Friday 9 March 2018

Review: Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet (Reviewed on PS4, also on PC and Xbox One)

It’s not every day you find a JRPG heavily rooted in anime and third-person shooting with a clear Freedom Wars influence, but Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet delivers this in its own way in this gameplay heavy experience. Taking third-person shooting mechanics and adding in JRPG ones with leveling and stat-boosting, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s challenging hunts and quests tell the story of this gun-filled MMORPG from Sword Art Online’s second series, but with interesting new characters that make its own story accessible to both newcomers and fans of the show. It might not be the biggest world to explore, but with endless customisation in both appearance and gameplay style, and an interesting story that ended a little too soon, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s shooting filled world managed to both be pretty fun to play and make me care about Sword Art Online’s world more.
Fatal Bullet is based in the story’s online world of Gun Gale Online, an online shooting game known for its popularity among pro-gamers that the customisable protagonist joins when asked by their childhood friend Kureha to help on a quest. The quest’s prize is supposed to be a very rare item and by chance the protagonist happens to get warped the area where the prize is: a one-of-a-kind rare and high-ranked AI humanoid called ArFA-sys designed to support its master in a variety of ways. After eventually meeting Kirito and his many friends from the Sword Art Online series, you, your AI partner and the interesting new characters from Fatal Bullet embark on a journey that features moments from the Death Gun story from Sword Art Online’s second series, along with an intriguing story of its own that takes advantage of the new characters by allowing them to shake up the plot at times, with the ones from the show playing more of a supporting role.

There’s an emphasis in Fatal Bullet on ‘choices’ and this is reflected in the way choices have an effect on story moments. Sometimes the choices are the small, typical dialogue based ones that most JRPGs have and others affected the story in greater ways, such as determining endings. Even when my choices weren’t affecting the story’s progression directly, it felt nice to be able to have some input into the story, especially while using my own custom character. And since I found the new characters intriguing, I liked that I could choose to spend more time with them in the optional side-conversations that are around the map between missions. The main story of Fatal Bullet can be somewhat short at around 30 hours long, so having the option of talking to characters outside was an one I appreciated having.
The theme of choices is prevalent in every part of Fatal Bullet and is most noticeable in its gameplay. As the name of its in-game MMO world implies, Gun Gale Online revolves around predominantly shooting your way through its missions with guns against its many small and big foes with your party of Fatal Bullet’s featured characters. Adding a Freedom Wars twist on this is that you can dart around the field using a grappling device that allows you to grip and lunge towards buildings, a useful mechanic when trying to take height advantage of the field for hitting weak points. This also allows for a lot of choice in playing style, with weapon options ranging from a variety of guns like Shotguns and Grenade Launchers, with Swords also thrown into the mix for those like myself used to melee, although shooting was often the most useful as most enemies had a high, target-able weak points that were fun to find. Whether shooting or sword fighting, the terrains high and low platforms and barricades were a great way to make the similar looking fields more interesting and in rooms full of many enemies, I liked the strategy of finding the best way and place to fight from.
For both battle and aesthetics, there are a lot of ways to customise your experience in Fatal Bullet. With not one, but two customisable avatars to create in it, you can mix and match many outfits and options mostly based off Sword Art Online character hairstyles and outfits to really make your own unique-looking duo. The best part of creating these is that they appear in the great looking in-game cutscenes, close-ups and all, that adds a personal flavour to the ones shown in big story moments. There are also plenty of ways to customise your character for battle, with individual stats being changeable and different play styles opening up in later portions to use with the upgradeable weapons of many different types. And depending who you put in your party, you can also build your affinity with the characters you spend time with and special events being unlockable with both old and new characters depending on who you use the most. The amount of customisation in this experience really made it feel like my own rather than just a Sword Art Online story I was dropped into, which was a nice surprise that made me find everything very engaging.

The only issue I have with Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is that I felt there were moments it could’ve taken advantage of to make it feel like a fuller experience. Since its gameplay is pretty good, there were certain cutscenes talking with Sword Art Online’s cast about tournaments or fights that you only discuss and not actually do, so I felt these moments would’ve been more impactful if they were actually played through. The end had some strong moments in character development with the new characters, but felt like it came a little suddenly, so I wonder if more time with the supporting cast would’ve helped the pacing feel a little smoother. There are opportunities to keep playing after finishing with New Game Plus and a time jump available to try and get its True Ending which could help with this feeling, but it seems like a lot of work for something that could’ve been established in its main story. Gameplay-wise there are plenty of opportunities to fill the experience with plenty of MMO-style side quests to fight players or big environment bosses, along with the option to actually play online. Although its story could’ve had more, I do like knowing that I can at least play with the characters I got to know in its story in its enjoyable gameplay even now that I'm finished.
With lots of customisation available giving a personalised experience, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet’s story and gameplay were fun to make choices in. Choosing weapons, who to get to know a little better between battles and how to fight made the experience instantly engaging and complemented its MMO-style field battles well. Even though I wish its story was longer, I feel comfort knowing there’s a true ending to come back to and despite it being short, it was a short, fun experience in its MMO-world that left me feeling more interested in Sword Art Online’s world and story as a whole.

Score: 7.9/10
Who would've thought Freedom Wars gameplay with Sword Art Online would be a thing?

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Will you play Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet? If you have what did you think of it?
And what do you think of its anime?
(I've watched the first series, but I'd love to know if Sword Art Online II is worth watching!)
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