Developed By: Dimps
Published By: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: February 23, 2018 (North America)
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
About two years after the release of the tedious Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, Bandai Namco figured SAO fans deserve an appropriate adaption of the popular anime. And though the last major release was based in the unpopular ALfheim Online (ALO), this time we’re taken to the even more unorthodox world of Gun Gale Online (GGO) to participate in some major update because video games. Unfortunately, what Bandai Namco did sorta right with Hollow Realization, it does so very wrong with Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet. What’s presented in this action-RPG is a meandering story filled with stiff combat encounters with the same enemies, excessive loading screens, moronic enemy and partner AI, and perplexing design choices. In short, tedium ad nauseam. Again.
Instead of playing as Kirito, you’re treated to an extensive character creator. (Fans of Kirito should note that you can either a.) create your own Kirito, or b.) play as Kirito later in the game.) After the character creator, Fatal Bullet sets up its premise: as a GGO noob, your friend Kureha shows you the ropes of this Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online (VRMMO) game. That’s about it. There’s no real narrative nuance, no intrigue or mystery, no engagement. It’s just “hey, come play this new game with me.” With the disconnect from Hollow Realization’s narrative, it should be expected that Fatal Bullet would offer a similar experience, but Fatal Bullet feels more bromidic than Sword Art Online’s previous entries. And that’s because the story doesn’t go anywhere until the antagonist is introduced, which is more than halfway through the game. But even then Fatal Bullet’s narrative, while focusing on characters other than Team Kirito, is boring and monotonous.
The biggest offense Fatal Bullet commits, though, is its trivial combat. Billed as a third-person shooter, Fatal Bullet’s controls are too stiff for it to work as effectively as other third-person shooters. While you can adjust the sensitivity, the adjustments never feel adequate enough to give you the necessary control to be both precise and swift at the same time. Oddly enough, precision doesn’t even matter when assist mode is activated, a switchable option that increases the radius of your reticle and causes almost all bullets to go in that direction, effectively decreasing player engagement. And strangely, though you can use photon swords, Fatal Bullet makes doing so guaranteed death, as enemies are far too accurate and have far too much health for you to get close enough.
You’ll get killed even when you’re far away from enemies because they’re bullet sponges. (That’s too soft — they’re bullet gluttons.) Enemies here, regardless of level, have large health pools, to the point where the damage numbers popping off them — because, you know, it’s supposed to be MMO-like or whatever — add little information to how much health is actually subtracted. Enemies are also terminators, almost always unaffected and unscathed by whatever attacks you do. Couple these with the multiple health bars for bosses that never really look like they’re depleting and atrocious, dimwitted AI, and you have one annoying experience as you die over and over again. Sure, your teammates can revive you, but getting them to is impossible as your they are dumber than the enemies, incessantly circling you before getting killed themselves. There are squad commands, but the AI isn’t smart enough to receive and follow the commands given, making strategy pointless.
In most situations, though, you won’t even need strategy: you can game almost every enemy in the game. While they are excruciatingly difficult to face in a firefight, maneuver them ever so slightly here or there and suddenly the fight becomes much easier. Perhaps because of the game’s poorly implemented AI, once enemies are placed behind large objects they cannot seem to figure out how to attack you. Regrettably, the same can be done to you: get cornered by enemies far larger than you and get prepared, as they will wail on you until you die. (And because your teammates are inept, they’ll die right alongside you.) The jarring oscillation between difficulty is already frustrating to manage, and it only gets worse when it happens multiple times in a single fight, making you wonder how (and at what level) was that area or that dungeon supposed to be beaten.
And, unfortunately, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet never manages to be anything other than frustrating. The game’s meandering narrative and its obtuse combat make Fatal Bullet one of the most mundane entries in the SAO franchise to date: never frustrating enough to stop playing — everything is just competent enough for it all to work — but never memorable enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. And no amount of fan service can save this aggravating, boring experience. At some point, we’ll get a good SAO game. This just isn’t the one.