Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet is the latest in a long line of Japanese Role Playing Games in the franchise from Bandai Namco. What fascinates me most about this series of JRPGs is their ability to incorporate prior games into the new game and how that plays into the game and ultimately, plays out in the canon. Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet stands even further apart from the rest for two reasons: it is set in the one VRMMORPG that is unlike the rest – Gun Gale Online – and you do not play as Kirito (the main character in the anime).
As you would correctly guess, Gun Gale Online – or GGO – involves the heavy use of guns and third-person shooting action rather than the typical fantasy setting of previous games (Hollow Fragment, Lost Song, Hollow Realization, Accel World vs SAO) and their reliance on swords and shields. In the anime, Kirito was tasked to investigate GGO for a string of killings that appeared to occur simultaneously in-game and in real life. As this iteration does not follow the story of Kirito in GGO, the devs at Dimps were allowed to create a story of their own that falls after the second season of the Sword Art Online anime. You play as the main character, whose friend Kureha, begs you to join her in her favorite Virtual Reality game – Gun Gale Online. Of course, things take an unexpected turn when you, the noob, find the rarest item in the game – an ArFA-sys (Artificial Financial Adviser System) Type-X – a special AI that helps with daily tasks, handles your money, gets you into special events, and generally makes everyone else jealous.
This game feels different than prior iterations, and it’s not just because of the shooting mechanics. The game brings in the sort of loot-drop joy of a Borderlands wrapped in a MMO-like chocolate covered by a JRPG candy shell. Since GGO is a video game in the story, the dev team was not shackled by any suspension of disbelief. Things that happen in-game can be written off as “well, GGO *is* a video game.” This leaves a lot of wiggle room.
The shooting mechanics feel natural as a third-person shooter, but clearly within the limits of Gun Gale Online, itself. There are loose “roles” to be played (i.e. tank, assault, engineer, etc), but none of that is too oppressive and with the ridiculously huge roster from the anime, previous games, and the newly introduced characters, you can mix and match whomever you wish. I personally preferred to bring with me a tank, an engineer, and an assault, so I could play sniper. There is plenty of loot to collect, which leads to more weapons, which leads to combining weapons, which leads to better loot, and so forth and so on. None of this feels overly oppressive as the side quests and desire for more loot doesn’t get too onerous at the beginning.
That is until you begin to uncover the mystery of the SBC Flugel – essentially GGO’s new update’s white whale. This occurs roughly 12-15 hours in and up to this point, the game was flowing nicely and while I felt challenged, I enjoyed the challenge. Then it feels like the developers decided that they had you on the hook, per se, and it was time to set the line. Yoink! All of a sudden there were arbitrary stop points that lead to other dungeons for seemingly superfluous reasons and the previous flow of dungeon-crawling was jarringly halted as you take an immense beat-down as if to say “Nuh-uh-uh, you need to do some serious grinding to play here.” So, I went off to grind, finish that dungeon, and then head to the next dungeon, only to be smacked down hard there too, requiring more grinding. It completely took me by surprise and was a real disappointment.
Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet Review Final Thoughts:
Overall, Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet is easily the best game in the franchise for its ability to warmly welcome players and brings them into a truly amazing universe. Unfortunately, that warmth is spent after a dozen or so hours turning the game into a disheartening slog that you will either abandon or push through the tough grind. Strong recommendation for those that love the previous games or the anime, but clearly not for the faint of heart. Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet is out now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.