Brave’s Rage is fine. It’s a new entry in a very over-saturated genre, and doesn’t do nearly enough to stand out, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with the game itself. It’s just disappointing that there seems to be a shrinking pool of gameplay structures that indies work with, at a time when we need indies to be championing greater creativity.
Brave’s Rage is a roguelike deck-building game. You move your unit of heroes across a grid in a turn-based fashion. There is a range of non-combat events and those typically deepen your deck of “cards” that you take into battle. Whenever you land on the same square that an enemy occupies, the battle starts.
We’ve all played this game before at this point. Mechanically, Brave’s Rage riffs on everything from Darkest Dungeon, to Slay The Spire, and more recent examples like Roguebook and Super Bullet Break. It has its own art style, of course (and it’s not an unpleasant one), but the only real effort that the developer has undertaken to distinguish the game from its peers is to give it an “ATB”-style combat system.
Most deck building roguelikes are purely turn-based, but in Brave’s Rage your “cards” – the things that you select to take actions – are dealt to you on a timer basis. One new card every couple of seconds. Once the card is in your hand you’re free to use it when you’re ready to, but if you get overly spammy with the cards you’re going to end up with an empty hand and need to wait for the next few turns to roll around.
Cards come in attacking and defensive forms, and different characters will make better use of certain cards. Archers, for example, do better when the bow and arrow cards (shocking, that!). On defence there’s an additional timing to factor in – by activating defence cards at just the right moment, you can really minimise the damage that your hero takes. It’s even possible to use the system in some creative ways – for example, if the enemy is projecting a ranged attack, and you select a melee card at the right time, then your character will dash forward and the arrow will fall harmlessly on the space they just vacated. It’s a little Mario RPG element that does manage to keep you on your toes, especially when you need to quickly shift between attack and defence for a couple of different characters.
Overall, the system is fine. It works. It’s enjoyable, even if the tradeoff for having a more active combat system is the depth and nuance. Most roguelike deck builders delight in giving you complex combinations of cards to build your decks out of, and then giving you the time in combat to fully bring your deckbuilding strategy to bear. This isn’t really appropriate to lay over the top of an active battle system, and while Brave’s Rage never becomes frantic, the developer has wisely avoided having too much information on screen for players to digest quickly.
What lets Brave’s Rage down is the lack of context to it all. There’s no hook in this game. It doesn’t tell an intriguing emergent narrative like what Darkest Dungeon pioneered. It lacks the whimsy and magic of something like Roguebook, or the fanservicey fun of Super Bullet Break. It’s hard to get attached to the characters, enemy, world and lore (what little is there) in Brave’s Rage, and this is like a boot to the throat for this particular sub-genre. By its nature, it’s a grind of a genre. You need to keep restarting levels, refining those decks of cards, and sometimes hoping that the draw lands your way with a bit of luck. If there’s no context to make you want to keep replying these levels… well, it’s hard to keep coming back for more.
However, the biggest downer is the levels themselves. At first, the grid-based style promises some interesting tactics and the ability to explore around for loot before taking on the end boss, but two things restrict this. Firstly, there’s the presence of rations, which are typically strict enough that you don’t drive a fairly direct line to the boss you’re going to run out. Secondly, there’s just not that much stuff to make these levels interesting to explore in the first place. Aside from enemies to find, shops to find, and the occasional ally to recruit, you’re not exactly being led down intricate story arcs and finding surprising events along the way. The desire to actually explore gets crushed very quickly.
Again I need to emphasise that Brave’s Rage does nothing wrong. It’s a perfectly competent game that belongs to a sub-genre that has become popular for a reason. There’s even a clever design element or two in the combat, and it’s clear that the developer (and I do believe the studio is a solo dev) has a talent for the craft. Unfortunately, the lack of identity or personality ultimately lets the game down. What could have been charming and bright quickly becomes mired in a loop of mediocre repetition that wears out its welcome well and truly before you get to the end.