I’m not an avid player of fighting games. As much as I can enjoy them casually, I never get invested enough to get through the learning curve and achieve something more. Bravery Network Online feels like a weird entry in the genre that was mixed with turn-based combat instead, but still manages to maintain the thrill of encountering someone in the world and trying to take them down. For me, it’s more of a matter of trying not to get my ass kicked too much.
Last week I had the opportunity to take part in a 2 hour long beta session, trying out the build that will become a public demo soon. It started with a tutorial that also introduced the first minutes of the story, introducing the universe and giving a brief, yet still enigmatic explainer of what this is all about. A couple seconds in, I was controlling a TV of sorts with the face of an old man in display, and the premise revolved around trying to purchase a new one that wouldn’t put me to shame in front of everyone.
This served as a mere tutorial, but I laughed out loud several times thanks to its witty and funny dialogue. It has a certain millennial flavor to it that works wonders, and there’s often descriptions of what the characters are feeling or thinking in certain situations, which makes it stand between a visual novel and a comic book. The cast of characters, while I barely got to know them, had me hooked enough during this introduction, and I hope the final game has a more thorough focus on them, since I desperately want to know more about their backgrounds and stories.
After meeting all these cool-looking champions that would later make me bite the dust, there were several tutorial bits around the combat. Bravery Network Online is more than just great looks, and these introductory battles quickly put me into the right place about it. You control a group of up to 5 characters at the time, and then clash with another band of rascals. It’s turn-based, but there’s ways to bypass your enemy’s turn if you keep an eye on who has the higher initiative.
Everything continues to escalate from there, and becomes more of its own thing. You have your regular physical attacks, but there’s also the addition of digital and emotional ones, each representing a stat in your character that is formed by an attack and defense number. You can also use tricks that can, for example, make a foe hungry and therefore cause them to lose a chunk of life in each upcoming turn. Lastly, there’s batteries that get charged up after a certain number of attacks, and grant you the possibility to riposte an ability (unveiling a secret condition to make for a more powerful attack or impose a different buff/debuff) or counter an upcoming ability from the enemy (but doing so will destroy one battery for the entire encounter).
It all becomes a bit of a chess match from here. Each character in both groups has its own stats surrounding these categories, so it’s always best to try and pick the one that will outmatch your adversary. All this info is available for both players, but the trick is that you can never predict what’s going to happen in the turn. There were times in which I carefully planned a strategy against a certain character, executed the ability, and then saw my enemy swap it for another one, making my advancement useless. Some abilities even let you attack and then retreat that character automatically after performing them, so there’s a lot of experimentation to do around placement.
About half an hour in, I was done with the story part of the demo. Now I could access a new room in the tower (a hub of sorts where you select locations, although the ones regarding customization were clearly not available in the closed test) and engage in multiplayer battles. Panic immediately joined for a tag team, knowing full well what the outcome would be, but I went to the lobby and began matchmaking anyway. Here, I was able to select the same group from the tutorial, or pick two completely different ones with new characters. I had the chance to try them all throughout several encounters, and the variation was great. I never felt like two of them were alike, and aside from some close stats, they all play differently and demanded a certain attention and strategy that felt unique each time.
As expected, I lost almost all of my battles in Bravery Network Online, tunning off just a couple minutes before the session ended. The ones I won, however, felt great. But I just enjoyed the thrill of each match individually, trying to pick up strategies from other players and use them in future encounters. Unpredictability is, as I mentioned before, a huge part of each battle, but I wasn’t a fan of how long some encounters took. I always went into each one thinking that I had the possibility of turning the tides if things went south no matter what, but I was quickly struck with the realization that this isn’t always the case. Thankfully, you can just forfeit and let the other player win, but I would love to see a middle ground of sorts. I’m sure it might come to balancing at some point, but the first few matches where I knew I didn’t have a chance to win felt like a slog until I gave up and started forfeiting.
That being said, I really enjoy my time with the demo, even during defeats. There’s a certain vibe to the world that kept me clicking on the matchmaking button over and over, and suddenly an entire hour had passed of nothing but back to back matches. The style of each attack, how the camera zooms in during attacks and lands the blow in slow motion, the icons floating on the screen when using special abilities, from internet pop-ups to baseball slams – everything does a great service of making each encounter flashy, intense, and ever engaging. I’m excited to see more of Bravery Network Online in the future, and after my early hands on with it, I am looking forward to facing even more defeats.