Banner of the Maid is a strategy RPG that was released earlier in the year on Steam and is now seeing a release on the Nintendo Switch and PS4. Created by Azure Flame Studio, there has been some clear inspiration taken from series such as Fire Emblem, Disgaea and so forth as the basics of the mechanics have similar features. Nonetheless, they bring this blend of mechanics and placing them not in a fantasy setting, but in the French Revolution of all places. Well, an alternate version of the actual history, added with a little fantasy element to spice it up. Without further ado, let’s see if the game lives up to these big titles or the mess that is the actual French Revolution.
First, let’s focus on the story which follows Pauline Bonaparte, sister of the one and only Napoleon. Despite becoming a commander in her own right, she is filled with self-doubt over earning the position from winning the battle at the cost of the lives of many of her own troops. Nonetheless, Pauline continues to defend France whilst developing her skills and confidence further as a leader in the French army. Thinking back to the time period, it may feel strange for a woman to be so prominent in the army, but this is where the fantasy element comes in. Legends of the so-called Maids, women who have special powers that manifest in a myriad of ways, has encouraged the French monarchy to recruit and train women to be part of the army specifically, and indeed there are other women who are prominent figures in the story because of this. Yes, you guessed it, Pauline is one such Maid with the ability to inspire others around her to get a burst of strength. In the wider frame of the plot, other than the war with other countries, there are also different factions competing behind the scenes of Paris which Pauline builds bonds with as the story develops.
The majority of the storytelling is delivered in a visual novel format with cutscenes taking the form of character portraits with text dialogue underneath. Where some games have voice acting, it is not the case for Banner of the Maid which, if you dislike text heavy games, maybe an off-putting factor for you. Still, if you are playing the likes of Fire Emblem, Disgaea, etc. it is the same as you would expect from those games. The character portraits and the background have a drawn-style, looking hand painted to boot. Docked and undocked, they simply look fantastic and rendered to a high resolution. Particularly as the characters have an anime design, the hand-painted colouring makes it feel fresh and distinctive. Really, it all feels like actual art pieces in their own right. Other parts of the story are delivered in some small cutscene moments in battle that add a more dynamic feel to the storytelling experience. Happening between turns, they are also the right length not to slow down gameplay and bring the context into the battle you are fighting.
Outside of the main campaign, there are some sub-plots delivered through completing side quests. These are a mixture of building backstories of characters and boosting relations with different fractions outside of the main plot during the times you can explore France and mainly Paris between chapters. Where some are purely cutscenes, others are extra battles that will allow you to gain extra experience for your army and gain extra items as well. Not only that, as it is more in the main plot you have choices to boost your reputation with the different factions, the individuality of your story develops more in this part of the game and gives the feeling your choices have more of an impact. Nonetheless, some chances to gain experience for your units are always key, as I will go on to explain in the hefty mechanics section of this review.
If you are unfamiliar with how a strategy RPG, the gameplay has a formula revolving around teams on a map taking turns deciding their actions. The actions available involve mostly moving units (represented by a leader) to particular positions to either attack, use an item, or to simply advance/be defensive. At times, moving the cursor to select and decide where units are moving can be clunky, but it is avoided most of the time using the d-pad over the control stick. In Banner of the Maid, an attack instigates a battle between the two units, where depending on the unit type the defending unit will also have time to attack, which is something to be wary of. The map itself is filled with a range of mechanics, as each tile will have an environment type that may help boost stats or make you more vulnerable. An example of this is tall grass will increase your defence and evasion, making it a worthy place to base yourself. Not only that, there are campfires that can heal your units and treasure chests to loot. If that wasn’t enough, the weather can also have various effects to push you to change your tactics based on how the situation unfolds. For each level, the winning and losing conditions tends to be defeating all or particular units or reaching a certain point on the map. Some levels even have a bonus objective to increase the rewards if you manage to do this on top of the main condition for winning. Again, standard SRPG mechanics.
In terms of units, there are a few different types to play around with. First is your standard infantry who is equipped with a rifle. Next is cavalry who can move further and sometimes gets a charge attack bonus if they attack after travelling a distance. For range attacks you have cannoneers, who can’t defend an attack from close quarters. Lastly, a support type that takes the form of a drummer to heal up your allies. However, each unit within these types can be very different to the others based on the weapon and items they are holding and so forth. It also means there is no strict strength and weaknesses based on the unit type, but rather the weapon they are using, which makes it harder in a way compared to other SRPGs. After a certain amount of battles, a leader’s heroic gauge fills up. Once filled leaders can unleash a heroic attack to deal extra damage with their attack on an enemy unit. Of course, the Maids have similar abilities as a standard that can be used once per level. It is key to use a mixture of units and not burst through with the same unit all the time as levels and experience are gained by them individually engaging in battle. Not only that, their weapon has a set amount of times adding another limit. It is a delicate balance as when a unit is defeated they will retreat so they will gain no further experience from that level which is an extra factor to remember if you want to avoid weak links in your army.
Where I’ve already mentioned the cutscenes having a visual novel style with an art and anime design. The battles on the other hand have a high-resolution pixel look that is filled with colour and detail despite the zoomed out scale. Again, it is just incredible to look at with only a slight flaw that it can be hard to see at times between the units you have moved and the ones you’ve yet to act with. Still, all it means is you spend a little extra time moving through your units and the more used to the game you get, it is something you become better at keeping track of. Not only that, sound-wise the game is high calibre with atmospheric cutscene music that fits the mood perfectly and moves to dynamic music during the battle. Where previously I said there was no voice acting in cutscenes, there’s some during the battle scenes. Strangely, this is in Chinese. Sure, it was made by a small studio in China and the game is only about £15, yet at the moment it just feels weird because of the French setting. As it is such a small part of the game, getting some French voice actors to deliver these lines would have gone a long way but at the same time it can be overlooked.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Banner of the Maid Review
Gameplay - 10/10
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Banner of the Maid is a great strategy RPG that mixes together the mechanics of other games in the genre into a new and interesting package. Where the storytelling maybe too text heavy for some, it pays off in the personal sense of achievement in winning the challenging battles. A stunning look game that it is an absolute bargain for it’s listed price.
- Great blend of SRPG Mechanics.
- Visually stunning.
- Interesting plot based in an alternate version of the French Revolution.
- Is a bit text heavy.
- The small bits of voice acting should be in French over Chinese.