Bandai Namco and Dimps’s Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, like most other Sword Art Online games, is something of a letdown. You wouldn’t think a franchise about video games could get video games so wrong, but somehow they always manage.
This time around we get to make our own player characters and enter the fake MMO world of Gun Gale Online. Within seconds of joining GGO, the player immediately enters a tournament that is ridiculously easy, finds an ultra-rare item, and gets into a fight with Kirito and Asuna.
So you know things are gonna go well when you start off with that as the opening half hour of gameplay. And then you go to a “party” that Kirito invited you to — a party where everyone stands around in a big circle talking one at a time, to congratulate Kirito for winning the tournament and you for getting a rare item. Then you’ve got a cutscene where you chat about how VR games are part of actual life and not an escape from life. It’s like you hit the SAO trope trifecta within the first hour of Fatal Bullet, and the game doesn’t get any better from there.
The gameplay is odd, even for a third person shooter. The standard controls for movement and look are incredibly slow, which is not ideal for a shooter, or any action game at all. Sure, you can change the defaults, but you have to do so much tweaking to make Fatal Bullet playable, it is ridiculous. Sure, you can strafe and dodge roll and crouch, but the time between the command and your character executing the action is a little too slow. Any good action shooter has to be fast, and Fatal Bullet is absolutely not that.
The enemy and ally AI are hilariously bad. The enemies’ aiming is so bad that I don’t think any of them can shoot you at all in the early levels. Your allies are not much better — they often tend to prioritize movement over shooting, which is not ideal for what should be a co-op VR shooter.
If the gameplay wasn’t lackluster enough, you also have the story. Fatal Bullet picks up after Hollow Realization, with the release of Gun Gale Online by Zaskar. The story follows the base GGO arc from the manga and anime, including the Death Gun incident, but the story is a little bit different to account for new events, new gameplay elements, and the whole player character inclusion thing.
The saddest part of every SAO game is that they should be great. There’s so much in the story of SAO to mine for video game content that it is always something of a crying shame that none of the games can ever get it right. Fans don’t love Sword Art Online because of its janky attempts at storytelling and complete misunderstanding of gamer culture. Fans love SAO for its characters, for its love and respect for gaming, and for its heart. It’s a huge asset that all of the various games that provide settings for the saga of Kirito and pals seem like incredibly fun games to play.
But none of the SAO franchise properly utilize that. Because they just aren’t fun games. They seem to be made by people who don’t understand what actually makes games fun. The story is a mess of cutscenes that make no sense, have no stakes, and provide very little of interest. The combat is horrible, the AI is hilariously bad, and despite the number of customization options for your character, there isn’t a single thing in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet that feels finished.
Then again, I might just be upset no one has taken me up on my premise of making Sword Art Online. You know, a permadeath VR MMO set on the floating castle of Aincrad.
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