In the Pokemon-Style Combat of Bravery Network Online, Words Hurt Just as Much as a Claymore

In the Pokemon-Style Combat of Bravery Network Online, Words Hurt Just as Much as a Claymore

The Gloam Collective is changing up turn-based team combat.

Pokemon's combat has been gradually reinforced through decades of iteration. Where Red and Blue started, new generations have added layer upon layer of concepts, building up a fervent competitive battling and raising scene in the process. Bravery Network Online, from the Gloam Collective, is looking to change all that.

The indie versus-RPG is easily relatable to Pokemon's combat, and for good reason. Damian Sommer, a developer at Gloam, says he got the idea while playing the unofficial Pokemon Showdown with fellow Gloam developer Min-Taylor Bai-Woo.

"Just being able to access those root mechanics of Pokemon was deeply satisfying, especially for game design-minded people like us," Sommer tells USG. "But we found it was sad that it was all buried underneath in the actual Pokemon games. Buried underneath just a bunch of weird mechanics that makes stuff more obtuse. The start of this was all from wanting to make a more accessible version of that."

We played it at PAX West 2019, just on the other side of the hall from another indie game, Rivals of Aether. And where Rivals reinvented the core concepts of Super Smash Bros., Bravery Network Online is re-examining the basics of combat in Pokemon; Sommer tells us Rivals was an inspiration, to take out concepts like type charts in favor of new ideas.

The attacks in Bravery Network Online aren't always conventional. | Gloam Collective

The crux of Bravery Network Online is Bravery, the future-sport of this world. Set in the year 8000-ish ("So far ahead that it doesn't really matter," Sommer says), Earth is post-scarcity and post-mortality. Every character of Bravery Network Online is, effectively, immortal. So how do you beat an immortal in a fight? Sticks and stones can break bones, but words are just as effective. Fighters in bouts of Bravery can fling words and generally play dirty, because physical damage and damage to morale are all the same to an HP bar.

"We tweaked it and tweaked it and tweaked it," Sommer says. "Then eventually, we were like, why don't we change the status effects so that they're feelings? And we just ran with that."

While a Pugilist like Seyla fights with their fists, a Paragon would focus more on humiliation or status effects. Playing through a small section of Bravery Network Online's single-player campaign, I opted to recruit Grace, a glowing diva and the ex of my future opponent. Rather than focusing completely on offense, her moves were all about disrupting my opponent's game plan. Grace's Escape Whip let me tag out to another fighter if it did damage, and she could either sing a lullaby to make the enemy drowsy or unbutton the top of her shirt to fluster them.

It might feel a little jarring at first to play a Pokemon-style game where fighters are tripping each other or humiliating them to do just as much damage as a punch or kick. But it works incredibly well, not just in adding a new dimension to combat but also a spark of personality. You're not tagging in a certain Type character or moveset, but a character, each one brimming with their own look and personality.

"Right from the get-go, we wanted individual characters," Sommer says. "We didn't want like, there's one person who's part-knight part-dragon, and another person who's part-dragon part-thief or whatever. We didn't want any of that. Instead, what we wanted was to really have personalities that we could highlight."

Bravery Network Online's biggest gambit is a gradually filling fighting game-style meter that can be expended for various advantages. Represented by batteries running alongside your team's health, you can spend a battery to either Parry, potentially blocking your opponent's next move, or add a Flourish to your next move. Those benefits can be simple, like additional damage, or they could add status effects or stat bonuses, or even offset the usual downsides of a strong attack.

Some situations still require simple solutions, like a hammer. | Gloam Collective

It adds a similar layer to the combat that fighting games have, with mind games being played out between opponents. Do you take a big swing when your opponent has enough charge to Parry? Do you spend some meter charge to pump up an attack now, or bank it for your last fighter? A team I played had a character, Erik, who seemed particularly adept at building up meter, acting as a battery for the heavy hitters on the team. This little twist opens up a lot of interesting potential in the unspoken exchange of feints and plays that make up combat.

"Really, on a core, surface level, if you pull back, it looks a lot like Pokemon," Sommer says. "But then once you get really into it, you're like, 'Oh, they changed a lot of it.' And all of those changes are justifiable in a way. They're not just for difference's sake."

Alongside a story campaign with several routes and a dense cast of personable, charismatic fighters, Bravery Network Online looks to take turn-based combat to new places. But by throwing out the manual, it might just find a following that's aching for something fresh and outside the norm. Bravery Network Online will hit PC and Mac sometime in early 2020.

Disclosure: USgamer is owned and operated by ReedPop, which also runs the PAX family of shows.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Eric Van Allen

News Editor

Eric is a writer and Texan. He's a former contributor to sites including Compete, Polygon, Waypoint, and the Washington Post. He loves competitive games, live music, and travel.

Read this next

Kunai Is The Best Feeling Platformer I've Played Since Dead Cells

This tiny robot samurai wins with precise platforming action.

What's Your Favorite Console Revision?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | The Switch Lite is out today, so let's look back on the history of console revisions.

FIFA 20 Review: This Year's Version Takes to the Streets, But It's Strongest on the Pitch

A brand new mode and some much-improved gameplay highlight an ambitious update for FIFA.

Spiritfarer's Art Director on Encouraging Relaxation, Exploration, and Just Chilling on a Boat

How Spirited Away led to a cozy management sim about the afterlife.

Borderlands 3's First Limited-Time Event Will Be a Free Halloween Ghoul Hunt

All Borderlands 3 players will have a few weeks to scoop up some creepy loot and take down a boney boss.

Apple Arcade Brings Game Pricing Concerns Back to the Forefront

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Will successful subscription services turn into their own walled gardens?


The Coolest, Most Badass Guns of Borderlands 3

Crack open those chests and see some of the fantastic weapons in Gearbox' latest.

Phantom Brigade Is a Fantastic New Spin on the Front Mission Formula

Brace Yourself Games is bringing the mech strategy genre back in a big way.

Raids, Loot, and Balance: Ubisoft Massive on The Division 2's Challenges Six Months Later

Ubisoft Massive is beginning to firm up the ongoing foundation of The Division 2.

Thinbloods and the Politics of Living Forever: An Interview with Bloodlines 2 Writer Cara Ellison

We talked love, loss, and lots of blood with one of Bloodlines 2's writers.

More on Mac

Fortnite Is Unveiling a Batman-Themed Event Tomorrow

Alfred, I need more Slurp Juice!

John Wick Hex Turns Gun-Fu Into a Strategy Game Next Month

Write down the launch date, then hide all your pencils.

Football Manager 2020 Switches to Recycled Paper Cases out of Concern for Plastic Pollution

Sega and Sports Interactive are estimating plastic savings totalling 20 metric tons.

More Indie Games

Apple Arcade Brings Game Pricing Concerns Back to the Forefront

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Will successful subscription services turn into their own walled gardens?

The 25 Best Nintendo Switch Games

Our rotating list of the best games on Switch, now updated for the Nintendo Switch Lite release!

Apple Arcade Springs Soft Launch on Developers, Some Games May Not Be Final Versions

Some iOS 13 beta participants can play games that don't even have official release dates yet.

Haven is an RPG Where You Control Two Star-Crossed Lovers at the Same Time

It's a wonderfully fresh take on video game romance.