After multiple games locked in the fantasy world genre, Sword Art Online is finally trying something new. So put aside the fairy wings and swords to pick up a gun and a…different type of sword, in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet.
Gun Gale Online was the setting of the Death Gun arc for the Sword Art Online anime’s second series. Not only does the 3rd person shooter gameplay make for a refreshing change of pace, but fans are kept on their toes with a unique storyline. For the first time, players can also create and control their own protagonist. This instantly gives more weight to the story than playing as ‘of course the hero won’t die, why do all the ladies love him’ main man, Kirito (although, a short campaign featuring the ‘true’ hero in his Death Gun arc does unlock later on).
After logging into the game for the first time, your best friend shows you the ropes, through a tournament. Naturally, you stumble across a rare item. It’s not just some weapon or material, though, but a full-on humanoid AI or ArFA-sys (Artificial Financial Adviser System) that acts as a constant in-game companion. Rather coincidentally, this item is a requirement for accessing a newly updated area, the SBC Flügel. So now everyone in the game seems to be with or against you for a chance to get their hands on the ArFA-sys and take part in the update.
While most of the writing in Fatal Bullet can’t be called bad, it doesn’t really hold your attention thanks to slow pacing and generic quests. Things do heat up eventually, when some ‘Death Gun’ attributes come into play. Yet, just as things start to become interesting, the story abruptly ties up loose ends, throws in a final boss, and scrolls through the credits. I almost got whiplash from the change of speed.
There are plenty of things to do other than the main story missions, so, in many ways, the pacing is down to you as a player. For one thing, you can spend time raising affection with characters from the anime, and share extra story scenes with them. It’s a nice touch, but isn’t executed all that well, with 3D models parroting dialogue in front of a plain background. More annoyingly is how people describe things that happen without letting me get involved. Don’t just have Kirito tell me how impressed he is that I beat him in a fight, let me kick his ass myself!
It’s definitely a relief to finally get out of the city hub of SBC Glocken and go exploring with your guns. There are a handful of areas which slowly open up throughout the playthrough. It’s your standard forest, field, desert setup, but the little open areas are filled with some decent landmarks and enemies – my favourite place being a cool looking dilapidated city.
Since MMOs are often better with a team, it’s possible to go out into the world with 4 party members. There’s plenty of the Sword Art Online cast to choose from, each coming with their own weapons, and skill sets. What’s particularly cool is how they’ll revive you in battle if you fall, which is great for keeping a tough fight going. For all their useful elements, though, the AI isn’t that great. They spend a lot of time flicking back and forth between weapons instead of shooting at the enemy, or running around a downed companion rather than healing them. So guess who was left to carry the team.
I actually kept my ArFA-sys companion in the party for the whole game. Not only did the little guy fight and level-up as I did, but being able to choose his support abilities and weapons helped to fill any gaps from other party members. And fair play, his healing abilities saved me on a number of occasions. The ArFA-sys also comes with a few other nifty features that help you to bond with them, including a banking system and customizable movement emotes. To my great amusement, mine would cheerfully wave at the enemies he killed. What a friendly guy.
Fatal Bullet‘s combat is pretty standard. You can swap between 2 weapons from the usual collection of guns – as well as a sword (if you feel like literally bringing a sword to a gun fight). Honestly, the auto-aim does most of the work, making it easy to run around spraying enemies with bullets (while laughing maniacally, if you’re so inclined). Turning it off, or using a scope, makes things a bit trickier to aim, but is rewarded through the ability to get critical hits – so I often switched between the two.
Extra gameplay elements include a fiber-gun which essentially works like a grappling hook you can use to swing through levels. There are also skills and gadgets that can be attached to each weapon, allowing you to customize the gameplay a bit. Healing bullets and stat effects are all useful, but who’d turn down the one that lets you slide between the legs of giant robots while firing bullets? Sign me up for more of that stuff. The list of things you can equip grows with the proficiency of your weapon, and other abilities such as duel-wielding guns as well as access to powerful weapon arts also unlock as you go through the story.
For better or worse, Fatal Bullet isn’t really about becoming a skilled player. It’s more about having enough health and strength to plow through whichever story mission you’re currently stuck on. So, you’re going to have to grind. A lot. Enemies aren’t afraid to pile on you, shooting from impressive distances with much more accuracy and speed than your own party members. The strategy is to run, shoot, and keep dodging until you win. It can be satisfying in its own way, but bosses with their crazy health bars soon become a rather boring test of endurance.
Additionally, there is a lot of repetition going on. Scorpions attacked me no matter whether I was in a desert or a city, the same handful of robot grunts filled dungeons, and party members parroted the same couple of phrases until I knew them by heart. To cap it off, every dungeon looks the same. No matter whether their entrance is a lighthouse or a subway station, the interior is a tin-grey facility with a vaguely different layout. For what’s supposed to be a high-end gaming experience, Gun Gale Online could really do with some more assets.
You know what, though? There were times where I was having fun. Dual-wielding sub-machine guns, watching bosses burst into shards of death, and some bad-ass looking skills all made for a good time. After finishing the game, I automatically kept playing until remembering that I didn’t have to anymore. In fact, I could forgive the slow pacing, filler quests, generic music, basic gameplay, and grinding, if only Fatal Bullet had some heart and care put into the general design and story. While it gives fans something new to sink their teeth into, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is ultimately just a fresh coat of paint, which is hardly enough to keep players invested.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with by Bandai Namco.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet may be a good change of pace for fans, but it misses the mark in a few too many places to really recommend to new players.