Game Review: Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet (PS4)

Ever since the inital ‘botched’ western release of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment on the PS Vita we have had a steady stream of SAO related titles; and now Bandai Namco Entertainment are offering a different kind of experience with the arrival of Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. Is this experience a good one? It is hard to say; but it definitely is a different direction from past Sword Art Online game and it is a interesting change of pace.

Title: Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Dimps
Platform: PS4
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English (White)
Local Players: 1
Online Players: 2-4
Install: YES (10GB)

Our View:

Developed by DIMPS, the studio best known for developing Dragon Ball Z games such as the Dragon Ball Xenoverse games for current-generation systems, comes the videogame adaptation of the VRMMORPG known as Gun-Gale-Online, or GGO for short, that has been inspired by the GGO Arc of the Sword Art Online manga and light novel series; which in turn has later spun-off into its own manga and anime series known as Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online.

Regardless of the inspirations or adaptations Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet fits within the ‘Sword Art Online’ franchise of videogames and takes place after the events of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization; except this time Kirito and his harem of female companions are not the center of attention. Instead Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet opts to focus on the ‘player created’ avatar and the situations he (or she) must overcome in order to become one of the top players within GGO.

As one would expect from a game based within a MMORPG, character customisation is an integeral part to Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet with the game offering a hefty selection of customisation options which allow players to make their playthrough a personal experience rather than a standard experience. Basically fans of ‘in-depth’ character creations will be well catered for; and this is only just the beginning as further character customisation will be awarded with new outfits and designs becoming accessible as part of natural progression.

Customisation aside the main story within Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet revolves around the ArFA-Sys Type X droid which the player created character obtains during the opening elements of the game.

This droid is not only a highly rare item within the game but is capable of lifelike human interaction, player mangement and self-independent combat; but more importantly the ArFA-Sys Type X droid is required in order to access ‘restrictive’ parts of GGO which have been added to the game as part of a new update, an update which all GGO players are eager to try.

As such the ArFA-Sys droid must be protected from other GGO players and as part of the stories narrative the player will interact with various characters, explore dungeons to find new parts for the droid and occasionally do battle with other GGO Players in order to keep ArFA-Sys from being forcibly taken away from other players. It is a repetitive process that is spread across a wide range of areas within GGO and with each new part new abilities are unlocked for the ArFA-Sys.  Naturally this campaign is in addition to the usual RPG elements such as Side-Quests, Monster Hunting Quests and newly introduced Squadron Quests which sees quests tailored to your chosen Squadron.

So… How does Kirito, Asuna and the rest of the gang fit into this game? Well during your tutorial, which is given to you by your best friend Kureha as she is the one who initially invited the player to GGO, Kirito and Asuna attempt to acquire the ArFA-Sys for themselves; but as the ArFA-Sys has already been activated by the player Kirito stops his attack and ends up becoming friends with your character, Kureha and in turn ArFA-Sys.

Through a painful amount of dialogue the truth behind the ArFA-Sys and the reasoning for owning one becomes clear; as one is needed to explore the new features of GGO. So everyone agrees to join forces and help each other out. So what exactly is the objective? Explore the dungeons, obtain the parts and become stronger so that you can challenge the new features of GGO while at the same time learning more about the GGO world and the players that inhabit it.

Despite the focus being on your character, Kureha and ArFA-Sys you are forced to interact with popular Sword Art Online characters for multiple purposes. For example speaking to Argo will provide new intel, Elizabeth will provide weapon upgrades and enhancements, Agil can appraise weapons and Asuna can produce new outfits for your characters to wear. Other characters, such as Sinon, Leafa, Kirito and Klein can be interacted with for side-quests and mini-stories; including one that sees Klein chatting up AI characters in hopes of getting that girlfriend.

