Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet Review
A decent combat system is undermined by a sluggish story and bland world.
The Sword Art Online anime poses the question of what happens when virtual games have life-or-death consequences? Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is a game that poses the question of “what happens if you turn an anime about a roleplaying game into an uninspired action-RPG?” While it’s a nice change of pace from the faux-MMORPG adaptations we’ve seen from this series, it still doesn’t quite hit the target.
Fatal Bullet puts you in the world of Gun Gale Online, the massively multiplayer online VR game seen in Sword Art Online II. Of course, it’s not really VR, and it’s only partially online, but it’s all part of the fiction. You begin as a newbie to Gun Gale Online, customizing an original avatar character and venturing into the world alongside your friend, Kureha. On your very first mission, you stumble across one of Gun Gale Online’s rarest finds: an intelligent, humanoid AI called ArFA-sys. It’s not long after claiming your treasure that you meet the rest of the Sword Art Online crew and get the opportunity to hang out with famous faces from the anime like Kirito and Sinon.
The plot takes its sweet time to get moving.
However, it doesn’t take long for one of the biggest problems to rear its head: Fatal Bullet has a serious issue with its pacing. You get to play a tutorial dungeon at the very beginning, only to have to sit through reams of character intros and expository dialogue immediately afterward before you’re able to hop back into action. Sure, you can skip cinematics, but that’s not a particularly good idea if you want to have a clue of what you’re doing. But even after the early infodumps, the plot takes its sweet time to get moving. It expects the mystery of your AI companion to drive your interest in exploring the world of Gun Gale Online, but most of the time you just feel like you’re doing odd, disjointed quests without a real long-term goal.
The main game is also surprisingly short — If you just focus on the plot quests, you can finish it in about 20-25 hours. Sidequests help to pad things out a bit, however: you can take on quests to defeat big enemies, eliminate NPC problem players, and find treasures. You can also play in limited competitive and co-operative online multiplayer modes that have you teaming up with (or competing against) other players to take down high-level boss enemies. However, you’ll probably want to focus on the single-player quests, which let you befriend the CPU-controlled Sword Art Online cast. By befriending characters, you’ll earn some serious benefits down the line – though the cinematics that accompany increases in affinity look comically bad, with a bunch of barely-moving characters staring at the screen while talking.
In terms of combat mechanics, Fatal Bullet is quite satisfying. You can equip your characters with a variety of different gun types, ranging from handguns to sniper rifles to machine guns, all of which have distinct strengths and weaknesses..And if you don’t like gunplay, you can always equip a sword instead — though the aim assist system helps a lot if you’re not particularly adept at third-person shooter style aiming. Weapons can be enhanced and upgraded in a variety of different ways, and Fatal Bullet wisely doesn’t force you to play much with weapons you don’t enjoy using.
You can have fun using all of your skills and tools to take down a horde of enemies.
As you progress, you’ll acquire skills and gadgets to equip on your characters. These skills open up when you reach certain stat thresholds and perform certain actions in combat, and grant abilities like attack and defense boosts, healing bullets, and wild acrobatic shots. Gadgets operate similarly, allowing you access to tools like hidden bombs, poison knives, concealment fields, and first aid kits. Skills and gadgets are both unlimited-use but run on cooldowns, adding a bit of strategy to when and where to use them. When combined with your weapons, you can have fun using all of your skills and tools to take down a horde of enemies alongside your in-game friends, be they real or virtual.
But while the combat can be enjoyable, it gets old seeing a lot samey-looking, run-down outdoor environments and industrial dungeons, battling insects and robot drones that look almost identical to each other save for extra colors and mechanical bits. There’s not much in the way of interesting environmental setpieces to interact with, either — which is a real shame, given that Fatal Bullet gives you a grappling-hook item called the Fiber Gun to vault around with. While it’s useful for getting to tactical positions for combat, it’s only rarely used for fun exploration.