Review: The Banner Saga Trilogy – Great things come in sets of three

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The Banner Saga Trilogy is a strategy RPG series set on the backdrop of Norse culture and mythology that combines elements of the end times, powerful enemies, and ties being broken in this amazing series that comes to a conclusion with no loose ends. It’s time to see this amazing piece of art come to an end with our review.


Pros:
+Plays extremely well on the Nintendo Switch
+Graphics, sound, and even the narrative are extremely well rounded.
+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

Cons:
-Small bugs that can be a slight nuisance such as ability usage issues.


It’s not often you hear of Kickstarter campaigns that can change one’s view on how crowdfunding games should be handled. In one such case, fans have dealt with broken promises with Comcept’s Mega-Man should-have-been successor by the name of Mighty No. 9. Fans have even had to grit their teeth as games such as Project Phoenix that remains undelivered after nearly two years after a successful backing.

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Alternatively, there are cases that undeniably stand out from the rest, which is where Kickstarters history has forever changed for the video game industry. That very history begins with Stoic games and their series The Banner Saga, a trilogy that tells the tale about a Norse-inspired end times experience placed before us on almost every imaginable platform available.

To be honest, I didn’t expect one such series to come to an end. Not that the developers have done badly by any means, but because the experiences that many have had with Kickstarter has not been the best, to say the least. For fans of strategy RPG titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics or the Fire Emblem franchise will know just what to expect from one such game. The story is placed ten steps ahead of its combat systems, allowing the story to flourish as Stoic Games has in such an artistic manner.

Since its founding, I’ve been one to overlook The Banner Saga for titles such as Jotun or even Plague Road as they do much the same in a few considerable ways. Each is unique in their own story that they tell and each offers an experience quite different from one another. When offered the chance to get my hands on The Banner Saga Trilogy for Nintendo Switch, I couldn’t but help revel in the idea that all three titles would be at my fingertips, offering me the full experience instead of beating one and then waiting for a follow-up entry.

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So how does one such series go to stand out from its competitor titles? Firstly, The Banner Saga is one built on extremely limited resources, using an inevitable end-times tale to drive its narrative forward, a narrative that plays a crucial role from start to finish. To bring it all together; Stoic Games continued forth as they have seemingly planned, retconning every side story, every decision a player has made and even using them to finish out the three-game-long adventure they had embarked upon.

Much like BioWare or Bethesda, Stoic Games has continued forth using the very essences that make their titles such memorable experiences, things such as the importance of gameplay sections, story elements, and even the decisions made by the player when acting with various NPCs across the span of all three entries.

But you may be wondering one simple fact: How can a strategy game be story focused and light on combat scenarios? How is this even possible when these games thrive on their combat missions? Well, that’s for you to find out and let’s just say, fans of TV shows such as Game of Thrones and Vikings will not be disappointed by the story they will experience.

Combat is a rather straightforward affair. When you enter a combat scenario, the area of battle is laid out as a gridded area, one where each square represents a space within the grid. Characters that fight in close quarter combat will be required to move about these squares per turn, allowing you to flank your foes or set up a defensive line that allows you to place your troops cautiously around your assailants.

Most of the time, you’ll find yourself maneuvering your melee characters such as the ax-wielding Varl who fight in close quarters so as not to let your archers hit them with an arrow and cause friendly fire. Due to the fact that The Banner Saga Trilogy does place more like a classic tactical RPG such as the CivNet or MissionForce: Cyberstorm, you will have to worry about your foes taking advantage of your positioning and using it to overwhelm you in one swift go.

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As someone who is accustomed to such style of games, getting used to the system was easy to do, but for some of you it may take getting acquainted with as it is quite different from franchises such as Fire Emblem and offer a new approach to the tactical RPG formula. The approach to combat comes in several manners. Yes, you will need to win in most cases in order to progress the game, but also, you will need to win in order to not risk losing a character for the upcoming battles as the story you’ve come to know and enjoy will progress with them on the sideline for the time being.

When combat turns to the point of the player needing to attack, you will notice that enemies have two bars, each indicated separately by their color and what they represent. One, the red representing the enemies health while the blue indicates their armor/damage resistance. The idea is that both of these serve their purpose and both of them give an idea of how well their “shield” will block the damage they take.

Ideally, this is where your tactical decisions come to play as you know you’ll need to attack both whether directly or indirectly in order to deal the damage you need. In order to ensure that your strategy is working you will need to take note of what characters abilities do what. Some will be better at breaking armor versus enemy health, which will allow you to do direct attacks on their health in order to defeat them. Others will benefit more from directly attacking the enemies health, allowing you to deal a high amount of damage in a single swing.

