The Banner Saga – A Legacy Of Difficult Choices

You and your warriors catch a breath after a desperate battle for only a moment before realizing one of the monsters, one of a race of stone men called Dredge, is making a run for one of the caravan’s precious treasure carts.

It grabs the beast pulling the cart so violently that it, the dredge, and the cart begin to slide over the edge of a rocky cliff. Your strongest warrior, a giant Varl named Gunnulf, grabs the cart with one hand and a tree trunk with the other. You barely have any time to react, and instead of telling Gunnulf to let go, or shooting the dredge which is dragging him down, you rush to his aid, ordering others to follow suit.

It quickly becomes apparent that even with your aid, the cart will soon be lost, and if you don’t let go soon you will be, too. You shout out, telling Gunnulf to let go as you do, but he isn’t fast enough, and both he and the cart fall hundreds of feet to their doom.

Not only did you lose most of what you had to trade, as well as a healthy stock of food, but a close friend whose absence on the battlefield will be keenly felt.

And legions of Dredge are still right behind you.

Rook and his daughter Alette hide from an imposing Dredge warrior.

STORY

The Banner Saga is a melancholy tale set in a doomed world where players have to worry almost as much about where their next meal is coming from as the enemy at their backs. Players must make difficult decisions, even making enemies out of close allies to do what they feel is best for the survival of the caravan.

With several great wars behind them, mankind and the gigantic horned Varl enjoy an age of uneasy peace. But now the sun has stopped moving, and an ancient enemy, the Dredge, has started marching south, destroying villages and killing Varl and human alike. Walled cities are few and far between, and in times as desperate as these, humans and Varl can be as dangerous as any Dredge.

Strangers may end up becoming fast friends, willing to risk their lives for you in battle… or they may slit your throat and steal your supplies while you sleep. Will you turn them away or welcome them in?

It is up to Rook, a hunter from a small village, thrust into leadership by tragedy, to lead survivors to somewhere, anywhere, they can be safe from the coming storm.

The Banner Saga is part of a trilogy, so if you complete this game, your progress (and the consequences of your specific choices) will carry over to the next part of the story.

GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS

The Banner Saga is a grid-based strategy game in which players control a team of six warriors which consist of humans and Varl. Characters come in a wide array of classes, and each character has a special ability and passive skill which gives them their own distinct flavor.

Winning battles awards Renown, can be used to Promote warriors, granting them special abilities and increased stats. It is also what merchants require as compensation to buy food…

Humans can move quickly around the board, but they can be overwhelmed easily by multiple enemies. The Varl, on the other hand, are giants (and they hit like giants), but they are slow moving and take up four spaces on the board. Balancing your fighting force is essential to achieving victory.

When attacking, players will have to choose between attacking an enemy’s Armor or Strength. Strength behaves as both Health and Attack, so as a unit approaches death, the amount of damage they deal also diminishes.

While the grid-based movement system will be immediately familiar to fans of Disgaea, Fire Emblem, or Final Fantasy Tactics, the Strength/Armor system (and other mechanics) make for a unique experience.

However, Armor reduces the amount of Strength damage characters take, and high enough armor can even deflect attacks against Strength entirely, so you’ll need to decide when it is best to attack Armor and set up for a killing blow, or attack Strength to reduce the amount of damage the enemy can deal for the rest of the battle.

Thoughtful decision-making is required for more than battlefield tactics, as decisions you make during conversations or while leading your caravan through the world will have a serious impact on how your story plays out.

A good leader must know when to push their companions, and when to set up camp. Treat your allies well, keep them rested and well fed, and they will fight, risking their lives, for you.

If strong villagers want to join your caravan to escape death at the hands of the Dredge, you will increase the size and strength of your fighting force, but you will consume more supplies every day. If you trust the wrong person, or make a decision that costs the group, morale will plummet, which can lead to troop desertion, or worse.

GRAPHICS & SOUND

Banner Saga features absolutely gorgeous hand drawn animations and sequences, which play like a gritty, earthier version of The Sword In The Stone. Visuals are clean and crisp, and the detailed art conveys a sense of scope that is truly impressive.

Whether playing in handheld mode or docked on the big screen, the visuals are beautiful, crisp, and evocative.

Not content playing second fiddle to the game’s stunning visuals, the game also has a score masterfully crafted by Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory. Drums sound throughout battle, accompanied by majestic horns that swell with the action, creating a tense environment.

When traveling through the wastes, however, the music fades imperceptibly, allowing the howling northern winds to evoke a sense of deep solitude, even in the midst of throngs of compatriots.

The Banner Saga does an excellent job of establishing stakes, and creating a sense of history to the world. It feels old, as do the Varl, who struggle in vain to survive in a world where no new Varl will ever be made.

CONCLUSION

The Banner Saga is an excellent strategy RPG which takes place in a thoroughly fleshed-out world, and even though the story it tells is fantastical, the characters feel painfully real, and their desperation is palpable.

Having played Banner Saga 1 and 2, I can heartily recommend both this game and it’s sequel, and I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of Banner Saga 3.

Leadership carries a heavy burden, and players will have to make decisions they do not like. The choices I made as Rook and Hakon stuck with me, as did the memory of those I lost along the way.

While not everyone will survive, their stories will be stitched onto The Banner, to be retold in the coming years, should the world survive.

Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Versus Evil
Developer – Stoic
Release Date – May 17, 2018
Price – $19.99
Genre – Strategy, Role-Playing
Players – 1
Size –  3.1 GB

Brian Barnett has loved video games ever since his uncle Jimmy introduced him to them at the ripe old age of five. His wife, Audrey, was also introduced to video games by her uncle, lending credence to Brian’s theory that behind every gamer, there is a cool uncle.

Since playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Brian has had a passion for Nintendo games. The first thing he did when he started earning money was save up and buy himself a Game Boy, and they quickly became inseparable. Through the years, this led to his special love of portable game consoles, so the release of the Switch is the perfect storm of Nintendo action he has been waiting for.

In addition to his gaming obsession, Brian enjoys playing drums, writing and listening to music, and hosting a weekly video game and nerd culture podcast.

He is an extrovert, and loves talking about and playing games with others, so let him know if you want to team up and play together!

Plays: Switch, New 3DS, SNES, NES, GBA, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita

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