Writing about "Sword Art Online" games can get awkward. Part of the reason is that it's a game about a video game. The premise behind the original "Sword Art Online" is that players are trapped in a virtual reality MMO, where their lives are at stake. If they die in the digital world, they die in real life.
Dealing with this game within a game creates issues especially when talking about it. At a recent Bandai Namco event, I had to ask for some clarification about the upcoming entry "Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet."
"You have an AI partner," the Bandai Namco representative told me.
Being familiar with this series, I had to ask: "Is this a character who is an AI construct or is it a character who is controlled by the computer?"
It's the difference between asking if this character is like "Halo's" Cortana or just a computer-controlled party member similar to the ones in "Dragon Age." He said that ArFA-sys is an AI construct just like Yui in the original series. ArFA-sys joins up with the player-created protagonist in "Fatal Bullet," which is a departure from previous entries to the video game series.
First off, "Fatal Bullet" takes place during the second season of the anime series. In this chapter, Kirito and his friends manage to escape "Sword Art Online" but are drawn into another video game called "Gun Gale Online" during a police investigation of a serial killer. That premise sets the stage for the anime series but "Fatal Bullet" has its own storyline.
With a player-created protagonist, fans take part in their own story within the "Sword Art Online" universe. What's great about this shift is that the narrative feels more natural as players encounter Kirito and his friends.
Second, the gameplay has shifted from something that mimics massively multiplayer online titles to a serviceable third-person shooter. Players aim with the L2 and shoot with R2. They can also activate abilities tied to each weapon by hitting the face buttons. Some allow players to perform a special roll. Others imbue bullets with more power. Every weapon has their own set of abilities and players can even customize them. It gives "Fatal Bullet" a loot and shoot feel.
From what I played it's a welcome change for the video game series, one that includes promised cameos by Kirito and other favorites, but it's the shooting aspect that makes this edition of "Sword Art Online" intriguing.
"Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet" is scheduled for release Feb. 23.
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