I’ve always had somewhat of a strained relationship with the Sword Art Online franchise. I’ve always felt that although the concepts behind the series were interesting, the execution always left a lot to be desired. This has been especially true when it comes to games based on the series. Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, however, is a major step in the right direction for Sword Art Online games, despite its minor flaws.
Unlike most stories set in the Sword Art Online universe, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is one of the few that doesn’t follow series protagonist Kirito. Instead, you play as your own customizable character who is playing their first virtual reality MMO called Gun Gale Online alongside their childhood friend. Most of Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s story is spent setting up for a new update coming to the game, meaning it’s a slow burn until the game’s plot really picks up. Despite this, it was refreshing to be able to see a Sword Art Online story from viewpoints other than Kirito’s or his friends, who all take on the roles of supporting characters this time around. It’s also worth noting that fans who have only watched the anime may be a little confused by the appearance of certain characters. The Sword Art Online games take place in their own universe where certain events play out differently and new characters are added. While Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet does briefly go over the series original plot, it never mentions any of its changes which leaves it up to players to piece things together themselves.
In most cases, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s visuals are average. The game’s character creator offers a good deal of variety, allowing for some unique character designs. Fatal Bullet also gives players a chance to see a bit more of the world of Gun Gale Online than what’s shown in the anime, although most of it is still just destroyed cities and barren landscapes. While I never ran into any slowdown during my time with the game, the game’s constant load screens did start to hinder the experience. Switching areas will always leave you waiting at least ten to fifteen seconds and sometimes the game would even hang at the end of a cutscene. there were a few instances where textures on outfits would take a few seconds to pop in. As with all the Sword Art Online games, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet lacks an English dub which may disappoint some fans. It can also cause some unfortunate issues during gameplay when characters shout out warnings that aren’t subtitled.
The easiest way to describe Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s gameplay would be to call it a single player MMORPG. Everything from the game’s HUD to its quest and loot system gives off the feeling of a typical MMO. Players can party up with three other characters, go out into the game’s world and shoot down monsters to complete quests. There are even PVP quests which have players take on AI controlled characters acting as other players within Gun Gale Online. Beyond all of this, what really makes Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet feel like a proper MMORPG is the way you can build your character. Everything from stats, skills, weapons and equipment can be fully customized and tailored to your own playstyle. Players can bring two weapons into battle with a set of four selectable skills paired to each. Players can also bring four rechargeable items called gadgets, which includes things such as frag grenades or a first aid kit.
As if that weren’t enough, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet also gives you a second, fully customizable character. Known as an ArFA-sys, this second character exists as an AI assistant to the player and has its own unique features such as a bank that can build the player’s savings over time. Overall, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet offers a great amount of depth that can almost completely change your experience depending on how you choose to build your character. Those looking to play with actual people will be happy to know that the game does feature multiplayer, allowing up to four players to raid dungeons along with their ArFA-sys partners. While it’s also able to play against other players competitively, I couldn’t connect to a single match no matter how many times I tried.
Rather than playing as a first-person shooter like it did in the anime, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet changes its perspective to third-person. Players can dash, crouch and roll to dodge incoming fire. It’s likely that because of the game’s speed, Dimps included an optional auto aim assist mode. The auto aim won’t always hit but it can help to greatly reduce the frustration that would otherwise be caused by more agile aerial enemies. While combat works great when using guns, melee weapons are more of a mixed bag. Not only is there no aim assist when using swords in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, but there’s no targeting mechanic at all. This often results in attacks not connecting at all and makes the weapon much harder to use on a target that moves.
A bigger problem that hurts Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is clipping. Parts of characters will sometimes take damage even when they’re behind cover due to being to close and clipping through it. This can also tie into characters getting caught on pieces of the environment, resulting in them freaking out as they try to escape. A constant trigger for these collision detection issues is a weapon called the fiber gun. Like a mechanic found in Dimps’ PlayStation Vita title Freedom Wars, the fiber gun allows players to grapple hook their way around the game’s overworld. It’s finnicky and rarely works the way it should without somewhat careful planning.
Like most games in the series, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is a great concept that could benefit from some extra polish. Unlike past titles, however, its obvious flaws are much less prevalent this time around. The fast-paced action gameplay is thoroughly enjoyable, and the insane amount of depth only adds to it. If you can look past the constant loading screens and the occasional sluggish movement issues, there is a lot of fun to be had with Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet.