I was pretty hesitant leading up to the launch of Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet. After hearing that it was a third person shooter based on the anime I remember thinking how hard it would be to get those two things to fit hand in hand. Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization and Lost Song never hit home for me, but I’m very glad I gave Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet a chance because once I was in, I was hooked.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet takes place inside Gun Gale Online (which I will refer to as GGO moving forward), a multiplayer VR game from Sword Art Online II. Players take control of a new player to the world of GGO after a friend convinces them to start playing. After encountering some higher-level players and entering a dungeon, our protagonist discovers an extremely rare item that was introduced in GGO’s latest patch, a cyborg-like humanoid called ArFa-sys. Soon after, word gets out about your find and every player in the game wants her, while some just want to get to know you and your ArFa-sys better.
It sounds a little more complicated than it really is, and the menu system in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is probably more convoluted then the story. The story is really Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s Achilles heel, because after a fairly quick moving intro and tutorial dungeon, players are quickly thrown into a multi-hour character introduction. This is an action JRPG, so I was expecting a lot of dialogue, but the conversations happen so erratically and can take so long to get through that it often slammed on the brakes just to tell me something unimportant. These sections of story progression are what really drag Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet down.
The other thing really lacking during this 25-35 hour adventure is character development. There is a bonding system between our main protagonist and the other main NPC’s living in GGO, but from what I could gather it was just based on having conversations with them, not on what I said. ArFa-sys was one of the few characters I enjoyed talking to though, mostly because as an android she was learning about the different human emotions while learning about some aspects of the world of GGO at the same time I was. It led to a few strange interactions between the main character and ArFa-sys that I wasn’t expecting, but she was the main drive for the story. Uncovering the mystery of ArFa-sys is what will push players to continue the plot, but they’ll keep coming back for the combat.
The combat system in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet was what really kept me booting up my game over and over. Despite having a lot of grinding, it did a good job of not making it feel like a grind. Combat is pretty varied, and players will be able to equip more than a few different types of weapons. There are handguns, assault rifles, SMG’s, and even gatling guns. For those who want a more traditional Sword Art Online experience, there are even swords and sabers that can be equipped to take down enemies.
As players level up, they earn skill points that can be applied to various player stats. Each weapon has a different stat requirement, and some of them can be rather high, which is where most of the grind came in for me. If there was a specific weapon I wanted to use, I would undertake as many side-quests and take down as many enemies as I could in order to level up quicker. The quickest way to level up was to do the main story quests, but I often found myself unable to progress due to random difficulty spikes. The pacing of the main missions often felt pretty accurate, but every few missions I would encounter an area I had a lot of trouble beating and wound up dying and restarting 5 or 6 times until I could use a corner to my advantage.
The biggest problem with the combat for me was how uninspired the enemies and environments are. The grunts littered around each area are carbon copies of each other with different colors. Players will fight a few different types of enemies like wasps, cyborgs, and scorpions. Each of these types of enemies have different classes, but they all look almost identical, with the coloring identifying the class. There are a lot of really cool boss fights set in large arenas with menacing enemies, but after defeating them players get thrust back into long conversations and fighting waves of drones.
Players should only expect to see a handful of different types of environments too, and environments are so recycled that after a while it makes it hard to enjoy them. It’s a good thing that Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s combat is so much fun, because without the addicting shooting grind to help me forget I was going through the same area for the fifth or sixth time, I would have been more annoyed.
While Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet really drops the ball in a few key areas, it makes up for it with its fast, fun shooting mechanics. Even though by the time I was done with the campaign I felt like I had seen what I was going to, I still kept hopping back in to take down hordes of enemies and experiment with different weapon combinations. Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet might not do everything well, but it shines where it matters. Players should have some fun with the combat mechanics, even when it’s being dragged down by poor story pacing and uninspired characters and enemies.