The Banner Saga - PlayStation 4

Put on your horned helmet and and head into the untamed fantasy Scandinavia in The Banner Saga.

By RON, Posted 20 Jan 2016

It’s been two years now since the release of the critically acclaimed ex-Bioware’s Stoic’s Norse fantasy tactical-RPG, The Banner Saga. It took two years for the game, originally released to the PC and crowdfunded via Kickstarter, to reach the console audience, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

In Norse tradition, a Saga is a story - or legend - about characters and events from the region, such as Viking tales about battles and voyages and even regarding the migration to Iceland. Often, the term is misused to refer to any chaptered story, like movie trilogies, but, in this case, the word is used in a proper fashion.

The Banner Saga,PS4,Review,Trailer,RPG

The minds behind this game, reminiscing of their previous narratives such as Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic, wanted to leave behind the “overused” settings of the Tolkienian tradition, and renounced elves, dwarves and orcs in order to make room for their very own charismatic characters and factions: the horned giants called Varl, the ominous obsidian Dredge and the struggling Norse folk.

The Banner Saga takes pride in being a “more mature” game, whose immediate TV comparison would be HBO’s Game of Thrones, not only because of the snowy landscapes and fantasy ambiance, but because of its characters complexity, narrative drive, compelling situations and the idea of uncertainty towards decisions and fates of the people whom you’ve become fond of. This is, ultimately, a trait rarely found in most games that pride themselves on being all about decision making. In the Banner Saga, the decisions the player makes, although seemingly insignificant, can ripple towards a very different ending or the premature death of a beloved character. If anything, the story is a rich and entangling narrative experience that makes use of a videogame as a dramatic arena.

The Banner Saga,PS4,Review,Trailer,RPG

The gameplay, although similar to games in the genre, such as the obvious comparison of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, excels in both its elegance and simplicity. Although some hardened players might find it unrewarding or even unappealing because of its apparent lack of depth or complexity, the tactical elements reflect the expert craftsmanship behind them. Some RPG elements are also noteworthy, not only because of the deep narrative in which the player faces, but because of their verisimilitude in the game. The characters and situations are so well-constructed and the world is filled with so many different scenarios that it actually feels like a living organism in which you not even try to take centre role and aim for glory and personal gain; furthermore, the group of people you command are the central character as a whole, and their victory is your victory. Survival, however, is the ultimate goal, and not some quest your characters set upon as what drives and motivates them.

The art direction and original score are two of the most exciting and gorgeous trump cards this game has over other Indies or other games in the genre.  The creators conceived hand-drawn visuals that remind us of the golden age of Disney animation, with movies such as The Sleeping Beauty and The Sword in the Stone being the obvious referrals. With this, the developing team proved, once again, that a beautiful game doesn’t need big budgets, although some financial aid wouldn’t have hurt the visual department. The same can be said about the voice acting, which is, at the very least, bleak. Many would try to justify this but the truth is, sometimes, reading whole chunks of text in order to get a grip of the story that’s developing, no matter who good it is, can feel more like a burden rather than an achievement. Fortunately, there’s where music comes in to their aid. The music in the Banner Saga immerses the player into a Nordic atmosphere and really fits the pace of the story and action taking place on the screen. Excitement is most times crowned with the thunderous strike of drums, while dramatic sequences flirt with the cold winds blown through the wood and steel of the flutes. Not a single note or harmony is gratuitous, and no theme falls short or feels out of place.

Perhaps the game cannot be deemed as perfect, but no game is. In spite of the gameplay’s apparent limitations and the lack of excitement of reading the story when you could hear it or live it, the game is a must-play for any fans of the genre, the Norse mythology, compelling and mature narratives, and videogames in general. We cannot stress enough how much of an important role decision-making has within the game. It takes around sixteen hours to get through the game’s single player campaign, but different decisions with different outcomes invite the players to replay the game several times, which amounts to heavy replay value, a trait often sought by modern gamers.

So, put on your horned helmet, let those beards grow long, braid those goldilocks and head into the untamed fantasy Scandinavia in The Banner Saga.

The Banner Saga PC Review

Sarwar Ron, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mobile
Publisher(s): Versus Evil
Developer(s): Stoic
Genres: Role-Playing
Themes: Role-Playing
Release Date: 2014-01-14

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