Amid the shooter genre is a division of games dedicated to the hunt for better loot and gear, aptly named ‘looter shooter’ by the devoted community. This sub-genre comprises game franchises such as the Borderlands series, Destiny and Anthem.
Looter shooter games task players to find the best weapons, which can be done through grinding or sheer luck to gain a weapon drop that has an increase in its stats, be it more damage, accuracy, or any other mechanics that give the player an advantage in-game.
Among this sub-genre of games, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet takes inspiration from the Sword Art Online series and spins an original story with looter shooter mechanics.
Sword Art Online is an anime series that started out as a sci-fi fantasy fiction with the story revolving around the technology of being able to experience virtual reality to its fullest by directly injecting senses into the brain and its associated benefits and dangers. The version I spent time with is the complete edition which comes bundled with all the downloadable content (DLC).
After spending more than 100 hours with it on Nintendo Switch, the game sadly concluded and left me with mixed feelings.
Unlike previous Sword Art Online games where players become the main protagonist named Kirito, Fatal Bullet is different by having the players create their own custom character to embark on an adventure that they can personally experience in the series’ world.
And indeed, the initial thought of having an original story with your own character is quite the draw to play the game, but the novelty starts to wear thin.
While the story is original, it still features the cast of characters from the original series, which means that many of the story beats feel forced. Even as the customised player character tackles the challenges presented in the story, Kirito and others takes the spotlight with most of the dialogue delivered from them, while the player character remains silent.
This is further exacerbated by the dead pan story that features bland progression and stiff animation, that sometimes attempts to inject some sense of urgency but falls flat.
Without spoiling the game, players are expected to play the game at least twice to reach a desired outcome for it to properly continue, canonical-wise, which adds on to the slog of already monotonous and chore-like gameplay
Though this problem is very prominent in role-playing games where players are free to do what they want, it feels as if Fatal Bullet is just mixing together various aspects of video game genres without a focus on how they work so well in other games.
In addition, the story’s pacing is also quite monotonous, tasking the player to repeat the flow of gameplay – going to a location, entering a dungeon, defeating a boss or retrieving an item, returning to home base to complete said task, then rinse and repeat.
While this is no problem if done right, the locations and dungeons are a chore to go through as they are level-based, which means that lower level players are more likely to get killed early on, which can force them on a path of endless grinding to get to the level that is acceptable.
The gameplay is a redeeming factor. The gameplay and reward feedback loop is addictive. Getting new weapon drops and maximising their damage, accuracy and so on which result in seeing large damage numbers has a somewhat cathartic feel to it.
This can be further accelerated with the game’s implementation of online multiplayer, with cooperative play being the main focus along with a player-versus-player mode for those looking for a challenge. The cooperative play is filled with players from a small and helpful community that is freely able to aid lower level player.
There is also an end game, which not only includes the hardcore cooperative modes but also in the form of DLC which is not so neatly split into five. The first three DLC are expected to be played in succession, which slightly improves on the formula of the base game.
The last two DLC expand on the end game content in both gameplay as well as story, but similarly to the main game ends unceremoniously with more questions than answers.
So in the end, the game mostly appeals to a small subset of players who want an expanded story on the already large Sword Art Online universe, as well as those seeking to satiate their hunger for another looter shooter.
Unless it’s at a steal of a price, Fatal Bullet remains a game that I would find hard to recommend, but as an old saying goes, “it’s not about the destination, but the journey” and the journey that the game takes players on in becoming stronger over the course of its duration is one that is unique to each player.