Banner of the Maid PS4 Review – Banner of the Maid pits a young warrior on a mission to find six hidden gemstones, stolen from her kingdom decades ago by a rogue dragon. Though afflicted with amnesia, this powerful young maiden is a natural leader, soon bringing together an army of mages and clerics to aid in the ongoing quest to bring the gemstones back to the Wisdom Tree, and take her rightful place and heir to the throne.
Just kidding. Banner of the Maid is about the French Revolution. In a year heavy with tactical RPGs staring gelflings, superheroes, wizards, and slimes, Chinese dev house Azure Flame Studios somehow landed on the Napoleonic Wars. There are worse topics, I suppose, and the setting of Banner of the Maid certainly feels unique. The end result is a Chinese game about France with English subtitles and Japanese (I think!) spoken dialogue. And somehow this multi-cultural mishmash turns out to be engaging and fun. Though the subject matter is extremely atypical, there is enough recognizable here that tactical RPG fans will be right at home.
Banner of the Maid PS4 Review
Part Strategy Game, Part Visual Novel
Its best to know when clicking Start on Banner of the Maid that you are going to be doing a lot of reading. This is not the sort of game that plunges the player right into the action with a few cutscenes sprinkled between battles. Instead, Banner of the Maid has you reading dialogue about French military strategy and politics for fifteen minutes before finally letting you get down to business. Hardcore strategy buffs might be put off by these visual novel tendencies. But if all Banner’s novelistic tendencies sound like a terrible torture, take heart – the writing and characters in Banner of the Maid are lively and fun.
There are a ton of characters in Banner of the Maid (many of them based on historic figures with recognizable names) but most of the action centers around Pauline Bonaparte – younger sister of the famous general Napoleon. Pauline is a recent graduate of the French Military Academy, and in this alternate universe, it is perfectly normal for new alumni to be granted an army to command. Pauline lurches headlong into the Revolution, carefully navigating a variety of political factions for favor while steadily winning battles in their names.
As Pauline gains favor with these factions, she gradually earns access to their territories. In practical terms, this means that Pauline can shop in their stores for things like upgrades and equipment. The story lurches along whether you are paying attention of not, only occasionally asking for your participation in the form of conversational minigames. Though at first I sweated a bit before answering, I soon discovered that my replies only determined which factions I would gain favor with – I never lost favor with a faction no matter my reply.
Story sections are played out in a typical visual novel nature, with static drawings of the speaking characters popping up on the sides of the screen while dialogue scrolls below. Its not the most engaging way to tell a story, but jamming on a button to move things along is a viable option.
It should also be noted that many (not all) of the female characters in the game are depicted with enormous breasts and wildly exposed cleavage – to the point where my wife wandered by while I was playing and commented that “that isn’t how boobs work”. I’m not particularly bothered when it comes to stuff like this – and a case could be made for this game that some of these flesh-exposing costumes are historically accurate – but let this serve as a word of warning for those that don’t care for anime-style luridness.
The Battle System Is Both Recognizable And Unique
Much like my amnesiac princess above, Pauline Bonaparte soon gathers followers to join her ranks. But instead of wizards and clerics, Pauline recruits generals adept at real-world military skills like artillery and cavalry. Without magic wands and staffs to equip, these armies are left to equip muskets, rifles, and bayonets. In a clever touch, healer characters are band leaders, marching their bands out onto the battlefield to “cheer” their compatriots.
Despite the fun real-world unit types, those that are experienced with tactical RPGs will feel right at home with the battle system. Artillery units do ranged attacks, but are vulnerable when faced with foes up close. Musket wielders must be right next to a target, but rifle units can be a space or two away from enemies to fire. Healers must be protected at all costs, as they are almost always the difference between a win and a loss.
Moments of combat engagement are amusingly played out with very brief animated sequences (think Civilization Revolution) depicting two line armies clashing across a field of battle. Each unit on the tactical map actually represents an army, and watching those armies pick each other off in turn is greatly amusing. Each character has a couple of little call-lines that they utter during battles. My favorite character is the drunken artillery general, who positively screams at her army to attack their enemies.
Newer tactical RPG players might be at a loss with all of this, as the game does nothing to explain any of its mechanics. Indeed, not even basic unit movement is covered, as there is no tutorial of any type. Banner of the Maid assumes that the player is at least somewhat familiar with the mechanics of the genre.
Players are tossed face-first from a prolonged story sequence into battle, and are left to figure out things like how to maneuver on the field of battle, how terrain height impacts battle, and which weapons are effective against which unit types. I wouldn’t call Banner of the Maid unfriendly, but it isn’t very welcoming to new players either.
Banner Of The Maid Is Extremely Difficult For A Tactics Game
I have no idea how long Banner of the Maid would take to play from beginning to end for someone actually good at the game. That is because, after the first few battles, I had to play every level at least twice – most of them three or four times. Banner of the Maid is extremely difficult for a tactics game.
Playing on the default difficulty (which is not the hardest), I could almost count on snatching loss from the jaws of victory in every battle. Banner of the Maid has some fairly stringent qualifications for a win. Each level has its own particular directives (keep these two units alive, defend this spot on the map), but there is another, unspoken rule.
Any time you lose three units, you get a game over screen. This constantly manifested itself in my playthrough, as even on middle difficulty foes will relentlessly seek out and attack weaker members of your entourage. Almost every battle, I would lose one or two generals (there is no permadeath, dead folks come right back after the battle). Then I would be skulking around, desperate not to lose another and give up all the work I’d put into the battle so far.
This wouldn’t be a problem, but newer characters added to your troop are consistently a few levels below your other characters. This makes it extremely difficult to level them up to viability while still protecting them. Often, I would clear an entire map of enemies just to have the last couple of guys make a mad dash across the board to murder a newbie and end my game. Infuriating.
In fact, it feels very much like every battle in Banner of the Maid has a “correct” way to win, and players will need to repeat levels to figure out what that process might be. This means that the entire game must be played very meticulously, as one wrong or hasty move can quickly tank a half hour’s progress.
Tactical RPG players accustomed to having a variety of ways to attack a problem will find themselves deeply frustrated by Banner of the Maid’s utter defiance. In some ways this makes Banner of the Maid a puzzle game – with very long, very involved, very frustrating puzzles.
All of this doesn’t make Banner of the Maid a bad game; rather it is a game that defies genre convention to create its own weird subgenre – the alternate universe historic visual novel strategy puzzle tactical RPG (with giant boobs). If that sounds like something you might enjoy, you might want to give Banner of the Maid a look.
Banner of the Maid is now available on the PlayStation Store.
Review code kindly provided by the publisher.