The Banner Saga is a brutal, beautiful, and unforgiving title, one where hardships are everywhere. The game touches on sensitive topics ranging from racism, politics, pain, and sacrifice, but brings it all full circle with an impressive and powerful strategy RPG experience.
+Plays extremely well on the Nintendo Switch
+Graphics, sound, and even performance are absolutely spot-on for the 4-year-old game
+Controls can be a bit problematic, but never-the-less, they are absolutely easy to learn
+Can be played entirely in touchscreen mode
+One of the most engaging stories the Nintendo Switch has to offer
-Small bugs that can be a slight nuisance from time to time regarding ability uses
When it comes to games that are both brutal in both aesthetic and gameplay elements, it’s hard not to take note of the experience that is about to unfold before you. As a game that seems heavily inspired by the ancient Norse, one may only wonder how beautiful and pristine the landscapes can be.
In recent days games like I Am Setsuna, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and God of War have ushered in a new era of games that drive themselves on their artistic beauty, their narrative, and the settings in which they occur. Such is the way with games like The Banner Saga, which originally released in 2014 for PC, iOS and Android with both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions following shortly after in 2016 only to have recently launched on the Nintendo Switch. Which brings forth the point. We aren’t going to be discussing the story all that much, but rather, taking a more technical look at the recently released title.
The story – as spoiler-free as we can get
In The Banner Saga by Stoic Games, players are put in a dramatic yet amazingly beautifully told epic adventure. One where inhabitants of this game’s world aren’t ones that fall under just psychological turmoil, but also one that was tied to its political underminings from one tribe or another. Because of rising tensions between the peoples, choices become a moral turning point in the game, sometimes granting the player with beneficial gains based on the choices made.
This can be based on your peoples moral, characters to unlock, and even the amount of active fighters you’ll have among your caravan. But unlike the usual choices that are put before you, The Banner Saga is a winter-filled epic, one where your choices come with very real consequences for the characters that you will meet. Sadly, the odds facing the cast of characters is absolutely heartbreaking as winter is setting in, resources are scarce and an inhuman enemy quickly approaches.
While the game does seemingly approach with a Games of Throne-esque pattern of suffering and despair, it’s almost relieving when you finally find your bearings and the story unfolds before you. It’s a unique blend of elements infused with racism, politics, emotions, and strife. To put it bluntly, it almost seems impossible to digest at first, as you will learn quite a bit about the sensitive topics at hand within the games first 30 minutes of play. But how it plays? That’s a whole new story that we will explore.
Graphics, performance, and sound – as beautiful as it was the first time through
The most admirable feature of The Banner Saga on the Nintendo Switch is the fact it performs just as you would hope. In both handheld and docked modes, the Switch handles Banner Saga in an admirable manner. It’s smooth, it’s crisp, and graphically – it looks like a living storybook that plays out before you. The best part of it all? It seems there was not a single sacrifice made in order to bring the game over to the handheld hybrid device.
Oddly enough, framerates are consistent with a steady resolution of 1080p while docked and 720p while in handheld mode. However, it’s not noticeable whether or not the game is indeed at 60fps or locked at 30fps for the sake of performance. It is worth noting that the framerates do not drop and performance remains consistent, not seeing a hiccup at all even during some of the games busiest moments, which, well, really don’t exist, which makes it a perfect candidate for the Nintendo Switch.
Since performance is up for discussion, we do need to talk about battery life while playing The Banner Saga as some of you may be wondering how long it lasts. Oddly enough, my battery lasted quite a long time with The Banner Saga. My longest session ran a good six hours before hitting the 20% charge remaining mark. If you ask me, it’s an impressive feat. when said and done. Many games have driven my Switch’s battery down rather quickly, leaving me connected to a charging cable or playing in docked mode while my battery replenished. But that’s nothing compared to the sound design for the game.
One of the most enchanting parts of this game is the sound design that has been placed before us. The Banner Saga is a charming game, one brought to life by its unique cast of characters, beautiful songs, charming ambient noises, and even the beyond believable clashing of metal and wood as combat ensues.
If you decide to play in handheld mode, I highly suggest playing with a pair of headphones. Personally, I used my Razer Kraken Pro V2’s during my time with the game. Every sound, every clash of steel, every clunk of a shield, and even the dull roar of combat filled my ears before dying out and being forever consumed by the wintery winds that whisp about my characters in the frozen wilds.
The game itself is impressive by every means of the word impressive. It’s a game that is ultimately brought to life by its artistic and audio designs. But that’s not to say that you’ll always get a chance to use a headset if you play the game while docked. Unfortunately, this is one of the many drawbacks of the Switch itself unless you have a wireless headset laying around that can connect ot the HDMI or USB ports of the Switch’s dock. If you can, then please, definitely give the game a chance with a pair of headphones.
That’s unless you want to deal with long cables and or having your Switch sit beside you in its dock. But onwards my friends, the Dredge are upon us. Let’s talk gameplay.
Gameplay – The Dredge are really causing some problems.
Gameplay is an interesting ordeal when it comes to a game that can be played with both a Joy-Con or simply by taking advantage of the Nintendo Switch in its tablet mode. This means no Joy-Con’s connected and your fingers using the touchscreen as your controller. To some, this may be a bit problematic and to others, it may be something to enjoy. After all, The Banner Saga did initially launch for PC and mobile devices in 2014.
The gameplay itself is pretty straightforward. While in camp, you’ll find yourself primarily using the left and right sticks to move around your camp, mostly using the right one to highlight what building or person you wish to select and using A to do so while using the left thumbstick to pan the camera up and down and side to side. But in combat, this approach doesn’t work quite as well.
I’ve found myself struggling from time to time while trying to use character abilities. Once selecting one, I found that simply choosing my ability and confirming how I wanted to use it with the press of “X” didn’t activate my ability of choice. Rather, I had to select the ability, tap the screen to select which foe I would want to hit. In turn-based combat, this can be slightly problematic, especially since combat itself can take quite some time and a wrongly selected target could cause some trouble for your party.
More often than not, I found myself having to play the game in tablet mode, resorting to the Joy-Cons only when I needed to navigate the in-game menus. Just as you would imagine, this is problematic across the board. The game wasn’t giving me the option to completely use the Joy-Con’s had I wished. Instead, I’ve been stuck selecting my ability, tapping on the screen during combat phases before moving on with the fight.
Luckily, over time, this became less of a problem than I had originally seen it to be. While it is still an annoyance in its own, it doesn’t mean that Stoic is overlooking the problem, but could be considered a potential patch in order to address the issue at hand. Luckily, it wasn’t encountered while the game was played with the Switch being docked.
But as you can imagine, the gameplay itself is a pretty standard affair for those familiar with Strategy RPG titles or those who’ve looked into titles such as The Banner Saga once before.
The Banner Saga – Android, iOS, Linux, PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Developer: Stoic Studio
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release Date: Available Now | Trilogy Edition: Sept. 21, 2018
Cost: $19.99 | Trilogy Edition: $49.99
The Conclusion to this chapter.
When said and done, The Banner Saga translates rather well to the Nintendo Switch. While I did encounter minor issues with the game, it seemed my problems vanished once the game was played with the Nintendo Switch being docked. Luckily enough, the problem wasn’t a horrible one nor was it one that defaced the value of the game.
Even with its slightly dull moments and a cliffhanger ending, The Banner Saga is a worthwhile title and thanks to the portability of the Nintendo Switch, it’s a title that’s worth getting the chance to play for those who love story-driven titles in fantasy-themed lands from afar.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got another chapter to get started on before the Dredge once more find where I’m hiding.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.