Another year, another Sword Art Online game.
I don’t think it’s any secret by now how much I have grown to dislike this series. Especially when the only development that actually happens to this series seems to be the net increase of females laid at the feet of protag-kun’s non-existent charms. But all the same, every title I come across deserves a fair evaluation. And to be honest, I believe that SAO Fatal Bullet is a substantial improvement over its predecessors that I borderline like the game.
So in order to point out how this series has progressed I’ll be pointing out a lot of how it changed compared to its previous entry, Hollow Realization. In general, if you liked the previous title you’re more likely to enjoy Fatal Bullet and for those who weren’t so into it last time, well this might be the time for you to hop onto the action.
One of the biggest sighs of relief I’ve had upon starting this game is that there’s actually a point for you to create your own customized characters. In fact, not one, not two, but three new characters are introduced to you and will be starting their own story in the world of Gun Gale Online, the third VRMMO that’s played in the Sword Art Online series. Being able to play these fictional worlds as your own character and making a story that you get to participate in rather than play out a story already setup for you. So yeah I was a little more motivated to play this game than usual from the get go.
Production (4 / 5)
The models in SAO Fatal Bullet actually render dynamically, meaning they don’t look all that detailed until you get close enough to them that the game realizes it needs to render that level of detail already. The characters become plenty nicer to look at and that’s great but I personally thought they would render a bit faster than how they do. Perhaps it’s a limitation on the PlayStation 4 but there are also things were obviously decided not to be fixed, such as hair and costumes colliding or overlapping each other in strange ways and that kind of pet peeve starts sticking out badly during close up shots when things like conversation or a cut scene is going on.
One big improvement is the fact that characters actually animate while talking instead of having drawn portraits take over the screen whenever people are talking. This was one of the most painful points during my playthrough of Hollow Realization, it broke immersion and made the game look to have much lower production value than it really had. With characters moving while talking, it helps them feel more believable and it becomes easier to invest into connecting these characters to your own.
Unfortunately I can’t hold the much else of the game’s look in a high regard. Maps and backgrounds are generally uninteresting after the first few hours of play as you’ll begin to notice the use and reuse of assets and textures, making nothing really look unique. Indeed how the maps are planned and laid out are recognizably different but you begin seeing only the obstacles and not really a world of Gun Gale Online. Voice overs are nice as they are all made for the game rather than just pulling out excerpts from previous work but music is generally nothing I can really say I would remember all that much.
Mechanics (3.5 / 5)
Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet probably has the most changes on its mechanics. Where timing dodges and counter-attacks was the original way from the melee-focused, your effectiveness in battle now generally goes to how much you’re willing to grind.
First thing you’d notice is how your controls are, where you can turn aim assist on or off, I’d generally lean towards having this on as it’s possible to manually aim simply by staring into the sights of any weapon you are using. There’s also the grapple hook movement which seems to be a something that developers of Freedom Wars threw in there, it’s not really that surprising as the same studio that made that game is deeply involved in the creation of Fatal Bullet.
Now to follow up on my statement about the grind, you’ll quickly pick up that this title plays very much like an MMO. You get simple quests and wander a large map, fight monsters and enemies and gather their drops. These drops end up as either materials used for upgrading or gear of various rarity. Defeating tougher enemies gets you theoretically better stuff or at least, better drop rates. You can either choose to upgrade the weapon you prefer to keep up with the power creep of dealing with stronger and stronger enemies as you progress or switch to a new one when you see something you believe to be good enough. It’s also possible to pass on or combine passives each weapon has to another one you’re trying to reinforce. So given everything I just wrote above, grinding and praying that your RNG will get you something you actually like is generally the bulk of what you’ll be playing with for this game.
There’s also the standard fare of what you normally get out of a jRPG. You gain experience and level up, you customize which stats you want to focus on and you also gain points to learn skills that you get to choose from a large set. These skills also have a proficiency level, meaning you can also grind by using the skill repeatedly to make it more effective. A nice addition to the Fatal Bullet is that you get an ARFA-Sys, which is basically an assistant android that grows along with you and you can fully customize. This is huge as it means you can have another party member specialized to your liking as opposed to simply picking from a long list of preset party members whom you don’t have any control over.
