Banner of the Maid - PS4 Review

Banner of the Maid by developer Azure Flame Studio and publisher CE-AsiaSony PlayStation 4 review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The setting is a unique on in visiting the French Revolution while weaving in some fantastic elements and creating an alternate reality. The game’s pacing is slow – this is a turn-based tactics game with almost visual novel level of text to work through as well. Mix in that Banner of the Maid also sports a fairly high degree of challenge, and this title may not be for everyone, but I rather enjoyed the title despite a few issues along the way.

To start with – you will do a lot of reading in this game. In many ways Banner of the Maid has a visual style that reminds of older tactics games with sprited characters on an isometric map. Those games often had brief dialog boxes and went light on actual story / text. That is not the case here. Most of the first couple of hours is spent reading while participating in a couple of fairly simple, hand-held battles to teach you the basics of gameplay. For the most part, this balance and pacing worked for me, though the translation is a bit on the stiff side. Dialog just does not read very smooth or natural due to the localization at times, and given just how much reading you are doing, this is probably the most frustrating aspect of Banner of the Maid for me personally. It is trying very hard to tell a detailed story with interesting characters, and I enjoyed this narrative, but it was not always the smoothest of reading experiences.

So I touched on the visuals briefly above, but the overall aesthetic is actually quite appealing. The old-school map and battle visuals are contrasted with detailed, anime styled character portraits and cutscenes. The backgrounds in particular struck me as quite creative at times. Titles like this seldom have the fully animated movies that a AAA title like Final Fantasy uses, but there are just small bits of looping animation taking place in the background that makes the scenes feel more alive than a static image would. A good example of this early on took place in a carriage where you could see the landscape rolling back through the windows, and a couple of small items inside the carriage swing back and forth every now and then to indicate the bumps in the road. They’re nice touches that when combined with the character portraits make Banner of the Maid a generally attractive game.

The actual tactics aspect of the game feels immediately familiar due to some pretty common strategy conventions. There is the rock / paper / scissors dynamic (more of a square than a triangle like some of the Fire Emblem titles) of heavy cavalry beats heavy infantry, heavy infantry bests light infantry, light infantry trumps light cavalry and light cavalry has the upper hand against heavy cavalry. You also have healing and ranged units that assist in their specific roles while being vulnerable to close-ranged attacks. None of this is terribly new, but it’s dressed up nicely with classes like drummers serving as healers.

Battlefield conditions sometimes shift unexpectedly, and can increase the difficulty of the stages dramatically if you were poorly positioned for elements you were not anticipating. These scenarios often reminded me of the way that Warson / Langrisser used to pull the rug out from under me. It was both exciting and frustrating in the best and worst of ways when compared to the generally more static objectives in more popular titles like Fire Emblem. These unexpected elements combined with the often easy-to-hit loss conditions. It is not unreasonable by any means, but I found myself replaying many of the maps even on the default difficulty. The AI is relatively smart, which only complicates things – but in a good way.

In many strategy games the computer controller characters will just throw themselves at the closest opponent, or the weakest of the closest opponents. In Banner of the Maid however, they often make a concerted effort to circumvent the stronger characters and wipe out the weaker units, especially if they are not carefully protected. I will say that there are times however, the mission design leaves a bit to be desired. There were a handful of maps where I came away thinking: well that was a cheap reinforcement tactic, or that the goal to completion was more tedious than fun.

Another aspect of the gameplay that sort of reminded me of Langrisser was the unit growth. However, it never felt as fully baked here. Eventually you can change your classes upon reaching the requisite level, but there should always be at least two options – but that is not the case. In those situations the ‘class change’ feels kind of superficial since it just feels like linear progression. There are some RPG elements in here with experience earned, items to be collected and factions to gain favor with. They are a bit on the grindy side, which has never particularly bothered me personally. Those who have read my various RPG reviews over the years know that a bit of mindless grinding has always suited me just fine – but it again lends itself to the potential pacing concerns.

Banner of the Maid deserves credit for its pleasant visual style, interesting characters and thoughtful gameplay. The unique setting also wins some points with me as I don’t believe I’ve played a game set during the French Revolution since L’Empereur on the NES. That being said, pacing and difficulty spikes will turn off some gamers and I really do wish the localization had been better as well. There is a solid story with some interesting characters to be had here, and tactics fans such as myself should find plenty to like here, but a few of those rough edges probably could have been smoothed out.

Score: 7.25 / 10