I've been playing Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet and at the start of the game, I felt overwhelmed. All of the details regarding combat mechanics, shop and sidequest locations, etc. are all thrown at you in the span of an hour or two. Whether it’s intentional or not, since Fatal Bullet is based on the anime series Sword Art Online, the game stays true to the chaotic rush of leaping into an MMORPG for the first time.
The biggest change you'll notice in Fatal Bullet is that you get to create a character and become the focus of the story. In the last SAO game, Hollow Realization, you play as the series' main character Kirito, and the narrative revolves around him and his friends. In Fatal Bullet, they take on a more supporting role by helping out a “newbie” progress through Gun Gale Online, the online VR game from the third arc of the anime.
I Don't Want To Date Her
As of current play, a great deal of the game revolves around ArFA-Sys, the supposed rare AI companion drop you get at the game’s outset. It’s a fully customizable character that follows you around. You can determine its appearance, build and equipment, and apparently how it reacts to people in the game. I'm still not sure how that works, but the option is there once you get a specific upgrade.
It’s like taking custody of a grown child, one with barely any understanding of the real world. My version of ArFA-Sys is a female, and she's now calling me “Master”. It's weird, and it's getting worse, since interacting with her while at home will trigger dialogue with the AI being all curious about friendship, courtship, rapport, etc. Since it’s necessary to interact with her in order to access my banked cash, I just had to go with it.
Then I was left with no choice but to go on a date with her.
All I wanted to do was to buy Weapon Arts with my saved-up cash! The next thing I knew, I was on a 2-minute date with my AI companion. This is what Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is all about when it comes to narrative and interactions so far - visual novel-style presentation paired with Japanese dialogue to better understand the characters and their relationships. With Kirito and co. not the main focus, the opportunity to learn about them is still present. You and the characters created just for the game play the “curious role” - for instance, wondering about why Kirito is surrounded by a lot of girls, or why Kiehl is trying to get the number of a female NPC; it’s fun for fans, and an encouraging way to give those not familiar with the anime a chance to know more about the characters.
Crossing My Fingers
Where I am right now, I'm having difficulty getting into the main story, since it's mostly about getting upgrades for your AI companion. There's no real antagonist that has shown itself, nor a grand threat that the characters must overcome together JRPG style. It’s mostly just going through the grind of leveling up my character, beating bosses awaiting in dungeons, and unlocking new locations.
For a good portion of my time, I’ve found a strong urge to keep playing. The combat is simple, but I find enjoyment in the character-building and looting better gear, improving my stats to cater to my preferred playstyle. Most of the quests amount to simply looking for specific monsters in a map to kill, or looting a special item. There's sadly no real thought to quests in the game, and the bosses are only tough because they are pretty much damage sponges.
Bugs are present early on, and this JRPG has an issue where high-level enemies are placed all too frequently in bigger early locations. In one area, you are given level 3 robot scorpions to worry about. Run a little down to the left, and you will be met with level 11 killer bees. Exploration almost inevitably ends in engaging high-level enemies that can kill you with one hit, making it difficult to navigate a safe route to where you're supposed to go.
I'm level 32 as of this writing, and I feel like there's a lot more of this game to experience. I did pass by a level 69 Gundam-looking mech, which I attacked (and died to, of course), and I've yet to try out the game's online co-op quests, as well as Hero Battles, which are pvp matches where you can play as - you guessed it - your favorite Sword Art Online character.
We'll see how it goes moving forward, but so far, I'm enjoying the hilarious and awkward banter plus the MMO-grind combat. If this game is longer than expected, hopefully, it changes things up soon, because what I'm currently liking has the potential to get stale real quick.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Are you playing it? Let us know what you think below!