Taking place on a fictional island just off the coast of Japan called Kamioki-jima, this world is home to a mineral called “Enigmatite”. A strange and rare material which, in certain cases, can allow living creatures harness its power. Humans with Engimatite induced abilites are known as the “Unleashed”. In order to train the unleashed, a special school known as the “Unleashed Nursery” (UN) was built on the island, with further labs researching the mineral also in close vicinity. Because of the abundance of enigmatite as a natural resource on the island, there is a high appearance rate of Neoplasms – an occurence when animals become strengthened by Enigmatite and become a danger to the public. These have to be dealt with by the Unleashed. After a major incident many years ago, the world has managed to regain somewhat of a balance between the Neoplasm and the Unleashed.
The protagonist, Kaburagi Ayumu, is an exceptionally rare Unleashed with an ability known as “Engage” – it allows him to power up the abilites of another Unleashed when body fluids are exchanged (typically via a kiss). This recent development means he is summoned back to Kamioki-jima to attend the UN. Most of the Unleashed in the school work in teams so Ayumu is paired with Ougi Kanae, an extremely powerful, yet teamless Unleashed. His new life on the island now begins, but it appears there may be more to Kamioki-jima than first meets the eye…
I’ve been playing VNs for well over 10 years at this point but Material Brave is actually the first time I’ve played one with a significant amount of gameplay. I don’t know why I’ve avoided the genre, probably laziness to be honest. However, I decided that I would give Material Brave a try as it seemed relatively fun and vanilla. Did it deliver on either good gameplay or engaging story?
I’m not entirely sure where I should start with this review but I guess explaining the system should be a decent beginning. The game itself is divided into a number of story chapters and for each chapter you have a specific number of “turns” (movement points) where you can complete quests, spend time with the heroines or enter dungeons.
In order to get an individual heroine’s ending you need to have maxed out their “likability” (affection) level to 8 and their “libido” enough to have seen their first 3 H Scenes. The latter is raised by performing combos with your chosen heroine in battle.
Dungeon movement is also restricted based on a point system and increases with your character level. There are teleports to make dungeon travel easier and also defeating enemies can restore some movement points here.
The actual fighting gameplay of this title is a 2D beat ’em up & this is simplistic enough – there is auto-guard and you can also dash/roll to avoid attacks whilst the player has a close and ranged attack. There is also a movement point system here which limits the number of attacks you can do and can make you more vulnerable to attacks from enemies when tired so attacking becomes more of a timing thing. You can pick which heroine to team up with and they will help you with useful combo attacks. Stats can be increased using the stat tree called the “Engage Board” using materials collected throughout the dungeons.
Now I might be biased because I haven’t played a hybrid VN before but I must say that I wasn’t particularly impressed. I feel that neither the gameplay or the story were good enough individually to cover for the flaws of the other.
I’ll begin with the gameplay – firstly, the game itself ran really poorly on my device. I did update the game but it was still incredibly laggy during some fights and would eat my inputs, which was frustrating at times. This, combined with the fact that the game itself crashed on me more than once meant that I got bored of it pretty quickly as the unique quality of the gameplay became more of a chore to play through. Normally I would also blame myself but I have a relatively high-end computer that is definitely above the required specs for the game so there was clearly programming issues here.
As for the story, it was a mixed bag overall. What you have to be aware of is that this game feels very much like one of those Action/Harem anime that there’s 100’s of. So don’t expect anything incredible but it also wasn’t for the most part horrendous. The one area I’d praise a lot would be the pacing as (especially during early game) I found Material Brave to be quite addictive to play and the writing was easy to read and kept me interested. The beginning of the game starts off pretty strongly in my opinion, with each heroine dedicated an introductory chapter. The game definitely develops a strong feeling of camaraderie with the heroines.
However, things start to go downhill towards the end of the game and the ending of the main story in particular. It felt incredibly rushed and unsatisfying, as though the writers got 70% through and realised they’d run out of time and budget to finish the game properly so decided to just leave it and put the rest of the game in the sequel/fandisc – Material Brave Ignition. This completely ruined my whole experience and, whilst I do plan to play Ignition at some point for closure, it shouldn’t have been necessary.
Another thing for players to be aware of is the fact that there is no actual heroine “routes” as such. When levelling up their affection they have a couple of events & the 3 foreplay H scenes. Once you pick the heroine you want in the last chapter, you get one (short) H scene and an epilogue scene/CG. That’s it. Obviously this is incredibly disappointing and you lack any real romantic development between the heroines/protagonist, although the heroines are all clearly shown to love him in the main story. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of a harem ending which makes zero sense in the context of the plot. Also, the best girl Ena – Ayumu’s childhood friend – doesn’t get a route which also doesn’t make any sense. Considering the game’s plot, she should’ve had some sort of ending but of course saving her route for the fandisc would make more people buy it.
As for the main characters, they were typically pretty generic overall – nothing particularly good or bad to say about most of them. I feel like Mashiro and Tsubomi were objectively the most interesting, with the former having the most character development/backstory. Erika, Hikaru & Kanae were all okay but nothing special or particularly memorable. The same could be said for Ayumu who performed his role as an action protagonist as expected.
Considering how plain most of the main characters were then, as you’d imagine, the side characters had no chance. Aside from Ena (#justiceforEna) the others were there to fill a role – I felt no emotions towards them even at the end of the game because they just all felt so generic and cookie cutter. You could tell me that these characters were recycled from another game and I’d 100% believe it.
One of the reasons I was drawn to this game was because of the art style – there’s a unique “flatness” to the artwork that I really like. The quality of the art was pretty variable. That being said, there’s a real lack of group CGs outside of the SDCGs which might have made the fact the game was 90% linear more palatable.
The game’s music was actually pretty decent, with the BGM fitting the mood of the scene. Ayumu only has partial voice acting (during the fighting gameplay only) which seemed a little pointless to me? Like either have him voiced during the story or leave him unvoiced, that’s just my personal preference though. The vocal songs were also of good quality.
It’s not often that I mention the H Scenes anymore but, considering the setup of the game, I was expecting more H than there actually was. Each heroine has 4 scenes, although the first 3 scenes are all essentially foreplay because clearly this is still a moege and you can’t actually sleep with multiple girls at once? Anyways, the scenes themselves are really short and underwhelming, with few CGs. I also still don’t understand why there weren’t any 3P/4P/Harem scenes given the plot in the main story.
My Score: 4.5/10
Even though Material Brave started off with an interesting world and good story pacing, it lets itself down with a lack of character development for most heroines, an unsatisfying ending and a lack of true heroine routes. The gameplay also starts off entertaining but quickly becomes more of a chore, especially when the technical problems come into play. This is not what I would expect from a full-price title from a company who have made multiple hybrid titles before.
Despite my complaints, I do intend to pick up Material Brave Ignition at some point in the future, simply for Ena’s route and to hopefully get some sort of conclusion to this story. As for other gameplay titles, I have a few in my backlog but am not in a particular rush to play them – I think I will keep my VN and gaming preferences seperate.
Thanks for reading!