HIGH Classic turn-based tactical gameplay.
LOW Weak Story.
WTF French people speaking Chinese.
The very first thing I noticed when booting up Banner of the Maid was how similar it felt was to classic turn-based tactics titles like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. From the beautiful 2D isometric battle maps to the way combat is divided into phases, to characters that ooze gorgeous design, it’s clear that Banner is drawing from the genre’s best as inspiration.
Banner starts right off in an alternate reality where magic is real. Those who wield it are called witches or “maids”, and they can help influence others. The player is Pauline, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte — a real historical figure, although in real life she was not involved in war. This alt-universe take on the French Revolution is a fascinating one that had me interacting with many famous figures like Robespierre and Marie Antoinette — and thankfully, it’s far less bloody than the real one was.
I enjoy turn-based gameplay in both RPG and tactics flavors, and the mechanics in Banner are top notch. While it’s based on a traditional rock/paper/scissors model where one type of weapon trumps another, Banner offers a lot of depth with eventual class upgrades, skills, items, and more. This isn’t necessarily anything new for the genre, but it delivers the staples well.
In terms of difficulty, Banner is challenging, but not insanely or unfairly so. I had to repeat and load many times, and victory came when I thought tactically and planned out each turn (and sometimes several) ahead to win. While sometimes punishing, it was ultimately a rewarding experience that gave me an immense feeling of accomplishment when I pulled off tight victories. Thankfully, Banner does not use ‘permadeath’ mechanics, as I lost at least a unit or two in nearly every battle.
Outside of the combat, the story advances like a visual novel with limited interactions that can influence the story, as well as the player’s standing with various factions such as the Royalists, or the people of France. The higher one’s standing, the better items that are available to buy and the more sidequests that are unlocked. I quite enjoyed this aspect, and was relieved to find that my decisions to support one faction over another never decreased my standing with the ones I didn’t choose.
While the standing mechanics are solid, the story is a bit dry. Pauline’s band fights for France and steadily get embroiled with different factions. Sadly, it’s not particularly compelling. The characters’ personalities are bland and they’re essentially one-note stereotypes such as the ‘nerdy’ character, the ‘grizzled veteran’, the ‘go getter’ and so on. However, their visual designs were amazing — each one has a distinctive style. Some of the female characters could stand to be slightly less sexualized, but I was a fan.
In essence, Banner of the Maid is a great tactical RPG that hits some of the best high points (mechanically) of the genre, but when I compare it to classics like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, I can’t help but feel like the genre has improved so much since then, especially when it comes to player amenities like time rewinds, quicksaves, easy inventory management, and so forth — all things that Banner is lacking.
While Banner of the Maid nails the core mechanics and captures the essence of the genre, it’s hard to ignore the lackluster story and lack of modern features that are found in much of the competition. Its tactical RPG side shines and remains a solid choice for fans of the genre who appreciate the classic formula, but a little more polish wouldn’t hurt.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Azure Flame Studio and published by Beijing Zhongdian Boya Technology Co., Ltd. and CE-Asia Co., Ltd. It is currently available on Switch, PS4, XBO, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes. Soldiers shoot each other in combat, however the graphics are very small and cartoonish. The character designs can be very suggestive and sexualized.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Everything is presented via text and there are no audio contextual cues. There is no way to resize or alter the subtitles. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no controller diagram. To select menus and units with the left stick. A is to select and B is back. The + button on switch will bring up the menu to save, load, skip turn, etc in combat.