Bravery Network Online is weird. The characters exist in a post-post-apocalyptic world. Everyone fights each other for sport, but some of them attack by kissing or charming the pants off their opponent. The art direction feels chaotic and frantic at first glance.
And I love it all.
I spent some time at PAX West playing Bravery Network Online while chatting with developers Damian Sommer and Min-Taylor Bai-Woo. At first, they pitched it as their take on hyper-competitive Pokémon battles. I could see that DNA running through through the game, but I also saw it as an evolution of Nintendo’s famous turn-based JRPG.
Raising the Stakes in Bravery Network Online
So let’s get the basic comparisons out of the way. At its core, Bravery Network Online pits two parties of five characters against each other in turn-based combat. Each character can know up to three moves, and certain characters are weak to specific types of attacks. It doesn’t have the excessive roster of your average Pokémon game, which I was more than okay with.
I played a handful of battles, and from the start, I felt the intense pressure. As with most turn-based games, every choice matters. One wrong move could result in losing a character. Strengths and weaknesses here weren’t based on elements, at least as far as I could tell. Instead, it was about physical or mental attacks. Hitting a weakness would devastate whoever was on the receiving end, often resulting in a one-hit kill. This made for a brutally difficult time, but it sets the tone well. Bravery Network Online is all about competition and tactically sound decisions.
The developers at Gloam elevate the combat a bit with a charge mechanic that’s reminiscent of meter in fighting games. As the fight progresses, you build up charges, represented by batteries. Once one is filled, you can use it to “flourish” one of your abilities or parry an attack. Parrying nullifies any incoming damage for that turn. Flourish, on the other hand, has different effects depending on the attack. Some provide critical hits, while others might heal your character.
These charges provide another layer of depth to Bravery Network Online. It puts more emphasis on player choice and less on random luck, encouraging you to think as many steps ahead as you can. Mind games take center stage here, much like some of the best competitive Pokémon battles. The fights I tried were fun in the controlled environment of the story demo, but I’m more eager to see how they play out online after launch.
The Charm of Bravery Network Online
These fights take place in this universe as a literal sport called Bravery. That means every match has a referee, whose design haunts my mindscape. His relatively plain look clashes so much with everything else, yet somehow he feels at home in the center of the screen. The other character designs are already pretty extra, but the mundaneness of the referee makes the others look even wilder.
That’s the beauty of the art in Bravery Network Online. It’s fresh and charming, despite the simple animations. The vibrant backgrounds present the perfect stage for the characters to stand upon—not that they need any help standing out. All of their designs give away a lot about their personalities, and the little bit of writing I saw bolstered that overall presentation.
I hope the story fleshes out this weird world further. Between the absurd character designs and the wild attack moves (e.g. “Lunch Invite”???), I’m left with many questions that I want answers to (like should I say yes to that lunch invite). Yet, even if I never get answers, I’m more than happy to accept this weird, intriguing world at face value, especially if the turn-based combat delivers.
Bravery Network Online will launch on PC, and Gloam hasn’t announced a release window yet. You can wishlist the game on Steam.