Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is the next game in the anime-inspired series that once again changes up its gameplay formula in hopes of emulating some elements of the light novel and show. Although it has an original story from series creator Reki Kawahara, it’s not considered canon to either the anime or light novels that the story is based on. Fans of Kirito, Asuna, Sinon, and the rest of the heroines will be happy to see their favorite characters once again in another MMO-like setting, but a collection of bad A.I., harsh difficulty spikes and other standout problems make Fatal Bullet a rocky experience. All the experience grinding in the virtual world might not be enough to keep some parts of Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet from being frustrating and difficult to play.
The plot of Fatal Bullet takes a very different approach compared to previous Sword Art Online games. Instead of having players control series protagonist Kirito and his many friends, Fatal Bullet allows you to create an original avatar and take part in the game’s original story that is based on the Gun Gale Online arc of the series. This is good in most parts of the game, where you still get to see all of the popular characters from the show, but offers their experiences through a different lens.
However, it can be a little annoying in long cutscenes and portions of the game that focus on characters outside of the core group, mostly those who have nothing to do with Kirito and his friends. An interesting note, however, is the appearance of characters from both Sword Art Online: Lost Song and Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization. Their presence isn’t too intricate to the plot, but it’s nice to see them once again interacting with all the other characters from the show.
With the game’s setting taking place in Gun Gale Online from the show, the gameplay of Fatal Bullet follows suit by shifting to a third-person shooter style, unlike the previous entry of the series that emulated a modern day MMORPG. You still have large environments to move around and explore, which are populated by many enemies to destroy and farm for experience, but the shift in gameplay makes Fatal Bullet feel vastly different than other entries that came before. However, moving around can feel very stiff and restrictive when you’re engaging in firefights with large groups of enemies.
This often becomes a challenge in most battles where the game’s frame rate will vastly slow down as more enemies and effects appear on the screen. In tougher fights against stronger enemies, this can be a real hindrance and be the cause of many harsh spikes in difficulty in early sections of the game. Completing objectives and destroying enemies will give experience and earn you skill points to put towards different stats on your avatar character, as well as an android companion that you can customize within the beginning hours of the game.
Unfortunately, quests and overpowered enemies you encounter early in the game will force you to repeatedly kill the same group of baddies over and over before moving on to the next story section. This can be annoying and brings the fun factor to a screeching halt, which is only made worse by the game’s dumb A.I. allies that can cause battles to take a turn for the worse.
While the action you experience out in Fatal Bullet’s many environments can be fast-paced and hectic, the portions away from all of that can often feel like a totally different game. There are long dialogue sections where your avatar can interact with many of the characters from the show, as well as all the original characters in the game. Although Sword Art Online fans will enjoy the exchanges between everyone, these sections can often go on for far longer than they should.
Most of the time you won’t receive anything for going through all of the cutscenes, which are usually silly interactions and offshoots of the main plot. Some quests do open up for viewing these dialogue sections, as well as some intimate moments between different characters, but they aren’t always necessary to complete and feel like a time waster.
Multiplayer is a big component of Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, which offers two different ways to play with others online. You have the ability to take on co-op quests and boss battles online with other players or engage in PVP multiplayer matches. However, the multiplayer can often be a lackluster experience with a combination of poor match connections and dull battles against the A.I. enemies. Many of the game’s other problems aren’t made any better in multiplayer and can at times make the experience a bit worse in some cases.
It may also be necessary to play through a majority of the main story before jumping into online multiplayer and having fun with it, especially if you want to take on others in PVP. A huge bummer, however, is the lack of rewards you get from playing in any of the multiplayer modes, including when you complete any tough co-op battle with other players. While the addition of multiplayer is great, it may not be a huge selling point for the game as a whole.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet does give fans of the series more adventures with their favorite characters, despite having a number of issues that are problematic. The original story of Sword Art Online creator Reki Kawahara is good for those that have stuck with the series up till now, but you’re not getting much more of an improvement from before. The third-person shooter gameplay elements are interesting, but stiff movement and controls muddy up everything that could’ve been special, including the multiplayer modes. Hopefully, some more experience is gained and will allow a much better game to be developed for Sword Art Online fans next time they take the full-dive in.
This review is based on a digital review code for Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet for the PlayStation 4, provided by Bandai Namco.