The Banner Saga Review: Making Difficult Decisions On and Off the Battlefield
The Banner Saga is a nice change of pace from most games we see today. Not only is it a tactical RPG requiring difficult decisions like in a game a chess, it has an extremely interactive story. What you do in the story is often more important than what you do in battle. I commend Stoic Studios for creating a game like this.
There are several reasons this story is fantastic. I love the text/choose your own adventure approach to the game. It was refreshing and nostalgic way to read through the story.
While traveling, I got a sense of the classic game, Oregon Trail. Scenarios constantly popped up that could threaten the caravan, plus you have to keep your supplies up to stop people from starving. Decisions you make along the way will determine how many battles you have and how many supplies you get.
The power of choice couldn't be more important than in The Banner Saga.
There are times when there are voice overs, which are excellent, but they do not happen often. It made me pay closer attention to the story because I had to actually read through what was going on to make my decisions. I also listened to the voiced parts more carefully since they did not happen often.
The story itself was quite enjoyable. I always wondered what would happen next, and if I made the right choice. You get connected to the characters very easily, plus you might have a unique experience because of the multitude of choices that you make throughout the story. Make no mistake, the gameplay is fun, but the story is this game's selling point.
Game Play: 8/10
Now for the combat. It is your standard tactical RPG, such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, but with some unique qualities. Each unit has two bars to keep track of. One is the health bar. This bar determines not only how much health a unit has, but the strength of their attacks as well. As their health goes down, so does the damage they deal.
The other is the shield bar. This determines how much damage a unit will take. A high shield will cause little to no damage from attacks. Doing damage to shields will not damage the unit, but it will make them vulnerable to take more damage. This concept puts another layer of strategy in the game. Deciding when to damage shields or health can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The innovative battle system in The Banner Saga will have you hooked.
Leveling is different as well. There are two things that determine leveling, or promotion, as it's called in this game.
First, each unit has to defeat a certain number of units to get promoted. This does not mean you can just put them in a fight either, they have to finish off the unit to earn credit.
Second, once a unit has achieved the required number of kills, you must spend a certain amount of Morale, the game's currency, for promotion. Both required kills and morale cost go up as a unit continue to get promoted.
You can only have six units in combat. There also many different classes. Choosing who to take, promote, and which stats to raise, all contribute to the strategy of the game.
The music fits very well with the story and reflects every moment perfectly. The music in The Banner Saga serves to amplify your emotions in an already moving story.
Austin Wintory creates a moving score, and the Dallas Winds bring it to life.
The sounds in combat are crisp and realistic. I was actually surprised at how good the music and sounds of this game were. If you pre-ordered the game, you are lucky enough to have three exclusive tracks from the game. I do not what they are, but based on playing the game, it will be fantastic.
The art in this game is hand drawn and actually stunning. Each character has such detail, though some of the characters look very similar. There is not a lot of movement, but considering that everything in the game is beautifully hand drawn, from a single person I believe, it is easy to overlook.
There is animation in the background and of the characters during dialogue, so that's bonus. The art style is unique to what you usually see and I commend them for going this route.
The Banner Saga is a great tactical RPG experience. There are only a couple of things that could have made it better. The menders are interesting and I wish there were other types of playable ones. Having other types of magic would have brought even more depth to the combat.
Also, I loved the story, I just wanted more. This isn't really a bad thing, I just would have liked to see more after the ending. However, there are plenty of different things to see throughout the game, so you will replay it over and over to see it all.
The game is fairly cheap, $20 if pre-ordered and $25 if not. You definitely get more than you paid for in this game, plus the multiplayer equivalent, The Banner Saga: Factions, is free. All available on Steam.
This game is a must-buy for fans of tactical RPGs and storytelling. Even if you are not sure about those things, try it out anyway. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy this game.