Review – No place for bravery

Review – No place for bravery

The breath moves in and out, like wind through a desolate valley. The mantra is repeated through lips and teeth by old and young, by big and small. It is the same ideas we sing across civilizations and cultures, a promise that comes with caveats we can never foresee. The child looks at the parents and recognizes their faults, and is unable to face them until they too find the guardian’s mantle on their shoulders. You look down into the face of the new life in your world. It cannot be the same path as those before us.

Yet, even as we utter the words with true earnest and gloomy hope, we know it cannot be true. “I don’t want to be like my father. I want to do better.” And with these broken intentions, the cycle begins again. You cannot repeat the same mistakes, but mistakes will be made. The question is: will you acknowledge them? Will you tolerate the mistakes and disasters you unleash on a young life? Or will you be too blind to recognize it, like your parents before you?

Me too, what kind of opening is that?

With No room for bravery, the darkness surrounding a father’s guilt and the inability to distinguish redemption from revenge is the driving core narrative, even if it often feels clumsily handled. We learn, through a kind of prologue dream sequence, that our main character is called Thorn, already a great start.

Thorn once had a daughter, Leaf, whom he sought out to learn all aspects of the warrior’s ways and how to survive and thrive. Leaf, through, was kidnapped by a warlock, and has been missing for several years now. Thorn has changed every aspect of his life, and now runs a tavern in a mostly quiet town, living with his wife, Rosa, and Phid, a young boy they have adopted who, incidentally, cannot walk. Thorn is very fond of slinging mead, occasionally doing some side quests, but ultimately wants to stick to the simpler stuff.

That is until helping his dwarf friend Darim brings him face to face with the sorcerer who destroyed his family. Thorn must now set out on a mission to find Leaf, who he is certain is still alive, and to bring balance and peace to his own life. Or listen to me, he could simply do not.

I feel like this line was said in at least eight different ’90s movies.

Many will take a look at No room for bravery and make assessments of what the game is really trying to sell on its own terms. There’s a lot to say about the pixel graphics, and I can’t deny that they’re gorgeous. Attention to detail is something that brings out the best Hyper Light Drifter and Super Brothers: Swords and Sworcery. When you zoom in, things get a little chunky and messy, but I think it works exceptionally well with the style and ideas that come through the game. Not to mention that reliance on pixel art really helps keep the Nintendo Switch moving despite multiple sprites and drawings on screen, although performance is still lacking at times. If there’s one thing I simply can’t fault, it’s the art style and presentation of the game. Glorious.

Imagine this fight started in a Chuck E. Cheese.

The soundtrack is also something many will point to, and it feels pretty fair too. While some of the tracks can be repetitive (especially when you’re in an area for too long), there’s so much to hear through the dynamic score that I often didn’t mind. The opening track of haunting, powerful singing and wailing is something that feels straight out of a blockbuster movie or AAA game, and I have to hand it to Glitch Factory for a positively beautiful score. The sound effects were mostly good, but again, it got a little boring hearing the same dials and squelches over and over again. Due to a lack of serious variety in enemies based on locations, you were bound to get caught in a loop of death screams when the game got moving.

Thorn, showing how he’s clearly upset that he needed to murder a bunch of people to fill jam.

The game itself is where I start to lose my grip No room for bravery. From the drop, everything seemed to indicate that I wanted to play an RPG, if an action RPG, but that facade crumbles within seconds. There is hardly anything going on that I would equate to an RPG aspect. You have one character moving forward in one direction, never leveling up and barely upgrading any aspect of their skills. You get money to buy disposable items, although many of them can be found simply from enemy drops.

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You can talk to a variety of NPCs in different cities and locations, but that doesn’t do anything other than expand the scope of the world flavor. The unlockable skills and extended weapons are fixed at different times, so you can’t exactly dedicate yourself to becoming a proficient ranged weapon user until the game decides you’re now allowed to use a ranged weapon. Aside from using your own sense of projection to make yourself Thorn, this is clearly more of an action/adventure than anything RPG related.

But hey, forget it! You can pet the dog! Gamers just want it, right?

Which then begs the question: how is the action? No room for bravery makes you feel pretty awesome right from the start with the introduction of multiple weapons and skills, then immediately wakes you up, takes away skills for the next hour, and doesn’t let you get a new weapon for at least two hours. giving you plenty of time to get comfortable with the meat and potatoes of your world: dodge and parry.