It’s an interesting alternative to the usual Sword Art Online videogame experience, but in retrospect this change of focus has no real impact other than how the story is delivered and the endings it generates. Additionally as this SAO game focuses on ArFA-Sys, and in turn the player created character, the progressive story does become a bit boring and with the lack of a notable enemy threat lurking in the background it makes Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet rather un-compelling to play.

Previous Sword Art Online games have given you an incentive to keep playing with its secretive, almost plot-twisting, storylines; but in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet we do not have that atmosphere and instead it quickly becomes tiresome and a little bit tedious. This tediousness then starts to become frustrating when even the games mechanics do nothing but hinder the enjoyment that past games have offered.

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet takes place within a different world, the world of GGO; so naturally things will be different. For instance previous games have focused more on close-combat sword-play with magic; where as in GGO the focus is put on third-person-shooting. It’s a nice change of pace and creates a different gameplay atmosphere, but unfortunately (from my perspective at least) DIMPS have made it needlessly complex and is a far cry from your traditional third-person-shooter.

Firstly the third-person-shooter mechanics are ‘rough’ at best with players having to choose between automatic lock-on and manual aim alongside basic third-person-shooter implementation. Automatic lock-on will lock-on to a nearby enemy and the lock-on can be switched; however to deliver the best amount of damage manual aim should be used to attack the enemies weak spot. Unfortunately due to the sporadic way that enemies (especially other GGO players) move it is not always possible to aim effectively.

Additionally as a cover system has not been implemented players have to manually hide behind cover in order to avoid being hit; so the decision now is whether to attack the enemy or defend from attacks. Occasionally it is possible to hide behind walls and attack enemies; but everything is manual so clicking the analog stick to crouch (and then stand up) is sometimes the best course of action. Either way your fight style in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet will always vary depending on the weapons you have at your disposal; and even then it’s not as straight forward as one might think.

Players able to equip two different weapons, and a multitude of weapons exists within GGO ranging from Pistols to Laser Swords; however in order to equip weapons players need to increase their base stats (such as HP, Strength, Durability) as each weapon has their own stat requirement for use. For instance if you were to purchase an SMG and you did not meet the stat requirement for this gun, you would not be able to equip it. How would I be able to equip it? You ask; well you would have to level up your character in the fields and dungeons of GGO, but that’s not all.

Levelling up in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet only occurs when you exit back to the hub world and once you arrive back at the hub world your ‘level up’ will transfer into Combat Points, or SP for short. These Combat Points are what’s used to increase your stat level and by increasing these you will not only increase the strength and durability of your character but you will then be allowed able to equip new weapons. To make matters even more confusing each weapon type requires a certain type of bullet so ammo has to be purchased from the shop; if you do not have any ammo you will not be able to use the weapon in combat.

In addition to weapons players can also equip skills and gadgets; with skills also available for purchase using Skill Points, known as SP points, and equipped to the player at any time. These skills can vary and be used to increase attack or defence s well as helping allies with special effects. Gadgets meanwhile can be purchased at the shop, the same shop as where weapons, ammo and outfits can be purchased, and these gadgets can only be equipped in the players room. Its unclear why gadgets can only be equipped in the players room, but just like Skills they offer different abilities; with my personal favourite being grenades.

Needlessly complex or a challenge? I’ll leave that decision up to you but these stats apply to both your character and ArFA-Sys and can make for constant back-and-forth between different parts of the game; but fortunately a ‘fast travel’ option does exist – although the loading screens do get boring very quickly. Speaking of the fields and dungeons these are where the player will spend the most amount of time, as they will allow the player to attack spawning enemies in order to increase their level and stats. Unfortunately however these fields are not as ‘fair’ as previous SAO games and without some preparation you’ll most likely die before reaching the first dungeon.

