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Sword Art Online – Going Hands-On with Fatal Bullet at ANIME NYC

This past November, The Jacob K. Javits Center became home to a new event, not seen in close to ten years. That event was the newly formed Anime NYC, a 3-day anime convention that celebrates the exciting culture of Japanese anime. Anime distributors, such as Funimation, Crunchyroll, and Aniplex were present, promoting brand new shows and special events. The convention celebrates all sorts of shows, from Dragonball Z to One Punch Man, but it also highlights Japanese based video games.

Front and center were Bandai Namco games, the international publisher behind wildly popular games, such as the Dark Souls trilogy, the Ace Combat franchise, and the Tekken series.  In between major releases, Bandai Namco has also a home for the localization and release of Japanese-based games. Many of these games are based on established anime, such as One Piece and Tales Of Zestiria.

At Anime NYC, Bandai Namco was showcasing their newest and most-anticipated game in the long-running franchise, Sword Art Online. Their newest title in the franchise is Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, an action role-playing game with an emphasis on ranged tactical combat. The game is due in February of 2018, but I had the opportunity to learn more about the game, as well as play a full demo.

For those that are unfamiliar, Sword Art Online is the widely popular manga and anime series from Reki Kawahara, with illustrations by Abec. The series began as a light novel in 2012, which soon expanded into an incredibly popular anime series. The anime premiered in the United States in 2013 through Cartoon Network’s TOONAMI block, becoming a huge sensation. For those wishing to brush up on Sword Art Online, the entire series thus far can be streamed on Netflix and is distributed through Aniplex. For those that have seen the Disney movie, Tron, or read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, the idea of Sword Art Online is similar.

Sword Art Online takes place in the near future, where video games have evolved into VRMMORPG’s, or Virtual Reality Massive Multiplay Online Role-Playing Games. A famous scientist, Akihibo Kayaba, invents the NerveGear, a device that interfaces with gamers to stimulate all five senses of their minds. Additionally, he creates Sword Art Online, a massive action video game in which players can embark on massive quests, as well as fight monsters. Using the NerveGear, players can control their in-game avatars with the power of their minds. Every action, movement, combat decision, and spells can be enacted with just a thought.

On its first day, thousands log into Sword Art Online, creating their avatars and embarking on adventures. However, they soon discover they are unable to log out. Running out of health in-game or the removal of the helmets in the real world will result in their players dying in the real world.

The series focuses on a young man, named Kirito, and the plethora of characters he comes across. Trapped in the game, he comes across various players, each with their own class and specialty to combat, determined to escape the game. Wielding different weapons and magic abilities, Kirito and his friends fight across the massive digital world of Sword Art Online in an effort to save thousands of people and eliminate those behind this dark scheme. Sword Art Online is only the beginning, as the game’s creation and success give rise to other massive worlds.

In Sword Art online: Fatal Bullet, players are thrust into the world of Gun Gale Online, or GGO, a digitally created spinoff of Sword Art Online. In GGO, players utilize a variety of sci-fi firearms and close range weapons, such as beam sabers. The world of GGO is a dystopic wasteland, roaming with war machines and combat robots, endlessly wandering the lands in search of targets.

Fatal Bullet takes place around the events of Sword Art Online II, the second season of the anime. Players will interact with the main protagonists of the series while paving their own paths.  The game promises traditional RPG set-ups and new features, with a unique blend of shooting and slashing combat. Additionally, the game will be loaded with online modes, such as PvP and online co-op to take on the world of GGO together.

Fatal Bullet separates itself from previous Sword Art Online games, by featuring an energy hook, capable of allowing players to ascend surfaces rapidly at any time. This is perfect for when gaining the high ground is quintessential to survival on the battlefield. Also new will be the inclusion of a custom-made avatar. In previous SAO games, players could only create their own characters in online game modes. In Fatal Bullet, players can use a custom character throughout the single-player story, should they choose to. The customization options will be deeper and allow for more tailoring to what the players want.

All that said, I was ready and eager to jump into the action.

There were multiple demos present, but I chose the “sniping” mission, with a preset character. My objective was to clear the area of hostile robots. Shortly after the mission loaded, I was set off across the battlefield, which looked solid, filled with torn fortifications and a rusty, orange visual color.

The combat felt quite impressive, especially at this stage of the game’s development. My character was adept for long-distance combat, and using the sniper rifle on distant targets felt satisfying. Sounds, visuals, and effects were all solid as I engaged the enemy.

The enemy, which consisted of combat robots, was quite challenging. Initially, I had difficulty engaging, but a representative pointed out that my character had a secondary weapon. With a push of a button, I wielded a submachine gun. While it didn’t have a high damage rate, its high rate of fire made it suitable for pushing back enemies and clearing the area.  Using weapons in Fatal Bullet was satisfying, making for solid, entertaining shooting combat. Overall, the controls, as well as the feel of the combat, felt good.

Each character in fatal bullet has a variety of skills, that when activated, give your character a must-needed boost. I chose the “explosive rounds: skill, which gave my sniper rifle explosive-tipped rounds for a short while. The final target was in sight, and I was able to wear down the monstrous machine this the special skill. However, the skill ran out and I had to adapt during cool down. I tried using the energy hook to ascend certain areas, and despite a few unsuccessful attempts, I was able to ascend and use the vantage point to engage. I also observed A.I Companions in active engagement as well, shooting the enemy and giving support boosts to other characters.

We all combined forces on the final machines, with bullets flying across the entire battlefield. The sound effect, music, and presentation all made for an engaging futuristic war zone. It was incredibly satisfying slaying enemies with different weapons and abilities while working alongside the A.I Companions. The demo, while entertaining, as short. After finishing off the last machine, the demo concluded.

With a release set for March 2018, Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet is shaping to be an incredibly solid and refreshing entry to the Sword Art Online series of games, while also being a fine entry point for newcomers to both the Sword Art Online series and action JRPGS in general. The visuals are sharp and capture the look of the anime, the gameplay is well-built, and the overall experience is highly entertaining.

Sword Art Online: Fatal bullet will be available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in March 2018.

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