The Banner Saga Trilogy
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Kickstarter campaigns have become commonplace for videogames nowadays, prominent ones including the forthcoming third Shenmue game and the Metroidvania Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Ex-BioWare employees founded Stoic Studio, whose debut game was The Banner Saga, a tactical roleplaying game inspired by Norse mythology, and which saw initial limited release, although ports to other platforms ultimately followed. It would receive two sequels, all three games becoming available on the Nintendo Switch as The Banner Saga Trilogy, which is a great way to experience the games at home or on the go.

The trilogy follows two different sets of characters that travel the world whilst dealing with an antagonistic race known as the Dredge, with story scenes and Oregon Trail-esque wayfaring sequences with factors to consider such as tribe morale and supply consumption after entire days have elapsed. In most cases, if morale falls to an unsatisfactory level, the player can break from travel by setting up camp and resting for as many days as supplies allow, with above-average morale having benefits to combat, although the player must be wise about their supplies since there are finite opportunities to purchase them through points known as Renown.

Players will occasionally have to fight battles where they arrange the offensive party of up to six characters in a formation determining turn order, with the trilogy, unlike most other strategy RPGs, having its unique take on turn order, where one of the player’s characters executes their turn and then one of the enemy’s, with the process repeating until the first character in the player’s formation gets their next turn. The player can move their characters around the battlefield, and have a number of options such as attacks on the enemy’s strength, which determines attack power and health, or defense, dictating resistance to attacks.

Some units such as the giant horned humanoid varl take up four spaces, although most units such as humans and centaurs take up just one. Killing enemies grants the player Renown they can use to promote characters to advanced levels or use to purchase supplies or accessories from marketplaces, each character needing to secure a certain number of kills to be promotable. Upon promotion, the player can invest two points into a character’s different stats, each with a cap that when reached allows players to put points into innate abilities that dictate things such as supplemental defense.

Eliminating all but one enemy unit puts the battle into pillage mode, where all the player’s characters have their turns right after one another while the remaining foe just has one turn, the same going for instances where only one of the player’s units remains. In all but maybe one case in the first game (its final two battles), the demise of all the player’s units doesn’t result in a game over, but rather a continuation of the trilogy’s plotline, with difficulties higher than the easiest option necessitating defeated player units rest until they are able to fight again.

All in all, the trilogy’s take on tactical RPGs is definitely a breath of fresh air in the subgenre given the unique consequences of failing fights, and one can potentially see actual endings and credits without even winning the final battles of the games. Much like the original Final Fantasy Tactics, though, the trilogy features ratchet character movement, although moving the cursor on tiles fortunately clues players into how much damage to strength they can deal enemies before moving to them. There are a few interface obstructions, as well, but the battle system is definitely a boon to the games.

Control is perhaps the trilogy’s weakest link, with an absence of things such as a game clock in any of the games, but most of all an utter lack of indication as to whether the game is saving or not, with no manual option to record progress at all, making it a crapshoot in some cases as to whether the game will preserve things such as leveling characters before quitting the game. There are also some rare freezes, but fortunately, given the trilogy’s linear structure, it’s impossible to get lost, and while interaction has its issues, they’re by no means deal-breaking.

The characters and story are generally well-developed, with endless choices throughout the trilogy that actually have some impact on the plotline, with the potential for variable endings, as well. There are some rare and odd stylistic choices in the dialogue such as a use of “ok” rather than “okay,” but the narrative is definitely a reason to play.

Austin Wintory composes the trilogy’s soundtrack, which has a nice sweeping epic feel in many cases, and the voicework, if present, is superb, but there are some frequent silent portions in the games.

The trilogy sports a visual style inspired by animators such as Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth, and generally looks pleasant, although there is occasional slowdown and choppiness in the case of many character models populating the screen.

Finally, each game is roughly six hours long, the player able to transfer data between games to preserve choices made.

Overall, The Banner Saga Trilogy was a definite and welcome surprise for this reviewer, who hasn’t had very much experience with Western tactical RPGs aside from Gladius (which wasn’t wholly positive), and is generally skeptical of titles that receive widespread critical acclaim. The battle system, for one, leaves plenty of room for error regardless of the chosen difficulty level, narrative choices made actually matter, the soundtrack is surprisingly good for a Western RPG, and the visual style is generally pleasing. There are, however, some instances where it falters, particularly with its lack of manual saving and some minor issues with sound and sight, but it’s definitely worth a look by tactical RPG aficionados and newcomers to the subgenre.

The Good:
+Enjoyable tactical gameplay with adjustable difficulty.
+Great branching plotline.
+Nice soundtrack.
+Gorgeous art direction.

The Bad:
-No manual saving or indication of.
-A few interface issues.
-Some silent portions.
-Graphical choppiness at some points.

The Bottom Line:
A great way to experience the strategy RPG trilogy.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: ~6 Hours per Game

Overall: 8.5/10

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