The Banner Saga Trilogy Review (Switch) – a dark fantasy Oregon Trail

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The Banner Saga Trilogy held my attention from the moment I picked it up! I would describe this series as a hybrid of Oregon Trail and Fire Emblem, nestled comfortably in a Norse mythology-inspired dark fantasy setting. The Banner Saga presents the player with a high stakes story full of make or break decision making, with the player positioned as the reluctant, elected leader of a caravan full of survivors fleeing the end of the world.

Visuals and Characters

The Banner Saga Trilogy’s graphics are colorful and stylized, calling to mind western animated series like the Legend of Korra. Watching your caravan travel across alternating vibrant and stark regions of the world is a calm, zen experience. The environments are wonderfully detailed and a pleasure to behold.

There are a large number of unique characters to recruit, each with their own backgrounds and motivations to endear you to them (or make you hate them). Despite there being very little voice acting, the cast of characters all have distinct, defined personalities thanks to flavorful dialogue. After the first part of the trilogy, depending on your decisions, you can actually play the second and third parts with a completely different protagonist whom has their own unique dialogue and interactions.

Decisions, Decisions!

Travel in The Banner Saga Trilogy pauses frequently to present you with decisions concerning obstacles, story events, caravan morale or supply management, enemy or ally encounters, etc. There is an extremely wide variety of events that will occur during the long trek and I always found myself wanting to see what would happen next.

Many decisions you make will have lasting impact on your caravan, on specific characters living, dying, leaving, or staying, and the results of your choices often have unforeseen consequences or rewards chapters later. The thought put into the story depth of the story and the impact of your decisions is incredibly impressive. There is a wealth of mystery, intrigue, and politics to keep you invested in the plot and characters.

Strategy and Square Tactics

It seems so much time was spent on The Banner Saga’s storytelling that the combat elements fell to the wayside. The battle system could definitely use a little tweaking, and though it is clunky, it was satisfying enough in the grand scheme of things for me (personally) to not mind its flaws too much.

As a Fire Emblem veteran, there was sufficient challenge at the normal and hard difficulty settings, and it allows you to change difficulty at will without penalty when needed. The biggest complaint I’ve seen from others is that the battles are repetitive. However, I didn’t really notice it myself as I tended to make decisions that kept my caravan away from combat.

Mechanics, UI, and Bugs

Most characters have their own specific abilities to play with, which keeps battles feeling fresh as you gain new characters. Display of health and armor is my biggest gripe. The icons used to display them are too large and cover other units when you toggle the health display on. It would also have been useful to see ally and enemy ranges when moving your cursor over units, a feature you see in Fire Emblem games. Targeting specific enemies with the circle pad was finicky at times. I also encountered a bug repeatedly where, after a non-player controller NPC killed the last enemy, I was left unable to leave the combat encounter until I moved all of my units for another turn or two.

Conclusion

Overall The Banner Saga Trilogy felt fresh and really hits the sweet spot for storytelling. Banner Saga’s writing and dialogue are stellar, but the game is held back by lack of polish in the combat UI and battle mechanics. Unfortunately the quality voice actors and animators the studio clearly had access to went under utilized. I would have loved to see more voice work and animated cut scenes included throughout the tale. What was there was absolutely lovely but there was little of either until the third installment, and still not enough in that section for my taste. Happily, the game is longer than I anticipated and has excellent replay value.

For me the The Banner Saga Trilogy rates highly at an 8/10 but I can see how it would frustrate those looking for a more nuanced grid based strategy game. The Banner Saga Trilogy is best approached as an in depth, choose your own path, narrative experience, which is something is provides with aplomb.

Thank you for reading!

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8 comments on “The Banner Saga Trilogy Review (Switch) – a dark fantasy Oregon Trail”

  1. I’ve played through the first and second, but have not gotten to the third yet. I adored the first, but was left wanting after the second. The first could be played independent of the other games and still had a satisfying conclusion to its narrative arc, where the second was a lot of setup for game three with next to no payoff at the conclusion. Glad to know the third act cleans everything up.

    Without getting into huge spoiler territory for those that skim the comments: did you let Alette strike the final blow at the end of act one?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I let her father do it. I thought things were more interesting in the following acts with that decision.

      Also the centaurs are awesome! You gotta get you some centaurs.

      Yeah the final part does wrap everything up. It was all meant as a trilogy from the beginning so the 2nd part was kind of like LOTR Two Towers that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I still haven’t forgiven myself for trusting her. 😦

        They appear at the tail-end of game 2. I have used them in combat, but their characterization is…weak. I’m assuming it is stronger in game 3 given they’ll actually be around for the bulk of the game.

        Guessing I’ll have to pick this up during the Steam sale and report back after I finish things off. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The centaurs get more interesting once you meet their leader at the final city you’re going to. You have to make s lot of decisions about them because of culture differences while everyone is crammed in the city waiting out the end times. They are really really good in combat too. Long range spear toss is awesome.

        Liked by 1 person

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