Since we’re all about disclosures here at Niche Gamer, I should mention the fact that I have never watched the Sword Art Online anime, nor have I, at least until now, played any game based on the series. It wasn’t due to distaste or revulsion, but rather, due to a severe and crippling backlog as well as a fair amount of monetary disability hampering the number of games I could purchase. It was a shame too, since it was site founder Brandon’s glowing review of Hollow Fragment that made me want to try them in the first place.
Honestly, that’s what finally drew me to buy a Sword Art Online game and bravely enter the series. Seeing one of them pop up onto Steam’s coming soon list with screenshots of rifles being fired and grenades being tossed sent the Racast-loving Phantasy Star Online nerd within me jumping for joy. The game looked every bit like the same RPG that took over my life on the Sega Dreamcast, and I figured this would be the best chance for me to get into a series that I had always wanted to explore.
So how was it? Did I end up becoming a Sword Art Online fanboy and watching harem anime nonstop?
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: February 23rd, 2018
Players: 1-4 Players
Sadly, it did not, but what the game did do is make me believe that I can have absolutely no connection or love for an intellectual property and still enjoy the game off which it is based.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet makes this possible by relegating the anime series’ regular cast to mere background characters that either exist solely as shopkeepers, or as lifeless automatons that you can swap in and out of combat with no repercussions. Unlike the other games that require you to play as the main character Kirito, Fatal bullet has you create your own hero (who can also be female) and also craft your own android love-bot as well. This not only helps detach itself from the linear nature of the other Sword Art Online games, but gives you the chance to build your own dream waifu and spend the next 50 hours in the game staring at her (or his) rear end in cut scenes.
When not gawking at android anatomy, your main reason for progressing forward is to unlock the mystery of a newly added area to the game and how it connects to the unfairly obtained android you found at the start of your MMO quest. It’s one part Hack GU and two parts Phantasy Star Online, which means you’re going to be more interested in min/max’ing characters and digging for rare loot drops than you will reading text or following the narrative.
As if you couldn’t tell already, the plot of the game is extraordinarily thin. Though I’m sure diehards of the series will lambaste me for saying so, Fatal Bullet is not a game you play for a gripping anime-inspired tale of intrigue and romance. While you can befriend and bed a character of your choosing, this isn’t Mass Effect 2 and you’re not going to develop feelings for your comrades the way you do in other similar games (The Dot-Hack series included).
No, instead you’ll be swapping them in and out just to get their affection rating to 75% so you can obtain the best ending, which is a grind fest that will tack on another 30 or so hours to your game time.
I really wanted to like the characters and get to know them, but since none of the audio is translated to English and the subtitles are hard to move my eyes down to read when a dozen snipers are pecking at me from barely visible rooftops and I’m busily scanning for their perches, it makes it hard to grow attached. Even the scenes in between missions where Kirito and his friends discuss their plans with you are plain vanilla, since it requires you to have played the previous games and have watched the anime to “get” the personality quirks each person is exhibiting. Granted, I admit that is more my fault than the designers, but I still believe that not adding English voice overs during combat kills a huge amount of the game’s potential for making new entrants into the series care about their teammates.
Thankfully, as bad as the story and characterization are, the gameplay is good enough to save it. While it’s not Unreal Tournament – or even Halo – in terms of depth and skill required to master it, Fatal Bullet fits nicely in the Destiny/Borderlands/PSO mold by being a nice action RPG that thinks it’s an FPS.
Gameplay is fast, sharp, and highly addictive. Though people have expressed anger about level imbalances, mob re-spawning, and lack of variety in the Fatal Bullet forums, it’s no different than what you’d find in Borderlands, and that game is still celebrated by far too many people for being the FPS/RPG standard bearer. Overall, Fatal Bullet’s combat is one of the better examples of a hybrid shooter that you’ll ever find.
To understand why I’m defending the game’s combat, you have to look at what they’ve added to make it more approachable to non-shooter fans and people playing with a gamepad. That feature, which is a special aiming mode you can toggle on and off with a key press, is a lock-on style reticule that resembles the one you find in the old Panzer Dragoon games. While its intent is to have you run and strafe while still keeping your bullets trained on your enemy, there’s a couple little wrinkles to it that really show its cleverness.
First of all, that aiming mode won’t always connect. It’s still governed by your agility stat and the base accuracy statistics of your weapon. Secondly? You won’t be hitting head shots or weak point knocks while in this mode…unless your agility stat and accuracy ratings are abnormally high. That right there is where the genius lies. While it’s an auto-aim mode that would appear sacrilegious to any half-decent FPS fan, it’s actually a mere skill check hidden behind an aiming reticule.
