Tac­ti­cal Role-play

The Ban­ner Saga

HWM (Singapore) - - SINGAPORE’S NO. 1 MONTHLY AUTOMOTIVE MAGAZINE* - TEXT // JU­LIAN YEO

You trudge through the snow and ice with a hun­dred fighters and hun­dreds more in­no­cent vil­lagers across the harsh land­scape lit by a sun that no longer sets. Shad­ows on the hori­zon draw ever closer. Your car­a­van’s spir­its are weak. Yet you choose to de­fend your­selves against the dredge, who clearly out­num­ber you. You hope for the best.

STICKY DE­CI­SIONS

Such jabs at your lead­er­ship skills are all part of play­ing The Ban­ner Saga, a turn-based tac­tics game. A large part of the game has you trav­el­ling across the land­scape as it rolls out “Ore­gon Trail”-like spot de­ci­sion-mak­ing that will af­fect the num­ber of folks who re­main in your ever-mov­ing car­a­van and change the way your game will be played out.

The game screams out loud the risks of your de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Per­haps some­one has got­ten drunk, jostling the car­a­van of poor morale. Per­haps some ran­dom strangers from a camp­fire wants to join your car­a­van, only to run with some of your sup­plies.

“THE BAN­NER SAGA IS A BEAUTIFULLYDESIGNED GAME; THE FIRST IN A PLANNED TRIL­OGY.”

Your choices range from sim­ple con­ver­sa­tion topics to tougher de­ci­sions be­fore a bat­tle takes place, which af­fects the char­ac­ters you are with. A few of which won’t live to see the end of your long, ar­du­ous ad­ven­ture.

You play the story out through the eyes of the many in­di­vid­u­als in a game that takes place in the bit­ter cold of a Vik­ing world. Some char­ac­ters are hu­man, while oth­ers are Varl, gi­ants amongst these hu­mans who fight by their side. But again, it is per­haps not too wise to grow too at­tached to any of your char­ac­ters.

SOME STRAT­EGY IN­VOLVED

When not go­ing on for days on end through the land, The Ban­ner Saga’s other side to game­play is turn-based tac­tics through bat­tles. You can run all you like, but the dredge will al­ways be nib­bling at your feet. Bat­tles are laid out across a grid. Hu­mans take up a square, while the bulkier Varl gi­ants take up four, which can mean that they can­not squeeze be­tween two units just one space apart, thus forc­ing you to al­ways be on your toes when mak­ing your next move.

Fights are pretty straight­for­ward. All units pos­sess strength and ar­mor. Whit­tle their ar­mor to leave en­emy units more vul­ner­a­ble to fu­ture strikes. Empty their strength and they stand no more. Nat­u­rally, know­ing how to fight well is just not that sim­ple. Player char­ac­ters and en­e­mies move in an al­ter­nat­ing fash­ion, en­sur­ing your turn is al­ways next even when grossly out­num­bered, but you’re go­ing to need some sheer will to pull it off.

“Sheer will” is in­deed what the game of­fers you. How good your car­a­van is feel­ing will af­fect

how much your player char­ac­ter will want to go the ex­tra length to deal a more dev­as­tat­ing blow through the use of Willpower. The use of Willpower can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween hav­ing the en­emy live for an­other beat­ing or no longer pose a prob­lem to the ail­ing unit he is about to de­feat.

Kill en­e­mies and you earn renown, which serves as points uti­lized for up­grad­ing your char­ac­ters as well as cur­rency used to top up sup­plies for your car­a­van or ob­tain stat-boost­ing items you use in bat­tle. Do you spend what lit­tle you have for food for your car­a­van, or treat your fa­vorite char­ac­ter with an item us­ing what lit­tle your have and starve the hun­gry?

As you carry on with your jour­ney, you tend to lay back dur­ing the un­event­ful mo­ments, as if the game does that to make you take in all the mag­nif­i­cent hand-drawn char­ac­ters and back­grounds. The game did take me on a higher level of im­mer­sion when the early se­quences had voice-overs, only to find that voice-less sto­ry­telling fills up most of the con­ver­sa­tions in the game. Nonethe­less, the game still de­mands your awe in terms of its aes­thet­i­cal beauty.

Un­for­tu­nately, the game doesn’t do a whole lot to change things be­sides those of your char­ac­ters and en­e­mies. Your bat­tle al­ways plays out in a sim­i­lar grid with no niches or ter­rain dif­fer­ences to of­fer up any ad­van­tage in play. There is also no way to save your jour­ney as you please, usu­ally mak­ing your poor choices stick if you don’t feel like go­ing back and start­ing over. This is, of course, not a com­plaint about the di­rec­tion of game pro­gres­sion, but you will need to go back to roll an­other ad­ven­ture in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

The Ban­ner Saga is as beau­ti­ful as the choices you make can turn ugly. It keeps you on edge whether you want to stay timid or go all out with fists flail­ing. This is the first game in a planned tril­ogy, and those of you who do see this game through will want to re­turn for more.

HWM H W M

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