There’s a compelling world on display in Glitch Factory’s No Place for Bravery, and the top-down action game wastes no time hinting at the game’s storied past. Early on in the demo, you see a distant town built among the ribs of a slain titan. It’s a sight that’s breathtaking for us players, but the protagonist, Thorn, seems all too familiar with the sight — it’s a world where even the very landscape is built from devastation, and he played a role in devastating it. The game’s story revolves around Thorn’s attempts to move beyond that blood-soaked past.
There are going to be people who claim that No Place for Bravery is a soulslike. They won’t be wrong.
The current build has some glitches and rough edges that’ll need to be smoothed out if it hopes to reach the heights of the best games of the genre, but it checks off enough boxes to fit the soulslike bill: environmental storytelling hinting at the world’s dark past, bonfires used as save points that refill health items, stamina-centric combat that requires a lot of parrying and dodging, and heavily armored bosses with giant weapons that dwarf the player and require a careful eye for patterns and telegraphed attacks.
But despite all those trappings, No Place for Bravery doesn’t feel like a soulslike. And when I take a look at the game’s brightly colored world, full of horrors though it may be, I can’t help but think it’s not meant to feel like a soulslike.
Rather, the game reminds me the most of Bastion, the 2011 indie darling that catapulted Supergiant Games into the spotlight. Besides the bright colors and top-down perspective, both have a thematic link: the lingering presence of hope in the face of tragedy as the main characters desperately try to set things right again.
In No Place For Bravery, Thorn is desperately searching for his daughter Leaf who was kidnapped when a mysterious and violent enemy attacks his village. The story, world, and environments are, of course, far darker and bloodier than its cousin game. This brutal quality is something the game makes a point of emphasizing, forcing the player to execute every single downed foe as they pant helplessly while kneeling in a pool of their own blood.
It’s a bit awkward from a mechanical perspective, slowing down the action as the player makes their way to every defeated foe and slays them even though they no longer pose a threat. But it casts an unusually negative light on the protagonist’s actions, in which there are no clean kills and every death is 100% intentional. For a man seeking to move on from his violent past, Thorn sure seems dedicated to living a violent present.
It’s easy to see that the developers poured a lot of heart and soul into No Place for Bravery’s world and story, which they based around their own experiences of dysfunctional families and absentee parents. The personal nature of the subject matter has had a clear effect on the game, which manages to pack a lot of emotion into some of its short, dialogue-free cutscenes.
Unfortunately, that emotion is absent from the game’s dialogue, which seems unusually flat when compared to the rest of the content. This may be because the developers are Brazilian, so Portuguese, not English, is their native language. There’s nothing wrong with the game’s English translation, per se, but its dialogue lacks any sort of art or emotion in the phrasing. I wouldn’t think anything of that deficiency if not for the fact that the world and environmental storytelling hint at something more heartfelt.
Mostly, it makes me wish I spoke Portuguese, since I suspect that at least some of this emotion has been lost in translation.
Besides the dialogue, there are a few other little things that seem out of place — a dash-based platforming section that’s more frustrating than fun, tutorials that are far wordier than they need to be, and the occasional cinematic zoom during combat that doesn’t manage to add anything to the atmosphere. These little quibbles show up often enough that it feels like the game is stepping on its own toes, adding flair and features that only serve to detract from its strengths.
Still, its strengths manage to shine, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final polished product when No Place for Bravery launches in 2021 on Steam and Nintendo Switch.