"If there's anything that Fatal Bullet put me in the mood for, it's shooters. Good ones."
Sword Art Online. Alfheim Online. Sword Art/Origin.
After three games in the series, it's time for a change. Swap your swords and daggers for rifles and pistols, since it's time to move on to Gun Gale Online! The change in the environment means it's time for a gameplay change. Your action MMO-like game is now a third-person shooter. What's in store in this VRMMORPG?
Following the events of Sword Art Online Hollow Realization, you play as an avatar character who was invited to Gun Gale Online (GGO) by your friend Kureha. The game has just updated, with a brand-new area set to unlock soon. Kureha wants you to tag along with her to start this new area. After getting separated from Kureha during your first tournament, you activate ArFA-sys, a player support character that was implemented in the latest update for the game. After meeting with Kirito and Asuna at the end of the tournament, they invite you, your ArFA-sys, and Kureha into their party of familiar faces. This is where your GGO adventure begins.
I want to go on record by saying that I don't think the story and characters from the Sword Art Online series are THAT bad. Yes, they're generic, but they're not atrocious as everyone makes them out to be. That being said, I could not get invested in the plot of this game at all, or the new characters they introduced. While Kirito may not exactly be the best protagonist ever, it's still better than playing a blank slate that is basically Kirito, but worse. Your default ArFA-sys (I chose a female one) is way too childlike, and instead of being adorable, it just ends up being annoying. Kureha is your typical childhood friend and... that's about it. I could go on, but let's move on to the story.
As a newbie, you have to go through a few mundane tasks before you're ready to take on the new area. Your ArFA-sys is incomplete, and you have to get parts to unlock more functions and make it complete. Unfortunately, this takes up about half the story; by the time you get to the new area, things move way too fast and the pacing feels rushed. The whole time you're gathering the parts is also boring, with no real plot advancement.
There is a "Kirito Mode" where you can play as Kirito and adventure with the characters you're familiar with. This does feel a lot better to play (as it feels like playing other SAO games), but it only unlocks late in the story, which means enduring the painful regular story just to get to the characters that SAO fans know and love. This really should have been the main mode of the game instead of having the story revolve around your non-charismatic avatar.
When I mention the "best combat in the series" as a pro for this title, I mean the running and gunning portion is fun. Assist Mode gives you a targeting reticule over an enemy and shooting in that general reticule area will allow you to hit enemies. It's pretty fun to run and strafe around as you pump your enemies full of virtual lead. You can dodge, crouch, jump, and roll in combat, allowing for an experience that feels rather smooth, much like DIMPS' other action game, Freedom Wars. Despite how nice and fluid combat feels, it does get repetitive, as the skills you unlock are mostly only upgraded versions of earlier skills. This leaves little variety as to how you approach combat.
The controls are what kill the gameplay experience. As a former player of all sorts of shooters, I can tell you this game really doesn't give you that nice, smooth control over your aim. Even after fiddling with my aiming controls forever, I could not find the sweet spot I needed for reliable shooting. I relied on Assist Mode a lot of the time I wasn't using a precise weapon like a handgun or sniper rifle. Your controls can also lock up for unexplained reasons. I stopped briefly, and when I tried to move again, I got locked in place until I pressed a different button. At one point, I was trying to use the UFG, which is a grapple ability in this game. For whatever reason, when I tried to pull it out, it made me scope in instead. Only by mashing the button a few times was I able to pull it out. In some cases, it still didn't work.
Speaking of control, that's something I would have liked in terms of my AI partners. Each character has their own AI pattern based on their class. Each class has their own weapon set, and you can also class yourself based on the weapons you prefer to use. The only problem is that sometimes the AI just doesn't want to work. This is obvious when you're fighting bosses and it seems your AI partners are only decoys to draw the boss's fire. Simple orders like "concentrate your fire on this enemy" or "focus on damage/healing/tanking" would have worked fine. Instead, the only AI you have some semblance of control over is your ArFA-sys, and you can customise its behaviour to do whatever you think it should focus on. I made mine a healer and it worked out pretty well. I just wish you could do that to all of your AI partners.
Fatal Bullet also suffers from bland environments. While this cannot be helped entirely since it's based off the source material, it still doesn't make it any easier on the eyes. There is nothing but desert and wrecked cities as far as the eye can see. Dungeons are nothing more than gray corridors that go on for way longer than necessary. By the time you unlock an environment with a different colour palette, it's basically the end of the game.
To top it all off, Fatal Bullet suffers in the sound department. Party banter is common in RPGs, but Fatal Bullet lowers the bar when it comes to it. Not that the conversations are bad, but there's only one conversation that two characters will have. Unless you mix up party members all the time, you're going to hear the same conversation repeatedly during your travels. The lack of voice lines also leaks into your ArFA-sys. Every time you accept a new quest, it chimes in with an excited "waku-waku desu!" (I'm excited). When I say every time, I mean literally every time. It got to the point where I muted my TV whenever I was picking up a new quest. It was cute the first few times, but them only having that one line made it irritating. This game is Japanese-dub only, much like its predecessors. All of the voice actors from the anime reprise their roles in this game, and some new talent added. With the exception of the opening theme, sung by talented Japanese artist LiSA, the music in this game is forgettable.
If there's anything that Fatal Bullet put me in the mood for, it's shooters. Good ones. Without a Freedom Wars sequel, I was really hoping Fatal Bullet would be a good pseudo-sequel. Unfortunately, it's not close to even being decent. Unless you're a big fan of Sword Art Online, I wouldn't recommend this title. You can get your gun and Sword Art Online action in better games.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.