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 of old and young, of those great and small. It’s the same ideas we chant across civilizations and cultures, a promise that comes with caveats we can never anticipate. The child looks upon their parents and recognizes their flaws, unable to face them until they, too, find the mantle of the guardian upon their shoulders. You look down into the face of the new life in your world. It cannot be the same path that was walked by those before us.
Yet, even we the words tumble forward with true sincerely and bleak hope, we know it cannot be true. “I won’t be like my father. I will do better.” And, with these fractured intentions, the cycle begins anew. You may not repeat the same mistakes, but mistakes will be made. The question is: will you acknowledge them? Will you own up to the failures and catastrophes you unleash upon a young life? Or will you be too blind to recognize it, like your parents before you?
With No Place for Bravery, the darkness that surrounds a father’s guilt and the inability to separate redemption from revenge is the driving core narrative, though it often times feels clumsily handled. We learn, through a sort of prologue dream sequence, that our protagonist is named Thorn, already a great start.
Thorn had a daughter once, Leaf, who he sought to teach all aspects of the warrior ways and how to survive and thrive. Leaf, through, was kidnapped by a warlock, and has been missing for years now. Thorn has changed all aspects of his life, and now runs a tavern in a mostly quiet town, living with his wife, Rosa, and Phid, a young boy they’ve adopted who, incidentally, cannot walk. Thorn is perfectly happy to sling mead, occasionally do a little side questing, but ultimately wants to stick to the simpler things.
That is until helping out his dwarf friend Darim brings him face-to-face with the warlock that destroyed his family. Thorn now must set out on a quest to find Leaf, whom he is certain still lives, and to bring balance and peace to his own life. Or, hear me out, he could simply not do that.
Many people will take a look at No Place for Bravery and make judgments on what the game really seeks to sell on its own terms. There’s a lot to be said for the pixel graphics, and I cannot deny that they are gorgeous. The attention to detail is something that evokes the best of Hyper Light Drifter and Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery. When you zoom in, things get a bit chunky and messy, but I think that works exceptionally well with the style and ideas that come through in the game. Not to mention that reliance on pixel art really helps to keep the Nintendo Switch moving along in spite of multiple sprites and draws on the screen, though performance is, at times, still lacking. If there’s one thing that I simply cannot find fault in, it’s the artistic styling and presentation of the game. Marvelous.
The soundtrack also is something many will point to, and that also feels pretty fair. While some of the tracks can be repetitious (particularly when you’re in an area for too long), there’s so much to be heard through the dynamic score that I often didn’t mind. The opening track with haunting, powerful chants and wails is something that feels straight out of a blockbuster film or AAA game, and I have to hand it to Glitch Factory for a positively beautiful scoring. The sound effects were mostly good, though, again, it got a bit boring to hear the same slices and squelches over and over again. Due to a lack of serious variety in enemies based on locations, you were bound to be trapped in a loop of death screams once the game got moving.
The game itself is where I start to lose my grip with No Place for Bravery. From the drop, everything seemed to indicate that I would be playing an RPG, if an action RPG, yet that facade crumbles in mere seconds. There’s hardly anything that occurs that I would equate to an RPG aspect. You have one character, moving forward in one direction, who never levels up and barely upgrades any aspect of his skills. You get cash to buy disposables, though many of them can be found simply from enemy drops.
You can talk to a variety of NPCs in various towns and locales, but it doesn’t do anything save for expanding the scope of the world flavor. The unlockable skills and expanded weapons are firmly set at different points in time, so you can’t exactly dedicate yourself to becoming a skilled ranged weapon user until the game decides you’re now allowed to use a ranged weapon. Other than using your own sense of projection to make yourself Thorn, this is distinctly more of an action/adventure than anything RPG related.
Which then begs the question: how’s the action? No Place for Bravery sets you up feeling pretty awesome from the very beginning with the introduction of multiple weapons and skills, then promptly wakes you up, takes away skills for the next hour and doesn’t let you get another weapon until at least about two hours in. Which gives you plenty of time to get comfortable with the meat and potatoes of your world: dodging and parrying.