As an example the opening area of RPG games usually have low-level monsters and relatively easy dungeons; but alas in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet this is not the case. Initially the first monsters that appear are easy enough to defeat but carry on walking through the cannon in the first area and you’ll soon appear at a small destroyed village; inside of which is higher-levelled robotic human droids and a giant field-boss. Charging straight in will result in death and even hanging back for a strategic win can prove difficult. Of course it’s not ‘dark souls’ difficulty but it did give me a different impression of the game to what I had previously experienced from previous Sword Art Online games.

This difficulty isn’t helped by the questionable AI either as while online modes exist within Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, of which allow PVP Matches or Side Quests with up to four players and four AI characters, the main campaign is mostly offline only. In this case AI characters can charge off on their own, often spawning new enemies to defeat, or get stuck on multi-level-areas. AI characters do have the ‘instant spawn’ feature if you run too far ahead but unlike past SAO games it does not happen often. The result of this is the AI characters will not be able to provide support and if you die they won’t be able to revive you. It’s happened to me on more than one occasion where the AI has gotten itself stuck and I’ve had to redo majority of the dungeon as a result of death.

Death in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet does come easy; but that’s mostly due to the amount of enemies appearing at once and the different weapon types. For instance a Sniper Rifle can kill within a single shot; and short range weapons will not have much effect on Sniper enemies. Additionally as ammo has to be purchased, although small amounts can be found in the field, if unprepared you might find yourself running out of ammo and unable to do anything – yet again this happened to me.

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet isn’t exactly a ‘sit back, relax and shoot’ type of game; it requires a fair amount of strategic thinking and preparation in order to easily play through the fields and dungeons. Fortunately fast-travel is available so ammo can be saved by fast-travelling to new areas, thus avoiding any new enemies, but doing so may cause later dungeons to be more difficult due to not levelling up when given the chance.

Everything I enjoyed about past Sword Art Online games has been removed from Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet and although the core fundamentals are available, such as field maps, dungeons, side-quests and character narratives, it’s not the experienced I had hoped nor wanted. The GGO setting is definitely a nice change of pace but I feel the gameplay mechanics could have been better implemented; additionally the story focusing on ‘player generated’ characters doesn’t deliver the same emotional storytelling as characters we have known for numerous years. Sure enough a ‘Kirito Mode’ is available; but even this isn’t enough to satisfy my needs for another Sword Art Online adventure involving Kirito.

It’s not just the fundamentals of Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet that I did not enjoy as the game also has its fair amount of flaws. Firstly the sound occasionally cuts out on audio gunfire and sound effects while occasionally background noises will be incredibly low when compared to the voice-over work which has its own problem of being echoed. I assume the ‘echo’ voice over has been done to replicate the metallic feel of the dungeons but it just sounds horrible and disruptes the presentation of the dialogue.

Furthermore character hairstyles clip through bodies; it’s not a problem i’ve seen in past SAO games but its highly noticeable high – especially when with characters such as Yuki, Yui and Yuki. Not a big problem but it doesn’t have the same ‘quality’ as other games; even if visually the character models are better then recent titles such as Accel World vs Sword Art Online.

Despite my criticisms Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet does offer a lot of content, including heavily customised characters, a progression system, a wide variety of weapons, side-quests, team based squadron quests, online multiplayer modes and an alternate Kirito mode option; so it goes without saying that there is always something to explore in the game.

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet attempts to recapture the gun-filled-excitement of the GGO Story Arc from Sword Art Online with a stand-a-lone user-created-experience that’s backed up with popular SAO games; but unfortunately for me it is a bit of let down with an un-engaging narrative, confusing gameplay structure and unpolished gameplay experience that leaves me bored and slightly frustrated rather than entertained.

Score: review-stars-3

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is now available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC worldwide.

About Scott Emsen
Scott is the Founder and Executive Editor of AnimeBlurayUK but in the past he has produced content for ZOMGPlay, Rice Digital and Funstock and was once a Community Moderator for the Nokia N-Gage forums. Based in the UK, he loves anything related to Games & Anime and in In his spare time you'll mostly find him playing on one of his many gaming consoles; namely the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.

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