Even though I pride myself in owning all of the video game consoles and playing a vast array of titles as well as staying up to date on the latest news, I have to admit that until the Nintendo Switch arrived on the scene I paid very little attention to indie titles. That’s primarily because they often appeared on the PC and I do very little gaming on my computer and would much rather relax on the couch in front of a big TV or curl up somewhere with a handheld. Even when Xbox and PlayStation focused on the smaller games, I often only took notice in the ones featured on an E3 stage or via word of mouth. Now that so many indie games are flooding onto the Nintendo Switch, it’s like someone slapped me across the face, grabbed my head and said, “Pay attention!” And I am so glad that I am! You see, the Switch is the perfect system to host a vast majority of indie games. That’s because many of them play so well on the handheld screen and also blow up nicely onto a big TV.
So, when The Banner Saga 3 was announced for the Switch I immediately thought it looked really cool, but for a quick minute I was disappointed that I hadn’t played the first two. But then it was announced the Switch would get the entire trilogy and I was back in – especially after hearing some great things about the series. I’ve become more of a fan of the strategy RPG genre thanks to the 3DS Fire Emblem games and if you enjoy that style of gaming then you’ll want to check out The Banner Saga.
Let me start off by saying don’t get too overwhelmed when you first begin the game, because it does throw a lot of tutorial stuff your way that may not sink in until a few battles are under your belt. Honestly, looking back the combat system really isn’t that complex, but the way it was explained was a bit confusing. Much like other strategy games, your forces and the enemies will be laid out on a grid. Slightly different is that instead of your entire team getting a turn and then the enemy team getting their stabs in, the play is alternated by individual unit. That adds a slightly different layer of tactics because you can see along the bottom of the screen the order of who gets to go next. That means you might want to focus your energy on an enemy far enough away from getting his turn so that you can simply eliminate him before he gets a chance to act. Likewise you may want to move your weaker allies out of the way of a big brute whose turn might be on deck.
One of the more unique factors to consider in combat is that both you and your enemies have shields. A number represents the strength and when you attack a foe you can choose to go after their health or their shield. Many times it’s better to deal some shield damage so the next fighter can deal more damage to their health the next go round. The more damage you take and your own health dwindles, the less attack power you have to deal damage, so it’s essential to keep these in mind before acting. Although you can examine and see how much damage you’ll deal before committing to an action, once you move your character they often can’t be moved again on the same turn, so you’ll want to be aware of your surroundings before making a final decision.
I realize I jumped right into the combat side of things without even discussing the story. That’s because these types of games often live or die by their battle systems, and I’m happy to report that the fighting in this game is fun and satisfying. Each character has a regular and special attack and support characters can help from a distance. I especially like the archers in the game because they can often pack a punch without having to get up close and personal. Like Fire Emblem, if you have a lance you can attack from two squares away instead of one and other weapons will have and specials will have different ranges. The only way to level up your warriors is to let them kill an enemy. Each kill adds up and once they hit their quota they’ll gain Renown and you can then spend skill points to upgrade their stats. Each character can also carry an item, which will usually have a passive ability to help them in battle. These items can be purchased at camps or are awarded on the battlefield.
I’m not going to dive too hard into the story. Suffice to say it’s very much rooted in Norse mythology and you actually play as some of the giant creatures. You’re on a quest to find out what has gotten the monsters so riled up and how they’re infiltrating areas they’ve never been before. The game’s narrative is often presented with text and a portrait of who is chatting. Much like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, you’ll often be presented with a choice. It’s often unclear which choice is the correct one, and sometimes you’ll be heavily rewarded for the decision, but other times you could even lose one of your soldiers if you choose unwisely. As I mentioned in my Death Road To Canada review, I’m not a huge fan of these seemingly random events impacting my game, especially when it means I could lose someone permanently from my team that I might have spent hours with trying to upgrade. Some will no doubt appreciate these life and death interactions, but I often dreaded them.
Graphically the game is pretty good. The art style has an almost coloring book look to it, where portraits and characters are painted in with a solid hue. I really enjoyed the vast shots of the environment showing my caravan inching along the road. Sometimes the camera is panned far out to really showcase the locale, and other times it’s zoomed in to feature the characters. The fight scenes are often on smaller maps and the enemies and allies all look fine. The animations are a bit stilted at times, and I’ve noticed that the characters don’t always face each other to deal damage, which is a little off-putting. But, overall I dig the aesthetic and the game looks great on the Switch screen and on the TV.
The sound effects and music are serviceable, but nothing really stood out to me. I did enjoy the instruments used throughout and the sort of hardness to the score – like something out of Braveheart or Game of Thrones, but less memorable. The ambient noises, like people arguing in the background or clashes off in the distance are a nice touch as well. The game has limited amounts of voice acting and honestly I wish there were more.
The Banner Saga is totally worth the price of admission if you enjoy strategy turn-based RPGs. The setting and battles are unique and the story is compelling. I really enjoyed the Oregon Trail aspect of the game where you must make it from point a to point b with enough food to feed your troops. The branching story is both a blessing and a curse because I like the idea of multiple ways to solve a problem, but the outcomes are sometimes too hefty a price to pay. Still, the game delivers a very memorable experience, and your actions are supposed to carry over to the next game. If you have yet to play this one elsewhere, the Switch is the perfect place to catch up.
The Banner Saga was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.