VIVA LA FRANCE!
I’ve come to be a fan of strategy RPGs. As a wee lad, I admit I predominantly played and enjoyed turn-based ones. They’re easy to control and plan out. SRPG’s are a different breed. They require more brainpower and are a bit more random. RNG is a big factor in if you connect with an enemy or not. It can’t be denied that this genre is very methodical. It demands you plan out the optimal route. After having enjoyed both Disgaea and Fire Emblem, I hunger for that brand new challenge. A title that’ll put up a tough fight. I found it, and it definitely brought the goods. Banner of the Maid took me down with a right hook. It’s a game that tries to innovate by combining puzzle elements and critical thinking. It sounds interesting, but does it work? Well, let’s find out if CE-Asia were able to pull it off or if they’ll be left on the ground.
THE BONAPARTES ARE HERE!
It’s the summer of 1791. A commander is leading his soldiers to Varennes, France. They’ve gotten intel that the King is within the city walls. As you arrive, you’ll be cut off by the army of the Royalists. Combat ensues as you – the commander – defeats them all. With victory in hand, you notice the carriage spoken of in the briefing you had gotten. Inside is a noble maiden. She asks a few questions, chief among them is what’s happening. She’s told that some documentation was found. Inside, it tells of The King’s Betrayal. As such, they’re all to return to Paris where our story truly begins.
Going forward, it’ll be a mixture of visual novel sections with battle segments to break it up. While there’s no visible traversing, you will do so through menus.
Coming into this, I was a bit confused. You take control of Pauline Bonaparte as you live through a fictional French Revolution. During this journey, you’ll encounter a few instances of betrayal. Twists and turns that didn’t always connect. Before I get into that, I must say this. It baffles me to see such a figure at the helm. I assumed that Banner of the Maid was based on historical events because of her presence. It’s not though, and a disclaimer states such. I felt this was worth mentioning as others could have been like me. As far as I know, the only similarities are in inspiration. It seems weird that they’d be chosen as the protagonists. In my opinion, this story could’ve stood on its own as a work of fiction.
As I eluded to, the twists and turns weren’t always great. There was one in particular that’s painfully telegraphed. For me, that took me out of the story. Instead of being at the edge of my seat, I rolled my eyes as it was revealed. Another gripe – albeit nitpicky – is that only a few characters exhibit personality. I know this is a serious story. It’s about war and the tribulations that come with it. However, when characters are speaking casually to one another, I would’ve liked to see individuality. A handful felt lifeless. I want to be invested in my RPG games, and that wasn’t always the case. I say that because there were instances. Be it a chat between brother and sister where war is used as a metaphor in their discussion about romance. Or his trying to help her through her doubts as a General. There are semblances of silliness and development. I‘d like to share one example of humor.
THAT’S DEFINITELY UNEXPECTED!
Eventually, you’ll meet a bandit named Pecker on the battlefield. As combat rages on, he’ll come out of hiding and exclaim; no one messes with the Pecker. Because my humor is that of a toddler, I chuckled. It’s a joke about the male genitalia but Pauline is an innocent girl. She’ll ask naively why all bandit names seem to correlate with birds. She then gets an idea and calls for her friend and fellow soldier. Someone with the ability to communicate with them. Pauline feels that as a bird whisperer, her friend should be able to speak to him. As she steps in, she’ll ask, and I quote;
“Pecker, Pecker, can you be my friend”
He’ll be left speechless before finally gathering himself. He then asks if she’s looking down on him. He’s acting hostile, and she replies that this pecker isn’t friendly at all. I’m unsure if perhaps the localization staff were having fun or if this was a mistranslation, but it made for a laugh out loud moment.
LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!
Growing up, I was hardcore for a good JRPG. I loved everything they offered. So, I’ve been conditioned to always purchase a stronger weapon when available. Banner of the Maid turns that on its head. Now, while I picked at the story, I will say to its credit, it’s faithful to the setting. War is not a joke. Money will also be difficult to come by during these troubling times; in life and in this game. You need to be frugal with any cash earned. While you do eventually unlock a map to grind for money, it’s minuscule. The main missions are the breadwinners.
As you progress forward, you’ll unlock various locales. One specifically is a school Pauline and her army mates attended. Now, you do gain abilities by leveling up. However, you also learn further skills here. Sort of like a continued education. This is where money should go. Make this the priority as there are useful ones. For instance, you can replace the position of a soldier on the battlefield – A worthwhile tactic when on a narrow bridge. Also, one that’ll be very important in a later chapter. Hint hint, don’t cheap out on it.
