By Jason Quinn / March 9th, 2020
|Title||Banner of the Maid
|Developer||Azure Flame Studio|
|Release Date||May 28th, 2019|
|Platform||PC, Switch, PS4
Banner of the Maid is a strategy role playing game set during the French Revolution. Or rather, an alternate history of that time period. One where Napoleon Bonaparte has a sister, Pauline, rising through the ranks of the french army. You play as her, caught up in the struggle between France and its bordering countries, as well as the internal strife that seeks to supplant France’s current ruler. In addition, she also bears a special gift, that of being a “Maid”, a woman who holds mysterious powers that can influence those around her. The story proceeds through the historical events of the French Revolution, albeit from the perspective of this fictional sister of Bonaparte, who also influences some of these events.
The gameplay itself will be fairly familiar to anyone that’s played SRPGs before, in particular Fire Emblem. The game proceeds from battle to battle, and gameplay involves moving your units around to accomplish whatever goal the game sets for you. Characters exist in different classes, where their effectiveness is determined by simple rock, paper, scissors rules. The main character Pauline is a fusilier, which is most effective against heavy cavalry. Heavy cavalry is then effective against light cavalry, light cavalry is effective against foot soldiers, and foot soldiers are effective against fusiliers.
Battles start out with you selecting what units to use, and where you want to place them. Each map has its own objectives, usually being just killing every enemy. There’s some that mix things up though, like having to reach a certain area, or defeating an enemy before they reach a certain area. When its your turn, you can move your units however you wish, and when you no longer have any units to move, it becomes the enemy’s turn.
It’s a bit nitpicky, but the distinction of fusilier and foot soldiers feels redundant in this game, since on the surface, they’re exactly the same. They’re both soldiers with guns. Only one group of them is effective against cavalry, and the other group of them is effective against the other group. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the game constantly displaying which classes are effective against what on screen, I’d probably never remember. The distinction between heavy cavalry and light cavalry also seems largely pointless, both are mounted units. The light variant can just travel further, and for some reason is more resilient to gunfire.
In addition to these, there’s two classes that kinda exist as their own thing. The first is artillery, who can bombard units from afar. Then there’s support units that can play music that have effects such as healing others increasing morale and giving units another turn, among other things. They’re both very weak defensively, so you have to protect them. You’ll definitely want them though, as artillery does very high damage, and obviously healing units is important.
Despite the lack in intuitiveness of some of the classes, the system still works well enough. You have to consider which units to deploy in each battle, and consider your overall placement. However, I found foot soldiers to be ridiculously strong, or at least you get a few characters in that class that just happen to be really strong. They could often kill other soldiers and fusiliers in one round, and could sometimes even take out cavalry, the unit they’re supposed to be weak against. In contrast, some units ended up woefully weak, only doing minor damage to even units they’re strong against. I don’t know how stat increases work when you level up, if its random or something, but I’m leaning towards that being the case.
Each class in Banner of the Maid also has unique skills they can learn that will augment their abilities. Foot soldiers can get attack boosts by standing next to other soldiers. Heavy cavalry gets attack boosts if they move a certain number of spaces before attack. There’s a ton more too. Considering your skills and making the most out of them is pretty important the further you get into the game. Weapons have a limited number of uses, but thankfully it’s only limited per map. For example if a weapon has 14 uses, that only applies to the current map you’re on, and it will reset afterwards. So you have to consider what weapons you want to use, as better weapons will have fewer uses, but it avoids making you want to just hoard all of your good stuff. Healing items don’t recharge though, so if you have to use them, you’ll need to buy more.
The battles themselves are all varied and distinct. Most of the time you’re just eliminating every enemy on the map, but there’s often restrictions such as a time limit or needing to keep certain characters alive. You’re also more than often outnumbered, so you can’t just send your units over to just bulldoze over enemy forces. The map variety here is pretty great, with very few battles feeling like just a retread of an old one. They do their best to always keep things fresh and interesting.
That brings us to what you’ll be up to in-between battles, and the faction system. There’s different factions in Paris, each with their own motivations, and getting close to them offers perks, such as new stuff to buy. I do wish the faction system factored a bit more into the story though, and was more fleshed out. Gaining reputation in any faction is only ever a universally good thing. Its not like building reputation in one will cause you to lose reputation in another. They’re basically just stats that you want to get as high as possible.
You build reputation occasionally in the story, but mainly through side quests. Side quests are actually pretty substantial in this game, existing to flesh out a lot of the side cast that might not get time to shine in the main story. They also are a good source of money, which you’ll want a lot of. Buying new equipment and items is pretty costly, and then there’s items to promote units, which are very important. When your units get to level 15, they’ll no longer gain experience. You have to use an item to promote them. Though getting an item to promote them costs money and then actually promoting them costs money, which feels pretty redundant to me. You’ll likely end up in a situation with plenty of characters at 15, but can’t promote them because you don’t have the money to buy the item and promote them.
By the middle of this game, the difficulty starts increasing pretty dramatically. Many maps will have time limits or you’re forced to keep one unit alive, and battles only increase in scope as the game goes on. Some maps could take me over a half hour to clear. The game is also just really, really long. It took me about 40 hours to get through it.
Unfortunately I found it pretty hard to stay invested in the game, mainly due to the localization. It’s just very poor, to the point that its hard to pick up on character personalities, or tell when a character is joking or being serious. Its not incomprehensible, but its far from ideal, and it ultimately hurt my enjoyment of the story and characters.
Visually, the game isn’t super impressive either, but it doesn’t look bad by any means. The character sprites and maps are all pretty well detailed. I do think attacking animations are a little bland though. The character art is where this game pays particular attention, and it all looks really good. I did feel that there was some discrepancy between the art for the male characters and the art for the female characters. The easiest way to put it is that it looks like much more time was spent on the female characters. Still, the art is quite nice for all of the characters.
Despite some qualms here and there, I overall enjoyed my time with Banner of the Maid. It’s not exactly the best in its genre, but it manages to carve out its own niche. Its a rather unexplored time period in video games. Most RPGs and SRPGs tend to just go for a medieval fantasy setting, or sci-fi setting, so something like this manages to stand out. It’s $17 on Steam, which is a very fair price for this. I could recommend this if you’re wanting a SRPG and can forgive a rough localization.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.
Azure Flame StudioBanner of the MaidCE-AsiaSRPG