…and anyway, if you really want to gain power, you need to learn the crafting systems.
Crafting and upgrading in Fatal bullet isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s pretty bog standard as far as JRPGs go. What’s great about it is that while it’s simple, it handsomely rewards min’max’ers who know to how to stack traits and like to exploit highly broken systems.
Item rarity goes from grey, to red, to blue, to yellow, and then finally to green. As you go up a level, the weapons that drop with that color gain more item traits. So, for instance, a red item may have 2 traits (Like 50% against machines and 30% increased accuracy) while a green item has 8. The real trick comes in using unlocking chips to open up those trait slots and altering them. What this means is that you can take unwanted traits out of a weapon that has good percentages and stack it with another weapon’s much more preferable traits. While you’ll lose the old weapon, you’ll gain a much stronger new one, complete with the perfectly selected statistic boosts and bonuses that fit your play style.
To save myself from typing out another 3,000 words, let’s put it this way: If you want a dream gun that completely and utterly breaks the game, you can farm enough garbage weapons from trash mobs until you swap enough of the right traits in and make such a weapon. Matter of fact, you can make several of them, and give them to your A.I. controlled android waifu so she can benefit from your crazed devotion to RPG munchkinism as well.
The only downside to this is that the computer-controlled teammates you have aren’t exactly bright. While they did heal me and performed a competent job raising me from the dead in the rare times I poked my head out from behind a tree and got one-shotted from 2 miles away, they weren’t very good at knowing who to attack and from where to attack them at. The A.I. simply has no concept of cover, nor do they know how to strafe either. Their only skill is standing still and firing, with only the occasional forward roll or crouch to avoid incoming bullets. This is especially true of the player-created waifu, which for some reason is far more clueless than any of Kirito’s Sword Art friends.
So the story is weak but the combat is fairly decent, but what about the little things? Dungeon variety, world size, and quest depth? Well, that depends on how much you’re expecting from a game whose series was mostly known for being on portable machines.
First of all, the game isn’t open world. Though it’s cut into large “zones” that have “dungeons” poking out of them, it’s more like giant bland battle arenas filled with re-spawning enemies. There aren’t “towns” except for the hub area you’re based in and the game owes more to Phantasy Star Online than it does Borderlands, since those zones are awfully cramped and disturbingly lifeless. Granted, there are some nicely positioned points of cover and buildings to jump around while trying to outgun enemy mobs, but if you’re looking for some sort of traditional co-op online RPG, you’re not going to find it here.
Secondly, variety – or the lack thereof – is a huge problem with Fatal Bullet. While there is a fair amount of dungeons to go farming for loot in (once the story unlocks them), they all mostly look the same. At my best estimation, there are only half a dozen different tilesets used for dungeons, and they repeat endlessly throughout the game. Clearly, the game’s budget didn’t favor the art department.
Third and lastly, the quests themselves aren’t much to brag about either. Most of your side missions will originate from a merchant stall in one of the hub rooms that dole out “hunting” tasks, which require you to eliminate a uniquely-named monster or a player that the NPC deems as needing to be PK’d. It’s typical MMO fluff, which is, to be fair, probably the kind of thing the parodical nature of the game is suppose to be going for. Either way, it works, but may turn off those seeking something deeper. Then again, this is an action-JRPG, not a European CRPG, so you can’t hold that against them.
Overall, Fatal bullet is a nice diversion that should appeal to those who like action-ey games such as Ys or PSO. It can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be – thanks to the wonderful crafting and unlocking systems – but the absence of any character growth and the stifling lack of variety in enemies, dungeons, and quests will turn off more discerning gamers that aren’t used to these detriments that were once graciously overlooked in early 2000s era JRPGs.
For me, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet was a great game that scratched that same “I want to blow things up and gain power” itch that Borderlands and PSO did for me, and while I wouldn’t want anyone to pay full price for such a game, I’d highly recommend it to bored ARPG fans that catch it on sale and need something to get them through a lean gaming period. Everyone else, however, may want to back away. Especially if you aren’t into the anime.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 7.0
- Fun, easy-to-learn, addictive combat
- Clever and highly exploitable crafting system
- Graphics look great when ramped up.
- You can build, romance, and sleep with your own waifu
- Repetitive enemies and levels
- Weak story/quests
- Enemy imbalances/difficulty spikes requiring grinding/crafting to smash through