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This layer of depth is just what separates this from the rest. Each decision you make is critical and it will help make one think outside of the box as you progress through the trilogy, which only grows harder and forces more difficult decisions to be made as you progress through each and every title. The more you adjust to these minor strategy game formulaic changes, the more you’ll have it figured out and the better you will do over the duration of the trilogy, which sits at roughly sixty hours in duration.

Much as I mentioned, a good portion of your game is focused on its story elements that require you to travel from city to city, each one having their own events that unfold before you. One city may have a small task for you to clear out a small band of bandits while another may have you defending a defenseless caravan off the side of the path. Others will have you train your troops, gather resources, buy items your party can use and even upgrade them while you have a chance.

The most important part of this portion of the game is being able to manage your resources. Rations being the primary one that you will use in order to keep your parties moral rather high. The lower your rations get, the lower your moral will be, which in turn affects your parties performance on the battlefield. In order to test the effects, I let my rations run out, I let my parties moral hit the lowest state it had ever been in and before I knew it, members of my own campaign began to go adrift, finding other routes to take and factions to join.

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This very system doesn’t play out as you would expect, it isn’t just for aesthetic purposes. It runs through and through with how the entire game works, how every encounter you have depends on the choices you make from your parties morale in order to complete certain tasks. Even choices I made would cost me part of my caravan, watching them wander off in the cold of the night due to inviting someone new or stopping someone from drinking a bit too much and disrupting our party.

No matter what you do, there is always something working against you, something adding more depth to the game at every turn and that is where Stoic Studio has separated themselves from the rest. One can only wonder just how deep this game can actually go, how far Stoic Studio will drive themselves in order to deliver one of the best tactical RPGs ever made and that’s where one of the most memorable titles of all times comes to play.

This depth is continually managed to be driven even further by the story written by Alex Thomas. His writing capabilities are driven several steps ahead of those that came before him, offering a script that stands equal to that of franchises such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age all the while being something significantly smaller in scope and scale.

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But there is something I need to point out and bring to light more than anything else. Among the masterfully crafted title is a minor shortcoming or three that are covered up by the resourcefulness of Alex Thomas’ script. The Banner Saga Trilogy struggles in more areas than one production wise. But it doesn’t mean that these shortcomings are bad by any means. Rather, they mean that Stoic Studio found a way to present something bigger, something better and use their artistic nature to ensure that the experience they envisioned was delivered to their fans and their backers.

The only downside that got to me was the lack of voice acting in the game. It’s a series that would have heavily benefited from one such approach, allowing their fans to truly immerse themselves int he tale being told with a pair of headphones and or their home theater system. While I understand the approach they have is to make players use their imagination, to make them imagine what the characters would sound like in their perfectly designed little world, this form of storytelling leaves a bit more to be desired from one such beautifully told epic.

An epic truly inspired by the legends and tales of Norse mythology. In The Banner Saga, you will find that the gods have died, that the sun has simply stopped lighting up the world. The sun has stopped gracing the world with its warmth. The effects aren’t just minor ones. The world has been ravaged by the cold as religious and social structures have been heavily affected by these changes.

Along with the threats from the north, humanity has something else to worry about as alliances forge between themselves and the Varl, a race of giant horned men that were quite possibly crafted by the gods. With alliances forming as the end days quickly approach, it’s up to those who are willing to fight in order to do preserve all that’s left of the world. The relationships you forge, the bonds you make, the challenges you experience will all remain just as strong as you can imagine.

It’s like you’ve fallen into a carefully handcrafted piece of interactive art designed for those wanting an experience unlike any other. Whether it is the character models or landscapes, Stoic Studio has carefully designed the series that they’ve put before us, a series that could go down in the history of gaming as one of the most notable of them all.

The Banner Saga Trilogy
Platforms:
Android, iOS, Linux, PC, OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: 
Switch
Developer: Stoic Studios
Publisher: 
Versus Evil
Release Date:  Available Now
Cost: Standard: $49.99

Now that we’re this far, it’s hard to close off the review the way I’m having to after nearly a 10-15 minute read. With a bit more of a clearer idea of what The Banner Saga actually is, you will find that this isn’t a series that disappoints. With the fact you can pick up all three games on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch, you have a lot more to look forward to when you get your hand on this trilogy.


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: 7 out of 10


About the Writer(s):

dustin_batgr_prof

Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders 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.

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