It says a lot about a series like Pokémon when, for so many people, the idea of really getting into competitive Pokémon means not actually playing a commercial release in the long-running Nintendo team battler series. Instead, countless fans will hop onto a freeware alternative like Pokémon Showdown that cuts the hours of catching and grinding and breeding ideal pocket monsters from the original games and simply gives you a free selection of optimized battlers to immediately build teams with. There’s a demand for easy to access but hard to learn team battler action, and Bravery Network Online satisfies that itch perfectly. Even better, though, is that it manages to be stylish as hell while it does it.
Set in a purposefully vague post-post-apocalypse world where people live in the giant structure of Tower 6 and are also maybe-sort-of immortal, while society revolves around the ultimate competitive sport of Bravery. Teams of five decked-out battlers take turns pummeling each other with physical attacks, fire-fueled magic attacks, and even emotional attacks that hurt you where it counts – your feelings.
You play as a coach for one such team, freshly awakened into the world of Bravery Network Online as a little walking tv with an awful face drawn onto your screen. There are tiny television-shaped coaches like you in Tower 6, but this isn’t just a silly story detail – you’ll eventually earn the right to head online and fight other players as you please.
To get there, though, you need to learn the game, and that happens through a brief but engaging story mode. There’s a lot of fun dialogue and silly character interactions sprinkled throughout Bravery Network Online, and it’s an absolute delight. You aren’t going on a massive journey to topple legendary Bravery champions or anything, but there’s a fun little story leading up to you gaining access to online play that feels less like a burdensome tutorial and more of a guided, engaging little story prologue. The game could have just coasted on its unique flavour of turn-based RPG battling, but mixing such a solid amount of narrative focus in helped keep me way more engaged with the experience.
It also helped me learn just what goes into Bravery battles, and while there isn’t a lot on the surface, there’s absolutely massive room for depth and customization. Like I mentioned earlier, there are three damage types in Bravery Network Online – physical, magic, and emotional. Each character will have proficiency in dealing and defending against these damage types, but there are also special abilities that ignore these 3 categories and have unique passive properties. Characters also have an Initiative stat – a character with higher initiative will go first, but certain attacks can come with an Initiative boost that might ignore that stat difference. On top of all that, characters have special innate passive abilities and equippable jewellery that can change the flow of battle.
It doesn’t take too long to wrap your head around these concepts thanks to the way the game slowly introduces you to each of them through the initial story. The myriad of damage types in Pokémon games can be a headache to juggle, but keeping track of just three different types in Bravery Network Online is a breeze – it helps that the UI also makes it easy to mouse over your opponent to see their stats and abilities in order to gauge how much damage you might dish out or take in a turn.
The best part of Bravery Network Online is that the full potential of your characters and team composition is immediately accessible. Characters don’t need to level up, you can simply edit their attacks and abilities freely in the team management menu once you’ve unlocked them. You can even adjust the stats of your characters slightly, giving a bit of an extra buff to a physical-focused defender if you please. It only takes a few hours to get the money needed to unlock all 15 current characters, and maybe a couple of extra hours to buy all of the currently available equipment, so the grind to achieve competitive status is barely a thing. You’ve got fun little trinkets like customisation options for your coach body or team-wide colour palettes to grind money out for, but Bravery Network Online is much more focused on getting you into the full breadth of the action as soon as possible.
There’s a lot of solid stuff in Bravery Network Online, and for an Early Access game, it’s already an incredible proof of concept. The sharp art and easy to approach gameplay mesh perfectly, and while the game is definitely light on story content beyond the initial prologue phase, the competitive side of the game already feels fully realized. It’ll be interesting to see what gets added or changed as the community helps drive the game through Early Access, but if you’re itching to try the game and don’t want to wait until full release, there’s already plenty to see and do in the world of Tower 6.