PAX West 2019: Bravery Network Online Evolves Competitive Pokemon

I love Pokemon. But it’s not the creature designs or the vivid worlds that keep me coming back to the series — it’s the battling. The games have a surprisingly deep competitive core, but access to it is gated behind hours of in-game grinding. That’s where battle simulators like Pokemon Showdown come in, focusing on the battling and letting players freely try different teams and move sets.

Bravery Network Online is being developed by a team deeply into this competitive aspect of Pokemon, and the game is a gorgeous refinement of that series’ battle mechanics, with stylish, immortal superbeings taking the place of pocket monsters.

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Set in a futuristic city entirely within the confines of one massive tower, Bravery Network Online has players building teams of characters with their own moves, stats, and abilities and then taking them into battle against rivals. The game is primarily about the multiplayer experience, but there’s also a single player mode. But I nlike Pokemon, where the campaign is a grind to build up your monsters, Bravery Network Online’s solo mode is more about the stories of the game’s 25 characters and sets up unique battle scenarios different from what you’ll see in the main PVP mode.

If you’ve played a Pokemon game, a lot of the core gameplay will be familiar. Players have a team of characters they can switch in and out, and select moves to use in a turn-based battle system. But there are a few major changes to the formula.

First, there are no types in the Pokemon sense, which means no type effectiveness charts to memorize. Each move is either physical, emotional, or digital and each character has attack and defense stats for each, similar to Pokémon’s attack/special attack split.

Additionally, there is almost no randomness. In Pokemon, random chance plays a large part in battles — moves may miss, critical hits can trigger, and so on. In Bravery Network Online, you instead build up Charge, similar to a super meter in fighting games. You can use this meter to trigger critical hits and to parry moves, adding another layer of strategy.

These two changes simultaneously make the game easier to understand and more challenging to master. The developers told me that the default builds for each character are intentionally pretty useful, but players will also be able to develop their own custom movesets for each character through battling online.

Speaking of, the characters ooze personality and charm. They range from cute hackers to suited toughs to graceful boxers, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In the short time I spent with the game I found myself already growing attached to them.

Even if you’re not as deep into Pokemon battling as I am, you should keep an eye on Bravery Network Online. It plays like a fighting game without the twitch aspect, has a beautiful, unique look, and is being developed by people with a strong understanding of competitive game design. I can’t wait to play it early next year.