One thing that could have used a lot of work however would be the AI. It’s fairly easy to be a cheeky sniper or just employ the usual kiting strategy for most enemies in most dungeons so that makes combat with guns boring very quickly. On that note, since there’s no way to lock with melee so swords aren’t exactly an attractive concept either. But it’s not just enemy AI that’s obnoxious, allies have a hard time doing anything helpful other than healing you or resurrecting you, and they usually don’t do either very well.
There’s also a bit of an issue with setting up equipment and skills. You can’t customize your gadgets or your skills outside of your own room, while switching between locations is actually pretty easy, being unable to set these up anywhere other than your room is quite a hassle to deal with.
Content (3 / 5)
I don’t think there’s a lot to do with Fatal Bullet aside from simply follow it’s rather straightforward story. Generally what you want to do if you’re trying to get the best bang out of your buck is that you raise your affinity with each character to view their respective scenes, sometimes that unlocks some new feature in the game. And maybe, just maybe, go through the trouble of grinding as much as you can to make the most invincible character possibly conceivable in the game. Okay, I don’t really recommend that as it’s not really necessary.
You can also get a bit creative with your custom character despite its options being a bit limited. I mean with a bit of patience I managed to produce something that looks like Tseng and Elena from good old Final Fantasy 7.
Generally quests are collecting or hunting things, nothing really that impressive but hey at least it’s useful for faster farming of money and experience, which is pretty easy to burn through if you constantly have to buy bullets.
As for the story, generally I found out that there’s 3 possible endings with one of them being the ‘true ending’ which can only be unlocked by satisfying some conditions in-game. It’s also possible to play Kirito after clearing the game once if you ever missed playing as this generation’s apex playboy. Also, on that note, no, you can’t really date any of Kirito’s fan club, unless you are actually playing as Kirito.
Features (3.5 / 5)
Online features for the game offers a few noteworthy modes where you can compete or work together with other players within the Fatal Bullet universe.
There’s hero mode, where you play as one of the already present cast with their own stat and gear presets and face off against other players playing as their favorites. Then there’s avatar battle where you bring the character you’ve been raising the entire time to the arena.
You can either play direct pvp or play co-op. Playing direct co-op is pretty handy for taking down bosses quickly (since that’s the only thing you guys can take on online) which makes for effective farming. The most fun mode would be direct PVP if you can stand the idea of dying in a flash as you can do the same to them. Raid boss PVP mode is pretty interesting as well, where 2 teams compete in a damage race against a boss, where it’s possible for take down opponents to stunt their ability to deal more damage than your team.
I honestly believe that the fact that the developers of SAO forged a story and characters exclusively for SAO Fatal Bullet is a huge leap in trusting that a game can be a fine game on it’s own without completely leaning on its source material. The fact that the people behind Freedom Wars plays a big part in its development shows and I’m generally happy with most of the changes considering how much I enjoyed that title.
However, this title isn’t completely free from its chains as it still carries some issues that its predecessors had in spades. Some things function in a clunky way, content isn’t really well thought. It appears to have been shipped out in a rush, considering with its heavy dependence on reused assets to pad what you can do and find in-game.
However they did put a lot of effort in making the all characters in SAO Fatal Bullet worthwhile to watch, being given scenes and customized animations makes watching cutscenes a lot less of a drag. The actual combat generally feels the best it has been in all the games I’ve played in this series. The development system for gear presents some serious potential as well. There’s also some notable quality-of-life improvements.
In conclusion, I honestly appreciate all the leaps that SAO Fatal Bullet has taken to be a good game. But there’s just quite a few issues that are holding back a full recommendation, lack of polish for combat, lack of ways to help deal with the horrible RNG, and lack of good content hurts the accomplishments of this game. It’s almost good, but hey, maybe next time it’ll give us something genuinely like, and here’s to looking forward to that.
Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet narrowly misses its mark with a 3.5 / 5
Available on XBox One, PS4, and PC.