“Anyone who loves guns can’t be all that bad,” one NPC proclaimed to me in the opening hour of my journey into Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet. The comment understandably took me by surprise, as going into the game, I had very little idea of what to expect. As it turns out, what I should have expected was guns, and a lot of them.
My knowledge of Sword Art Online had been limited to vague whispers and the odd comment here and there from friends, but I had very little idea about what exactly the games and anime series were about. It turned out to be a lot like the .hack// series, and to a lesser extent, the Digimon World franchise.
Fatal Bullet’s gameplay talks place in an online world named Gun Gale Online, a self-professed ‘world of guns’ where plays take control of avatars with powerful guns and, you guessed, they go out and shoot things. Monsters, robots, people – there’s no limit to the people you can shoot. Unfortunately, if you want to have any luck actually killing those things, you’ll need to be prepared to spend a lot of time grinding and looting to make it count.
From the very first level, my character was confronted with powerful enemies that required hundreds of bullets to kill – bullets which came at a steep cost, and often ran out before a boss could be put away. Without guns, your character is almost completely useless, and must instead rely on your back-up team – a girl named Kureha and a robot named ArFA-Sys that semi-adopts you in the opening scenes of the game.
Players can undertake a variety of quests including treasure hunts and ‘bounty’ quests where they can hunt down other players, and throughout each quest players collect certain accessories and items that can be used to create more powerful weaponry and armour, and earn currency for their efforts. This currency can be used to purchase certain rare armours, such as the female ‘Sailor Suit Bikini’, of which there is no male counterpart. From the get go, the game makes it very clear who its target audience is, and suffice to say, it wasn’t me that it was aimed at.
My first hours of the game were slow to begin with, as the intro to the game is dialogue and character heavy. The first two hours were populated with a range of colourful characters, including fan favourites Asuna and Kirito, as well as several young women who really should have been wearing more clothes.
After being introduced to several dozen characters, whose names I was never destined to remember, I was then thrust directly into my first side quest, retrieving parts for my newly discovered robot companion ArFa-Sys. In a classic case of ‘instructions unclear / dick caught in ceiling fan’, this led to me wandering out into the Wasteland and dying at the hands of a killer robot half a dozen times before I realised my mission objective was pointing me in the opposite direction. This was one of the many frustrations that I had with the game – instead of finding map markers located on the HUD minimap, they’re located in a secondary menu map, meaning that you can wander for hours without knowing exactly where you’re going.
The good news was that each time I died, I gained valuable XP and ended up levelling up quite quickly. It’s a shame that the game relies so much on death to keep you going, however. From the very first world I encountered, ultra powerful enemies appeared and almost immediately decked me with their impressive firepower.
In many cases, the odds felt unfairly stacked against me, and with little instruction or guidance, I found myself dying far too often. If you fall in battle, your teammates can revive you, but more often than not, your player ends up being the last one standing, meaning that once you’re dead, your progress is wiped from the battlefield.
What was most frustrating about dying so often was that the reason for my many deaths wasn’t a lack of skill, but rather a finicky and unrefined gunplay system. Sometimes, it was me running out of bullets and not having the funds required to buy more, sometimes, it was the camera spinning wildly out of control and shoving my view through an enemy body. Sometimes, it was an enemy sniper who was nearly impossible to hit, and sometimes, it was a killer hoard of robot scorpions descending from the heavens just to fuck with me.
The gunplay system felt mildly unintuitive, particularly for a game based solely on killing things with guns. From the off, the game provided me with a guided targeting system, and this worked pretty well. For sharpshooters, there was also the option to focus your attacks, however, I found that these attacks hit less often that the run n’ gun guided option, meaning that the feature was nearly useless.
While the game boasted a fun character creation system and some interesting characters, the experience was dampened somewhat by the overly simplistic and unrealistically balanced gameplay. While I can’t comment on the story or lack thereof, given my short time with the game, what was presented was enough to intrigue me, but not enough to hold my attention. As far as games go, Fatal Bullet feels unique enough in the current games landscape to make an impact, but only with a very niche audience.
Thank you and apologies to the kind souls at Bandai Namco Entertainment for supplying us with a review copy of the game.