No Place for Bravery Review – A Messy Pixel Souls-like

No Place for Bravery Review – A Messy Pixel Souls-like

No Place for Bravery, on paper, seems like a game I would enjoy. It takes from other Souls-like games in its design concepts, and I generally enjoy Souls games. However, it feels to me like Glitch Factory wasn’t exactly sure what kind of game they wanted to make, so it became a mess of concepts. Some things work beautifully, while others feel broken and messy. When those things meet in the middle, it becomes garbled and difficult to understand their intentions.

No Place for Bravery is presented in pixel art, which as a retro gamer from the 90s, I can’t help but enjoy, but pieces of it feel deceptive or messy. The outside environments are well made, with lots of color and variety, but it becomes difficult to understand what you can or can’t walk on in many areas.

Shading in some places led me to believe it was a wall instead of being the way forward, and in the cave areas, I sometimes didn’t know where the floor was. As it has a degree of platforming, this became an issue during some encounters. The pixel style reminded me a lot of a game called Uncanny Valley, and when you look at the major themes of No Place for Bravery, the connection extends beyond looks.

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Character sprites for the main cast are decently recognizable, while monsters and other NPCs are very cookie-cutter and lack personality. An entire screen of NPCs in town has the same NPC about 15 to 20 times. Monsters are the same way, recycling the same designs repeatedly with only a slight color change to signify any difference.

The presentation is extremely gory, with bodies getting dismembered, heads severed, and various other graphic deaths. In fact, there are more varieties of dismembered bodies than there are of the NPCs themselves. After the ambient beauty they pulled off on the main menu and the opening few moments, seeing the level of gore they went with took me by surprise.

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Combat is exactly what you’ve come to expect from the genre. You have your standard attack, a guard, and a dodge. You also have your health bar, a stamina bar, and a guard gauge. While the other two are what you expect, the guard gauge acts slightly strangely. Its primary function is as a stagger gauge, stunning you or the enemy if the gauge is depleted. The indicator is depleted by taking damage or parrying an attack with a well-times guard.

However, your guard gauge will deplete if your guard attacks for too long. While it does recover over time, it’s at a much slower rate than your stamina. This makes more significant encounters, which can be frequent and quite challenging to maneuver. Because every animation you do, whether attacking, guarding, or dodging, has a wind-up. This becomes the most significant problem. Inputs in No Place for Bravery get dropped or interrupted frequently, so often that I can’t tell if it’s a feature or a glitch. Significant encounters are not only mechanically annoying but can actively set you up to fail at any given moment.

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More challenging enemies and bosses are another breed entirely. When combined with your slow animation speed, stagger gauge, and strange platforming, the encounter designs become incredibly unfun and frustrating. If you manage to fail a platforming challenge, and you will, you take damage and reset your position, probably into an oncoming attack.

Your weapon swings, dust particle effects, and enemies flashing from taking damage can easily mask enemy attack tells, making it difficult to know when to raise your guard or dodge slowly, and none of your attacks can be canceled by your guard or dodge, so you fully commit to each action you take. In a room full of projectiles and enemies advancing on you, combat scenarios become pure chaos and often unfun as you get stunned into death.

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Like other Souls-like games, you have checkpoints all over the map, and resting at one will reset enemy spawns. You can also use these checkpoints to learn skills, which are confusing, as they cost you coins and special items to learn the skill. The coin cost is very low, so there is almost no point in having the coin cost. The skills themselves do nothing to tell you how to use them, and you don’t assign them. You don’t gain new armor; you don’t upgrade your stats. The entire combat design feels lazy and confusing.

However, I can say that the devs wanted to make a psychological horror game. The amount of gore, the sound design, and everything about the main character’s story lean wholly into horror. Especially the sound design, which is otherwise pretty bland and often desynced, is incredible during moments of tension and horror, with musical stings and ambient emptiness. If the experience were restructured to lean into and focus on the horror aspects completely, the entire experience would be incredible.

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The narrative wants to tell a larger story about a dying world and the chaos and bloodshed. Still, instead of presenting it cleanly or explaining what is happening, there is a page in the menu with blocks of text telling you the details of the world events. In addition, the characters will discuss events and characters during cutscenes, but with zero context or idea of what their personal goals or histories are. It’s jarring at best and nonsense at worst.

No Place for Bravery frequently gives you choices about how to proceed in the narrative, but you generally have no fundamental understanding of who to side with, what choice to make, or even if it matters. While the game has multiple endings, it feels empty and rushed as a narrative that should have taken more time to establish what was happening through dialogue between characters instead of making you read block after block of text in a menu to even understand who this group of people even were.

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No Place for Bravery, while visually interesting on the surface, is left shallow and clunky. The combat is choppy and frustrating, the stage design is confusing with perspective, enemies and other NPCs lack personality, and the majority of the sound design is unbalanced and often desynced from the actions on screen. However, it excels as a psychological horror experience. The entire game would have been much improved if they had focused on that. While the experience only lasted about 10 hours, it wasn’t an amount of time I’d say I enjoyed.

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