Almost annually since Sword Art Online blasted into popularity back in 2012/2013 we’ve gotten a new accompanying game that incorporated a different world (or game really) featured in the much loved anime. In Fatal Bullet we get to experience the world of the VRMMO Gun Gale Online (GGO) that was the setting of the series’ second season for the first time in game form. Veteran Japanese developers Dimps (Dragon Ball Xenoverse, Freedom Wars) have used their industry experience combined with the power of the Unreal Engine to build a brand new Sword Art Online experience that is the best entry in the game series to date.
In the opening moments of Fatal Bullet you’ll realise that for the first time in the Sword Art Online video games you’ll be using your own custom created player avatar and not just filling the shoes of main protagonist Kirito and his group of known companions. Don’t worry though, those lead characters from the series do feature prominently in the game, they just aren’t front and center in the story narrative.
I was quite impressed with the custom character creator. It features a vast number of tweakable components that allow you to manage fine details such as the characters height, skin and hair colours, scars and blemishes all the way down to head, neck and chest size. You have pretty much all the options you could ever need to create your own character and each of the custom components maintain the series’ art direction making sure your character fits well inside the Sword Art Online universe.
Fatal Bullet takes place inside the VR MMO Gun Gale Online, which is a loot based shooter and the current game of choice for gamers inside the SAO universe. Upon logging in you’re greeted by your real world friend Kureha who offers to get you settled into this new game and show you the ropes. Throughout the events of the tutorial you find yourself receiving an AI companion known as an ArFA-sys which you can customise the look of using the same character creator recently used to create your own player avatar. This AI companion assists you in combat but is mainly used as a money and item management tool, you can even set it up in a way where it will set aside a budget from your earnings and allow it to auto buy and level up your weapons.
Characters in the game continually tell you how rare it is to have an ArFA-sys in GGO and it seems everyone wants to get their hands on one but I found being given one within the opening mission of the game didn’t make it feel special at all and I just treated it as another character. I understand it’s purpose within the game and it’s story but would have preferred to work for and earn the ArFA-sys.
These opening tutorial missions are also a bit of a chore to get through. Some suffer from pacing issues where the gameplay moments are separated by lengthy dialogue between other characters and loading screens. It also falls into the JRPG trope of throwing tutorial after tutorial at you describing the many different game mechanics without letting you spend time trying them out for yourself.
I found myself not needing to use some of the mechanics for a number of hours after I first read about them, by which time I had forgotten about it and would have preferred to learn them on the fly. Once you are familiar with the game and it’s concepts this issue goes away completely and you’ll find yourself comfortable navigating, doing missions and questing for new gear.
The moment to moment gameplay in Fatal Bullet feels really solid. The shooting, which is the main gameplay system in the game has two modes, an aim assist mode, which is active while shooting from the hip uses the aim reticle and auto locks onto the nearest target for you. Or you also have the option of aiming down the sights which grants a more traditional manually aimed shot you’d find in a shooter title.
You’ll find yourself using both of these techniques at different times throughout your battles. The battles will often get really intense, with many enemies coming after you at once. In these moments you’ll be glad there is an auto aim option available. Where as when you’re trying to specifically target an enemies weak spot aiming down the sights is the most reliable option to make sure you hit your mark.
It’s overall theme and cell shaded art style had me thinking a number of times throughout “this feels like a third person Borderlands game”.
The end game of Fatal Bullet gets more and more difficult as you progress, forcing you to replay side quests to grind for more powerful gear. It’s not uncommon for many RPG titles to implement grinding, hell Destiny’s whole model is based on just that but I would have preferred a more natural way to gain the gear I needed where I felt like I was progressing through a story. The grind isn’t all bad though, the game’s varied enemy types, each with there own movement patterns and weak spots keep things interesting and on your toes during those hours you’ll spend increasing your character stats. In short yes there is a noticeable grind, but you are rewarded for it.
Fatal Bullet is powered by the Unreal Engine and many of it’s environments (mainly outdoor ones) and characters look great and are faithful to the art direction of the anime. Unfortunately many of it’s indoor dungeons look quite bland with a washed out beige-grey tone to everything and feature repetitive, linear hallways to traverse. I also faced the occasional performance problem, where the game’s frame rate would drop during battles with numerous enemies. This was seemingly random though and was an intermittent issue. There were times where the game would stagger during some battles only to run perfectly smooth in other battles containing more enemies on the screen.
Fatal Bullet has an online multiplayer mode containing both PvP and PvE options. I wouldn’t suggest picking up this title solely based on it’s multiplayer aspect though as I know there are many people out there that love other popular online shooters and play nothing but the multiplayer modes. The multiplayer modes here are more of a nice companion piece to the core game allowing you and 3 other friends (or random people online) to work together to complete quests together or go head to head against another team of 4 in a boss battles that feel a lot like Dimps’ previous title Freedom Wars just set in the SAO universe.
Developer Dimps have used their industry experience combined with the capabilities of Unreal Engine 4 to create what is arguably the best Sword Art Online game to date. Although a little bit grindy in the later half of the game, it does have an addicting shoot n loot gameplay loop that will keep you addicted for some time. For the first time in the series you get to create your own character and define your own story rather than live in the shoes of some of the series’ main cast. If you look past the bland environments, pacing and occasional performance issues there is a fun and rewarding game here that fans of the Sword Art Online series will definitely get a kick out of.
A PS4 review code was provided by Bandai Namco Australia for our Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet review