I have an odd relationship with Sword Art Online games. I review them every year with the utmost optimism, but I never really get much out of them. They often feel derivative, full of recycled ideas and lukewarm mechanics. It’s a shame, because regardless of one’s feelings for the show, it holds a great deal of potential when it comes to video game adaptations. This is a series about a huge MMO action RPG that’s filled with customizability and quests. It’s essentially a blueprint for a game, which is why I’m often disappointed at the squandered results. So when I tried out Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet at last week’s Bandai Namco press event, I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had with the game.
Largely responsible for this change in opinion is the shift from action RPG to third-person shooter RPG. For the unaware, Sword Art Online’s characters switch from playing an MMORPG to playing an online shooter in the second season. It makes sense that Fatal Bullet would swap genres to reflect this, and as a result, the game could be quite fun. I only had the chance to fight one boss in the demo, but it was enough for me to feel more optimistic for a Sword Art game than ever before.
The first big change is that you seem to only play the game as your own avatar, rather than as characters from the show. This is exciting, and will hopefully make the story more personal and enjoyable. Previous Sword Art Online games let you play as your own character, but customization options were limited, and the characters were pretty much just less interesting versions of existing characters. It seems that the characters from the series will still have a presence in the game, but they don’t seem as necessary as before. As a pre-made character, I battled a large mech warrior, similar to something out of Zone of the Enders or Gundam. Alongside a few A.I. companions, I went toe-to-toe with my mechanical foe.
In the demo I was able to use a machine gun and a gatling gun, which could be swapped with the touch of a button. To make the battle easier, I could bring up a menu to command my teammates to focus on specific actions like healing or attacking the same target as me. All my teammates got slaughtered, so I didn’t get to use this feature too much, but it was handy while they were alive.
Shooting was perfectly sufficient with both weapons. The mech’s back was his weak point, so I found myself running around him repeatedly to nail his weak spot. These shots did substantially more damage than others, which will hopefully add some more skill and strategy to the game’s combat. Movement proved to be satisfying, in particular thanks to the laser grappling hook my character had. Like the hook in the Just Cause series, the laser pulls you towards whatever surface it is shot at. This made moving around quite fun, and set up some cool moments of me zipping away from enemy strikes in the nick of time.
The main issue I had with Fatal Bullet’s demo was the camera. Environmental decoration like bushes and grass would often cover the screen when aiming upwards, while my character’s model would swap between transparent and opaque rather frequently. These frustrating issues made it difficult to focus on the boss’s weak points, so I’m hoping this gets ironed out in the full release.
Overall, I’m feeling pretty good about Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet. Combat and movement are looking pretty good, and the complete focus on player-created characters is long overdue but incredibly welcome. I’m hoping Fatal Bullet lives up to my expectations, and for the first time since the first Sword Art game, I think it actually could.