For fans of early Fire Emblem, you’ll find Banner of the Maid is familiar. Much like it, every weapon has a level of durability. With each usage, you slowly wear it out. Reach 0 and you’ll not be able to attack. Rest assured that it’ll be replenished after a battle. I found that in the early chapters, this was never a problem. However, as I got further in, the battles also got longer. Luckily, certain boards will have challenges tied to them. Rewards vary but include new weaponry to add to a character’s arsenal. This helps alleviate the balancing act with the already limited money. Be sure to equip it as I forgot and had to restart combat due to running out. Now, unlike Fire Emblem, there’s no perma-death. I know, disappointing to some. Well, masochists rejoice as there is a mode to make deaths hurt. Instead of losing the unit though, it affects rewards. What this means is money will become scarcer. Even normal proved to be a challenge in itself though.
The battles themselves operate on a grid. Each soldier has a set amount of spaces they can move. This‘ll vary depending on the class they are. Important to note that contrary to the visual animation of battles, it won’t act like Langrisser. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll see that battle sequences involve two individual brigades. With each attack, they shrink. In the mentioned title, this would lower the damage dealt. As you lost units, your overall strength decreased. That’s not the case in Banner of the Maid. Downed soldiers are replaced immediately. It’s just a visual. Oh but the Fire Emblem similarities do extend to yet another facade. A weakness square is present. More importantly, for those with poor memory, it’ll be clearly depicted on the battle UI in the top right. I couldn’t tell you how helpful this was.
I’ve spoken on the battle system and I’ve touched on the story. One aspect that was hit or miss is the aforementioned puzzle elements. Some missions will have a limit tied to them. It’ll require you to complete a board within a set of turns. No matter how good you’re doing, if you run out, you fail. I am honestly up and down on the concept. See, I’m not the best strategy player. I’m the type of bloke that is more plan as I play. Here lays in the issue. Having such a stipulation adds unneeded pressure. I’m boxed into working at the developer’s pace and not my own. I did manage to beat the boards, but not without immense frustration first. For instance, there was a level I was doing fantastic on. I defeated every foe with only one casualty. The main boss was within distance and victory was mine. The problem was that I only had 12 turns available to win it. I was on the 11th. You can guess what happened next. I lost and it wasn’t due to sucking. It was because the code said so. This felt like a needless addition. Like it was thrown in just to add an illusion of difficulty. It doesn’t. What it adds on is an infuriating session. Would’ve been easier to swallow were the battles short and not span several minutes. To that point, there are bite-size boards with these confides. I also failed these equal, if not more times. In comparison, I only lost 2 minutes with these. I wasn’t hit with blinding frustrations. Instead, I thought out possible solutions. Basically, to sum it up; size does matter.
AND THE MILITANT VERDICT IS…
Banner of the Maid is tough as nails but it’s a lot of fun. While the decision to add weird turn limits to battles was bad, the intense need to think out your moves was welcomed. These also don’t appear too often. The title reminded me of my time with Fire Emblem. Much like it, you’ll be able to change the class of each character to a stronger version. It isn’t as robust, but it’s there. I personally enjoyed it. The music is another aspect that was well-done. It stays true to the time period it takes part in. Trumpets, strings, and other instruments are married together and create an authentic feel. To reiterate, I had a lot of fun. Period.
The character art present is beautifully drawn. Admittedly, some females are exaggerated. Particularly in the chest area. A bit of fan-service but I didn’t find it to be overly gratuitous. I also must point out that Pauline Bonaparte is adorable. She has that girl next door vibe. Could be why she naively thought the bandit was named after a bird. I did encounter an issue with the analog stick. I couldn’t navigate the field properly. D-Pad is the way to go. You’ll also find that on some boards, you’ll have computer-controlled allies. They vary on intelligence. Early on, one kept walking to her death. On the flip side, there was another that wrecked all my foes. Seems inconsistent but your failures will usually not be tied to their survival, so let them die. With that female NPC, I did manage to coax her in the right direction. Also of note, the default version is 1.9.9. Literary mishaps have been fixed. There’s still instances of mistaken tense but nothing major.
After all is said, and despite my nitpicks, I was still able to greatly enjoy my time. Banner of the Maid demands brain function and I loved that. It gave me a sense of accomplishment. Word of advice though, pay attention as it’ll alleviate a lot of unneeded rage. Especially when limits are present. I happily proclaim;
BANNER OF THE MAID IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to CE-Asia for a PlayStation 4 review code for this title.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.