Review: The Banner Saga – Chapter 1 (2014)

With beautiful Disney-esque visuals, sound, story and gameplay, The Banner Saga is an incredibly enjoyable RPG that returns the genre to its routes.

The Banner Saga is a game funded by gamers, made for gamers and it shows monsters the size of mountains, visuals straight out of a Disney movie and a story so bleak that you can’t help but feel sorry for the main characters. Decisions that kills off characters before I’ve come to realise that I care for them and peoples fates so bleak that it makes Game of Thrones look like a children’s show. But all of this doesn’t even compare to the tough turn based gameplay that, even on easy, will have you pulling your hair out.

Now this game is a great shrine to some of the greatest RPG epics we have had in the past by sticking you straight in the deep end – which is done through some of the best writing seen in recent memory and through amazing visuals & sound, with 2D animations that look like the 2D side scrolling games of old. But while the writing is brilliant it’s also where it falls down because the characters are so bleak that it makes it hard for us to really care for any of them and by the time you realise you do they’re already dead.

I feel this could have been helped if the characters had more of a voice as the voice acting is brilliant and the couple of cutscenes we have are done to perfection. It makes the story feel engaging and more alive which is what draws you into the start of the game because it doesn’t feel like a game more like a animated film.

The narrative much like the gameplay throws you in the deep end – making the game feel like a chore. Cutscenes in the game are played out with great 2D animations of characters talking to each other but when they all, more or less, have the same exact upright posture, non-moving pose about them, it makes it difficult to understand who they’re referring to, especially when you’re seeing the story from many different character perspectives, which while it works to make you feel for the characters, it can become more of a headache.

The Banner Saga’s visuals look like something straight out of a Disney movie. That’s a good thing though.

The visuals are beautifully drawn and shown greatly when going across the landscape and make you feel like your going through animated classics such as Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. The landscape and drawn visuals just compliment the combat which, while challenging, is smooth and as fast or slow paced as you want it to be. The visuals are mind-blowing as you watch each little character of your company moving across this landscape and as your company gets larger it makes you care for them more, which makes the choices in the game even more important if you want your company and morale of the company to stay high and your numbers to grow.

What’s great about The Banner Saga is that each persons game is different because depending on your choice, your adventure will differ. The choices start out simple: Do you, or don’t you, let some people join your company? Sure, this might grow your company but it also might make it worse on your supplies and how many days you can survive. It’s all about daily survival. Trying to get through day to day making sure that you keep your company alive but at the same time making sure you have the supplies to survive the journey to the next town.

It works in a way because it makes you care more for your company if you want them to survive and keep yourself alive long enough to survive to the end. But make sure you choose well as without the use of a save feature, apart from autosave, it makes you live with the choices that you have made and stick to them. So you could be friends with one person one day and find that your facing them as an enemy the next.

When you get into combat situations you will be confronted with a tough turn based gameplay that, even on easy, you will be sweating trying to survive each battle. Now if you have been playing the free PVP The Banner Saga: Factions then you know what to expect apart from the fact that you are playing against A.I which could make for a different gameplay situation. Whilst the battle gameplay is all well and good I feel it relies heavily on you having played factions in the past as it doesn’t explain things in very much detail.

The lack of explanatory gameplay can sometimes hinder your gaming experience.

It very much will just throw you straight into it, giving you little amount of tutorial on what your meant to be doing so you will be spending a lot of time dying and replaying different battles before you fully get to grips with what your doing. So if you think playing on easy will make it easier for you then you’ll probably be very surprised. But you can’t fault them completely on the combat as it is very smooth and fun to play once you know what your doing giving each member of your squad their own unique ability making you want to keep everyone alive to fully utilise their potential.

Though the gameplay can be a pain at times and hard to get to grips with, they don’t make it as a gimmick that is over before it starts. They bring you a battle system which makes you think tactically and will punish you for rushing in for a quick win. It works well if you are looking for a game when strategy and planning is the best tactic, rewarding you with level ups for characters and more will power – which will help in battle.

It would just be good if they explain how to play through the battle system and the main mechanics of the game better. While they do explain the game partially, they don’t explain the importance of morale, supplies or renown which you spend most of the time guessing. I spent the first couple of hours waiting for my supplies to drop to zero to see what will happen at which your clansmen and solider die every day that you’re on the road. As for the morale, it’s never explained in detail so it seems as a pointless mechanic in place that doesn’t really effect how you play the game in anyway. Also explanation of what adding points to certain classes will do for each character would’ve helped but it doesn’t take away anything from your overall experience.

While it’s not as compelling the score in Journey, The Banner Saga’s musical score by Austin Wintory is amazing and contributes well to the story and helps you feel engrossed into this bleak and dark story.

Overall The Banner Saga is an RPG that goes back to its routes of being tough and strategy based, giving players a rewarding achievement for getting through each battle. Even those some systems aren’t explained throughly it shouldn’t take away form a game with hours of replay value.


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