Earlier today, Bandai Namco revealed the vaguely named Projekt1514 to be Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, the latest entry in its long-running list of Sword Art Online inspired games. And if you were to look at the reveal trailer and the new gameplay video, you might notice it bears a striking resemblance to a popular PlayStation Vita title from 2014: Freedom Wars.
Freedom Wars for the PlayStation Vita is one of the major Monster Hunter variants along with Soul Sacrifice, Ragnarok Odyssey, God Eater and Toukiden. Despite the crowded pool, it managed to carve out its own niche by having an interesting design and setting, along with unique combat mechanics. Just like in the other games in the genre, players are frequently tasked with taking down larger enemies that require more finesse than the average opponent; and that finesse came in the form of thorns, which are essentially grappling hooks which players could use to move around the field or latch onto enemies and attempt to cut their limbs or external weapons off. What made this mechanic so entertaining, is that not only would destroying these parts cause damage to the enemy, it would force them to change their movement or attack patterns (an enemy without any viable means to attack will resort to charging or jumping on players, for example).
Of course, the thorns in of themselves helped add to the complexity of the game, as there were three different types of them: red, green and grey. Red thorns could be used to trap and immobilize enemies, green thorns could be used to heal and revive allies and gray thorns could be used to boost a teammate’s defense or create barriers which blocked gunfire. When combined with six fully-customizable groups of weaponry and a customizable support unit with its own batch of weapons, there were plenty of ways to tailor your character to a given situation and there was little chance of finding a player who had the same setup as you online.
The game was very successful, attaining the second highest all-time opening sales for Vita software sold in Japan at the time and found a solid fanbase in other regions. Many had hoped that it would get a sequel, especially considering how the story ended; and while nothing was ever concrete, producer Junichi Yoshizawa did state during an interview in 2015 that a sequel would be possible depending on fan demand. Unfortunately, its the latter half of 2017 and there still has been no official mention of a Freedom War sequel.
Yet with the hopes of a sequel almost completely dead, there is still a lot for Freedom Wars fans to look forward to in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet. Obviously, SAO: FB is not a straight-up replacement for a Freedom Wars sequel, but its hard not to notice the similarities between the two games after looking at some gameplay which recently surfaced on Dengeki Online’s YouTube Channel.
Just from this bit of gameplay, we see that players will be able to split into groups of four in order to carry out missions in multi-layered levels. Additionally, we see that players have two sets of weapons and there are multiple types of them (so far there are swords, pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles). There’s no indication that any of these weapons will be customizable to the degree that was seen in Freedom Wars, but weapons with different effects have been a facet of the series for the past several entries, so there’s a chance it could reappear in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet too.
There’s also the presence of grappling hooks which function somewhat similarly to the way thorns worked in Freedom Wars, though we only see it being used for movement in the video. It’s still possible that they could still be used for other purposes, such as support or latching onto giant enemies, and if that’s the case, then it might be tied into the game’s class system (for example, Kirito might be able to use the hook in a more offensive manner than Sinon because he is a melee class instead of a sniper).
Of course, there’s still the chance that placing such high hopes on Fatal Bullet might be a little too hasty and this point. Yes, the gameplay does resemble Freedom Wars so far, but its still an SAO title and they’re known for not having particularly large budgets. What’s more, developers now have to worry about using that budget to develop a game for three platforms — PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC — instead of just the PS4 and Vita.
Reservations aside, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet does still mean good things for Freedom Wars fans. Anything resembling a title as entertaining as Freedom Wars is greatly appreciated; and regardless of how well it does, Freedom Wars will be at the top of fan’s minds when they think of this game (it already is for some) which might cause them to become vocal for a sequel again. Hopefully, the right people listen will listen this time.