DIMPS and Bandai Namco released their action-packed Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet on Xbox One, PC and PS4 which places players at the heart of the experience as their own avatar. The whole premise is quite simple but has been explored in other games too where it’s a MMO game within a game but this time giving more weight to the player character which makes for a better playing experience. Cue Gun Gale Online, the fictitious game filled with guns-a-plenty lots of characters and the chance to make a name for yourself right from the get go. The bottom line, is Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet worth a look especially as it’s a massive improvement over Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment (the last Sword Art Online game we played back in 2015).
To begin, players create their male or female avatar from a reasonable selection of options to create the perfect protagonist. Then once done it’s diving in at the deep end only to discover that fame comes to your creation from the very start as you accidentally (or through fate) acquire one of the game’s rarest items an ArFA-Sys AI partner who whilst a rarity is a bit of a oddity in the personality department. Your fame is therefore assured as other players try and prize her from your hands at every opportunity.
Sadly, the opening introduction lasts what feels like an eternity with loads of dialogue and tutorials to wade through which whilst setting the tone takes away from the actual meat of the game. With some perseverance the game begins proper and you and your ArFA-Sys AI partner alongside your friend Kureha can dive in. The core gameplay consists of venturing into the open maps and taking out mobs and bosses with various guns and swords. It’s typical MMO stuff here although you’re actually offline playing against and alongside AI partners. The feel of a real MMO is pretty good as you have a hub area where you can accept quests, bounties, gear up and buy and sell stuff. What you can also do (after that lengthy introduction) is team up with quite a varied selection of “friends” – that’s more AI partners to take on ever increasing difficulty in the enemies you face as you explore deeper into the game world.
The shooting mechanics are pretty solid with a handy lock-on action which helps greatly as the manual aiming is a touch too sensitive (on PC at least when using a gamepad) although this can be tweaked in the options. Your character has the ability to hook-shoot to zip to higher areas which is a neat action which can also be used in combat to gain an advantage. However, the reality is dodge circling and hitting enemy weak points with manual aim is the best strategy, or better yet using a combo of close quarters weapon and sniper rifle to give you the best of both worlds. Sadly there is no cover system which would have been a welcome feature especially when fighting indoors which seems to fit having one by offering plenty of cover for intense shoot-outs which you can only duck behind. Taking out the varied mobs and sponge like bosses becomes second nature and with every kill you’re gaining experience and coin to help you on your way. There are additional elements which can be used such as gadgets and skills which provide you a little more edge and then there is the option to build up your team unity by congratulating AI partners when they perform certain actions – doing so will raise your affinity with certain characters where you’ll be able to date them outside of battling. Dating has been a feature in previous games and here it’s back although you are limited in who you can date and eventually pillow talk with.
As mentioned there are quite a number of key characters to interact with and as you wander the hub area there are plenty of conversations to strike up often offering humorous moments and giving more depth to the people in the “real world” behind their online personas. The game divides player time like a precious balancing act between conversations (in Japanese), character development and combat but all three have to be experienced to make sense of everything on offer. Merely skipping the talking sections is going to make the rest of the game feel quite hollow even if some conversations tend to drag on quite a bit.
In terms of visuals, the game sports a pleasant cel-shaded look which suits the anime art direction. Whilst it’s not the most detailed of games lets say compared to something like Destiny 2, it does its job of putting you into the MMO world. Sadly a lot of the interiors are repeated and look quite dull compared to being in the themed open areas which is a shame. Character designs are good with a decent selection of clothing for the player character to craft or purchase. For the most part the game holds up well enough when looking at how smoothly it plays, although during the intro the frame rate dropped quite low (sub 30 fps) even at 1440p. There seems to be some odd resource usage which hopefully gets fixed as the game in terms of its looks shouldn’t be so demanding. Maxing out at 1440p using a GTX 1080 Ti manages to maintain a steady 60 fps which is not bad, but we can’t vouch how well the game will perform on lesser systems.
Audio is also going to have an effect on the player in some form or another thanks to a complete script in Japanese. Sadly there are moments during battles where phrases are repeated far too frequently to the point of become distracting. A little more combat dialogue variety would have helped greatly especially as the game is trying to emulate an MMO with real human players.
Players can sink a healthy number of hours into two main campaigns here and then mess around with acquiring rare gear and such like. However, there is a real online option to dive into if you feel the need to flex your online muscles a little with other players. In all enough content to get your monies worth considering the investment cost.
To conclude, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is an interesting idea although not entirely an original one. The shooting is good fun as is venturing into the wilds and hunting for rare drops. It’s not all plain sailing though and thanks to perhaps a little too much dialogue, an intro that might just turn you away and Japanese voice overs which can induce madness and you have a game that isn’t going to win everyone over. Fans of the series will like the format and the characterization but newcomers might get a little too overwhelmed unless they stick with it beyond the first few hours. It’s a bit of a Marmite game really and one that can only be fully recommended to more “core” gamers.