Over the last few years Sword Art Online (SAO for short) has blazed its own path through the anime world; with a story premise that video games can transport you literally into a fully immersive VR world, who wouldn’t love it? You can’t help but fawn over main protagonist Kirito and his ever increasing harem of platonic female friends as they fight their way through a slew of dungeon bosses. As a gaming series, it just lends itself to the RPG genre so well. Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is a departure from the regular worlds fans and players are used to seeing in SAO. Combining JRPG elements with a third person shooter is something I honestly never thought could work, but SAO: Fatal Bullet has given the genre hybrid a darn good crack at it.
What excited me about playing Fatal Bullet was the opportunity to create my own avatar to place into the SAO universe. I was psyched to finally get a chance to interact with the characters from one of my favourite anime series, but I feel as though it just fell short of being amazing. In spite of the many options provided to create your own unique avatar it was missing a few options that would have made the creation of my character more enjoyable, such as body shape, and facial hair. This left me feeling a bit sour since I wanted my character to represent my hirsute self, but in the end I managed to create a likable looking avatar.
Finally it was time to “log-in” to Gun Gale Online, a shooter VRMMO that was taken from Sword Art Online’s second season of the anime. Instantly I was introduced to the effervescent Kureha, real world best friend of my avatar, and a solid gamer in GGO already. For someone like myself who has watched the series, Fatal Bullet’s premise wasn’t too jarring to wrap my head around, but for someone unfamiliar with the series it’s a tall order understanding the near Inception levels of the game. Playing a game, based on an anime, based on a game, would throw most new players for a loop. The problem is that, there’s just so much going on in Fatal Bullet and it does very little to guide you through it, with only a small tutorial in the beginning, which frankly is just an afterthought.
After having completed the tutorial I was provided with an in-game rare item “ArFA-sys“, which stands for Artificial Financial Adviser System. Essentially speaking ArFA-sys is a support character that performs several beneficial functions for your avatar, mainly to do with items and money. I was also gifted with a unique item called the Ultra Fibre Gun, a grappling hookshot that allows you to reach higher areas in an instant, or steal parts from downed targets. From here the character introductions for the game just drag on; it’s as though you need to be reminded exactly who everyone is and while this may be beneficial to a new player, for someone like myself who is familiar with the series, this was simply a two hour snooze fest.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet doesn’t stray too far from the classic leveling up system. Once you finally get to explore GGO you go on missions that will take you and a team of up to 3 others to explore and achieve your goals for experience and financial rewards. You can level up yours and ArFA-sys’ stats and use battle points to unlock abilities, buffs and debuffs. The currency you earn will be spent to procure bigger and better guns, but I learnt the hard way that unless you have the necessary stats for the weapon in mind you’ll just end up wasting your money. It pays to always make sure you read up on the item in question and memorise your characters stats.
Be prepared to embrace the gaming grind, as Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet truly does require you to repeat quests and defeat similar enemies again and again. The saving grace to this being that your team can be edited to provide a slightly different experience with different support characters. Thankfully when it comes to the games actual story progression, it gets it right, I wasn’t left wondering what to do. While searching for the next quest point, I always had my next task presented to me, and it was the time in-between leveling up that I could do with what I wanted. What pleased me most were its references to the series’ Death Gun arc, which would have disappointed me had there been no mention of it, since I expected there to be some series content crossover.
“Multiplayer mode in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is the unsung hero of the game…”
The multiplayer mode in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is the unsung hero of the game with two very enjoyable modes to choose from. First you can attempt to join a four player co-op PvE mission and compete with your opposing team to deal the most damage to a boss-level enemy. Alternatively you can select the PvP option and take on another team of four players to deal the most damage to the boss target. My only complaint about the online gameplay was the fact that for an MMORPG-based game there was little opportunity to play the actual game and campaign mode with other gaming friends, like you would any other game.
When it comes to exploring Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s hub world there’s a lot to take in. Of course it looks stunning and you’ll find yourself exploring Gun Gale Online with wonder and marvel. SBC Glocken, the online and offline mission hubs, and battle grounds, are all quite complex and take some getting used to. My only advice here is talk to everyone you see, that’ll spare you a lot of confusion trying to work out what to do and where to go. The menu system that grants you option to fast travel around GGO but it doesn’t lend itself to a swift option, instead you need to hit pause, scroll to the map, zoom out, and then select a place and then wait for the game to load. After several times doing this it felt like a tedious task and my reward was an unwanted load screen.
For me, part of what makes Sword Art Online such an enjoyable show is the character interactions and the level depth they exude on screen. Of course you expect to lose a bit of this, as the flow of a video game differs from that of an anime show. I was pleasantly surprised however; character dialogue and interaction, in Fatal Bullet, is fresh and light-hearted with only a few exceptions of uncomfortable moments. If I had to pick up on one thing that irked me it was when a characters body parts, mainly hair, phased through another part of their body. It instantly took me out of the game and, which is something I did not need when I was already trying hard to pay attention to the Japanese dialogue.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet does its best to create a unique take on the JRPG genre by adding in a dash of third person shooter, and combining it with online functions. However there just seems to be a lot missed opportunities, particularly in the online mode, as well as fumbles like the unintuitive menu, and the expectation to already know what do in game with very little instruction. Not to mention the fact that it falls back on some very clichéd sexist stereotypes anime has been guilty of perpetuating for ages. It’s just hard to look past these problems, when it’s so clear that they exist and that they could have been picked up and fixed in development.
Lock and Load. Get ready for a gun fight!
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is an enjoyable game to play through. It has a cast of colourful characters, a well-balanced grind-to-story ratio and an online mode that will keep you playing for hours. The problem is that if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find yourself thinking that the game lacks that little bit of extra soul that the series is loved for. That aside, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is certainly one of the better SAO games available to play currently, and with a new season of the series coming out soon this gaming series won’t be going anywhere for some time, so jump on the bandwagon and enjoy the ride.