On normal difficulty, No Place for Bravery seems to want players in a Souls headspace, carefully carving out attacks and watching for patterns before victory can be achieved. Successfully laying an enemy low gives you the option for an execution move, which showcases a bloody cutscene 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 got greeted with multiple game over screens until I figured out that these fights are going to take several minutes, both in figuring out the pattern and then creeping my way in and executing them.
This all sounds well and good for combat enthusiasts, but imprecise ideas lead to imprecise confrontations. More often than not, you’ll find yourself surrounded by hostile beings who, thankfully, manage to constantly shoot you and not Phid (who is always riding on your back). These beings have no problem stun locking you with multiple points of attack, which is exceptionally annoying in one of the earlier boss fights where archers pinned me in place for the Big Bad to smack 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” certainly doesn’t stop enemies from attacking you. There’s nothing worse than trying to simply find if you have anything else to throw at the assholes who’re obliterating you, only to get murdered in the process. What’s a boy to do?
The answer, begrudgingly, is to scale down the difficulty. I did appreciate No Place for Bravery’s active sliders for different aspects of difficulty, and you can simply turn down the damage the others do and how much you receive. The upshot is that you can now move forward and figure out this surprisingly short game without constantly needing to respawn at your last save. The downside is that the balance is incredibly tenuous and often tips too easily. You keep getting killed, so you lower the noise just a little and now things are too easy. There’s a difference between being in Rambo and Hot Shots, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if you could reach a happy medium where it was possible to give yourself breathing room and figure it out, not either die or just rampage over everything.
When it boils down, the story of No Place for Bravery is either going to resonate with you in some largescale way, 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 large titles (God of War, The Last of Us) and even in more dark and indie concepts (That Dragon, Cancer) and we have to consider if the story of Thorn, Leaf and Phid is strong enough to keep everyone engaged as you continue to hack and slash your way across landscapes and pick up interesting but needless tidbits for the Codex. To be truthful, I wish we could have explored more of the background tale of the giants and the dragons that forged the landscape of Dewr: it carried with it a vibe of Xenoblade Chronicles and I would have been down with a game that left you more information without being so passive.
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 poorly, but it also doesn’t create some brand new talking point that I haven’t seen before. Don’t get me wrong, I was properly touched by the ending and some rather poignant reveals, but there wasn’t enough to undo the path that was taken.
I feel like if you go on a journey where you have to eat cheeseburgers every kilometer, and then you end the marathon under a banner that says “Stop Eating Beef,” you don’t feel like you learned something: you just feel bloated and kind of irritated. That might be the problem: No Place for Bravery just left me irritated and stung by the wasting of my time and the lofty position taken after insisting you do all these things in order to make the story move forward.
What puts me off in finality is that it almost feels like a bait and switch, but one done exceedingly poorly. When you pick up a game like Pony Island or Frog Fractions, you get your expectations subverted in a fantastic way that makes you glad you went on a different journey than you originally intended. For No Place for Bravery, it’s a weird double dump of first giving you a game you didn’t anticipate, and then nullifying 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 investigate the landscape more, it was frustrating, exhausting and draining.
If the one chance you get to redeem yourself is just a pointless fake ending, then it doesn’t have any roleplaying to it whatsoever. It’s a dark tale about a broken man and a total disregard for everything that goes into a player’s time and money. If you’re properly gelded against cynicism, you might enjoy the graphics, soundtrack and some of the better combat 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 both in small and large scale, elements of this game sing from a visual perspective, including the gruesome execution animations.
Intense combat that came on very strong and needed to be balanced, some okay weapons and skill upgrades, and far too much running around a map without fast travel options.
A brilliant soundtrack that highlights a good variety of musical elements to help create mood and atmosphere from place to place. Sound effects were somewhat basic but didn’t impede the story.
Long load times, clunky metaphors and narrative, and the feeling that the game both took itself too seriously and not seriously enough left me very cold towards this lukewarm piece.
Final Verdict: 5.5
No Place for Bravery is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of No Place for Bravery was provided by the publisher.