalised look. I don’t think the character customiser is an absolute game changer, but it offered enough options that I didn’t feel like I couldn’t make the anime character I wanted, as disastrous as that may have been. You’re then thrown into the world of Gun Gale Online, a VR third-person shooter MMORPG where the player is quite quickly thrown into an in-game event with a childhood friend. The game starts off strong, throwing you into a dungeon where players are looking for an exceptionally rare treasure. This starts off the game quite well, going straight into the action, making things interesting by having the player finding this super rare item, a super rare AI assistant called an ArFA-sys, and then dropping off completely. The player is then subjected to a few hours of character exposition and poorly implemented tutorial until you can finally actually play the game. Even then, the game’s actual story doesn’t really start for a while even after that.
At its core Fatal Bullet is a third-person shooter, you go around and kit yourself with weapons of your choice.
Fatal Bullet, unfortunately, relies on players being somewhat invested in the world of Sword Art Online to carry players through to the game’s actual start and this is quite unfortunate. It’s not that this is awful in any way, but it’s just incredibly difficult to immediately care about certain characters when the game just expects you to. It’s a shame that this happens because deep down there’s actually some fun to be had when it’s not trying to show off what the series is about. There’s an incredibly passable story here, but where the game really shines is the actual gameplay.
At its core Fatal Bullet is a third-person shooter, you go around and kit yourself with weapons of your choice. You can find a variety of weapons to suit your loadout of choice and because Gun Gale Online is a MMO, these of course all have varying rarities and stats. There are even swords you can pickup if you don’t want to leave the Sword Art Online roots behind, there’s a decent number of items that make kitting out your character fun and allows for a number of approaches to the actual gameplay. Along the way you’ll go on your standard affair of MMO activities taking on dungeons, PvP and PvE events which you can bring other players in from online but for the most part it’s once again a single-player MMO. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some of the actual missions can feel a bit too samey and even a couple of dynamic events could have made things a bit more interesting. What Fatal Bullet should be praised for however is its gunplay, even if it’s for some unconventional reasons.
When most people look at gunplay in games they look for some sort of realism or flair but Fatal Bullet nails it with one thing: assist mode. In the game you can choose to use a very standard targeting reticle or the assist mode, which has some useful implications. When assist mode is on, players will have a larger targeting area on the screen that will automatically target and fire at an enemy that is in this area. Some might automatically pass this off as a feature exclusively for people who may not play shooters but it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Here’s the scenario: you’re swarmed by enemies and need to try deal damage while trying to get a better position. Instead of just running away and blind-firing, wasting resources and being incredibly inefficient, with assist mode you can make your retreat while still being able to deal some damage to mobs. I found that it made some fights that could have been an absolute nightmare a little more enjoyable as it felt like I could still do something meaningful. I was still able to make use of a more precise aiming system for critical hits but assist mode did a lot to give the overall gameplay a bit more impact, even in stressful situations. This made things far more enjoyable than if the game decided to just do the bare minimum. Where the game’s story feels lacking, the gameplay will keep you playing as it’s ultimately just rather enjoyable.
The actual presentation of Fatal Bullet also leaves a bit to be desired however, I’m not sure why this game tries to actively hamper its own experience. There’s a lot of noticeable texture pop-in with the environments not being all that inspiring and enemies themselves not feeling all that interesting. Each area in the game feels like some derivation of wasteland or destroyed city, with very little standing out. They serve the purpose of giving the player an environment, but not much else can really be said about it. There aren’t even any musical themes that really inspire or remain with the player during the game. Overall, the presentation is just a little bland and I think that the game tries to rely on its branding too much here as well.
Overall, the presentation is just a little bland and I think that the game tries to rely on its branding too much here as well.
Yet overall, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is still an enjoyable game. Taking it for what it is is the only way to really enjoy it and it does have some interesting ideas here and there. With a little more production value or a couple of slight adjustments it could easily have been a fantastic game. It just feels like it tries to use the brand to carry it, when it should have realised the game itself is quite a good time. If Sword Art Online is your thing, Fatal Bullet will easily be enjoyable for your. If it’s not, well it might take some time but there’s definitely some fun to be had.