On normal difficulty, No room for bravery seems to want players in one souls headspace, carefully carving out attacks and looking for patterns before victory can be achieved. Successfully laying an enemy down gives you the option of an execution move, which shows a gory scene and also guarantees drops from enemies. Even in the prologue, the fight with Thorn’s Nightmare is a bestial affair if you thought, foolishly, that you would either just lose a fight to your literal nightmare or best it in a second. Instead, I was faced with several games across screens until I realized that these matches are going to take several minutes, both figuring out the pattern and then sneaking in and executing them.

Cutting someone in half is the right response to them not being okay with you invading their home.

This all sounds good to fighting enthusiasts, but imprecise ideas lead to imprecise confrontations. More often than not, you’ll find yourself surrounded by enemy creatures who luckily manage to shoot you all the time and not Phid (who always rides on your back). These creatures have no problem stun locking you down with multiple attack points, which is exceptionally annoying in one of the earlier boss fights where archers pinned me in place for the Big Bad to whack me upside the head. Also, God forbid you have to go into your inventory for anything out in the field, because pulling up the options or “pausing” absolutely does not stop enemies from attacking you. There’s nothing worse than just trying to figure out if you have anything else to throw at the scumbags who are wiping you out, only to get murdered in the process. What’s a boy to do?

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The answer, reluctantly, is to scale down the difficulty. I appreciated No room for braveryactive sliders for different difficulty aspects and you can simply dial down the damage the others do and how much you receive. The result is that you can now go ahead and figure out this surprisingly short game without constantly needing to restore at your last save. The downside is that the balance is incredibly weak and often tips too easily. You keep getting killed so you lower the noise a bit and now things are too easy. There is a difference in being involved Rambo and Hot Shotsand it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if you could reach a happy medium where it was possible to give yourself a break and figure it out, not either die or just rage all over the place.

Shield? To hell with that, we just updated the living room, I’ll bring this front door instead.

When it boils down, the story of No room for bravery it’s either going to resonate with you in some way on a grand scale, or it’s going to feel like very generic, well-trodden points. At this point, the story of the father/child dynamic has been really explored with some major titles (God of War, The Last of Us) and even in more dark and indie concepts (That dragon, cancer) and we have to consider whether the story of Thorn, Leaf and Phid is strong enough to keep everyone engaged as you continue to hack and slash your way through landscapes and pick up interesting but unnecessary goodies for the Codex. To be honest, I wish we could have explored more of the backstory of the giants and dragons that forged the landscape of Dewr: it carried an air of Xenoblade Chronicles and I would have been down with a game that gave you more information without being so passive.

Which is much, much further away than you think.

Instead, we see some rather familiar notes about blood versus choice, what it means to be a parent, the connection that spans generations and the like. It’s not done badly, but it also doesn’t create any completely new talk that I haven’t seen before. Don’t get me wrong, I was really moved by the ending and some pretty poignant revelations, but it wasn’t enough to regret the path taken.

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I feel like if you go on a journey where you have to eat cheeseburgers every kilometer and then finish the marathon under a banner that says “Stop eating steak”, you don’t feel like you’ve learned anything: you just feel bloated and a little annoyed. That could be the problem: No room for bravery just left me irritated and stinging at the waste of my time and the high ground I took after insisting you do all these things to move the story along.

What ultimately scares me is that it almost feels like a bait and switch, but one that was done extremely poorly. When you pick up a game that Pony Island or Fractions of frogs, you get your expectations subverted in a wonderful way that makes you glad you went on a different journey than you originally intended. To No room for bravery, it’s a strange double-dump to first give you a game you weren’t anticipating, then undo it all with a life lesson that doesn’t feel well received. In something that didn’t require me to run around a surprisingly large map with no fast travel and no reason to explore the landscape any more, it was frustrating, exhausting, and draining.

If the one chance you get to redeem yourself is just a pointless false ending, then it has no RPG at all. It’s a dark tale of a broken man and a total disregard for everything that goes into a player’s time and money. If you’re really squeamish about cynicism, you can enjoy the graphics, the soundtrack and some of the better fight moments. Otherwise, you’re stuck in the same paradox as Thorn: unable to admit that it’s all been a lie.

Amazingly rendered pixel art on both a small and large scale, elements of this game sing from a visual perspective, including the gruesome execution animations.

Intense combat that came on really strong and needed to be balanced, some okay weapons and skill upgrades, and way too much running around a map with no fast travel options.

A brilliant soundtrack that highlights a good selection of musical elements to create mood and atmosphere from place to place. Sound effects were somewhat basic but didn’t hinder the story.

Long load times, clumsy metaphors and narrative, and the feeling that the game took itself both too seriously and not seriously enough left me very cold towards this lukewarm piece.

Final verdict: 5.5

No Place for Bravery is now available on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of No Place for Bravery was provided by the publisher.

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