Banner of the Maid Indie Snippet
For as massive a success as last year’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses was, there were some old school fans who missed the simpler, more challenging days of the series’ earlier entries. Though those games haven’t made their way to the Switch yet, Banner of the Maid is absolutely the next best thing. Azure Flame Studios’ beloved PC SRPG is finally making its way to consoles and, just like with Into the Breach and the Disgaea series, tactical games and the Nintendo Switch are undoubtedly a match made in heaven.
Banner of the Maid takes place in an alternate history during the height of the French Revolution and follows Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger sister, Pauline, as she graduates from the military academy and builds her legacy as a famous officer. As Pauline, players not only have to build their army and command troops, but also carefully navigate alliances with different political groups in France to garner military support.
The story itself is told through visual novel-style cutscenes featuring beautiful character portraits with changing facial expressions. In fact, there’s so much narrative here that one could argue that Banner of the Maid is half SRPG, half visual novel. Extensive background on the French Revolution isn’t necessary to enjoy what’s here, but history buffs are sure to get a kick out of seeing prominent historical figures and battles reimagined through a more fantasy-like lens.
Aside from some grammatical errors lost in the translation, the writing is strong enough that it’s easy to fall in love with Pauline and the rest of her ever-growing army. An array of distinct personalities make each member of the cast feel unique and worth getting invested in (something that the side quests help push even more). Even the anime-influenced archetypes (how’s a peppy elementary schooler on the battlefield again?) fit as a nice contrast to the historical context.
The Lay of the Land
It’s impressive just how elegantly Banner of the Maid uses its narrative to weave its systems together. When Pauline first arrives in Paris, she’s sent to live with a shopkeeper who quickly convinces her to join her political faction, the Malmaisons. From that point on, the Malmaisons’ salon in Paris becomes the hub for side quests (contextualized as doing favors in return for staying at the salon), faction reputation management, and even paralogues where players can glean some interesting bits of plot or learn more about side characters by playing from their perspective. For a title that can be rather heavy on exposition, breaking up main story missions with these side objectives was a great call.
The Malmaisons’ HQ isn’t the only place Pauline can travel to when she’s not on the frontlines, however. Depending on the dialogue choices you make, you can gain favor with different factions and unlock locations that offer key benefits like more types of items in the shops, valuable advice before battles, specialty items for certain classes, and even prestige skills learnable at the military academy. This all funnels back into the core gameplay and truly feels like you’re carefully establishing these political connections to gain status and resources for your army.
The Basics of War
Banner of the Maid’s core gameplay is like a warm blanket of tactical nostalgia. Players will organize their armies, strategically move across different kinds of terrain on the grid, and leverage unit type advantages to best their opponents. In keeping with the rest of the art in the game, every map I’ve encountered is beautifully detailed and many of them feature various elevation levels, hazards, blockades, dynamic environments and/or events, and so on.
In fact, some might be put off by how fresh Banner of the Maid keeps things on the battlefield; whereas those coming off of Three Houses will be used to having most of their obstacles laid out before them at the start of the skirmish, battles here keep players on their toes with sudden changes like downpours (which hamper movement, extinguish campfires used to heal, and put out all fires on the battlefield) and bandits that crash battles if treasure is left on the map for too long. Personally, I loved these; not only did these keep things challenging, but it made me feel like a real tactician having to change my strategies on the fly.
The Fire Emblem comparisons are easy to make, but there are also some key differences. For one, players can opt into Officer Mode, which allows you to save at any time during a battle. Want to be able to make some risky moves without hating yourself for losing valuable units in the aftermath? Save right before and load back up if it goes bad. Another difference is the lack of critical hits in favor of “Heroic moves,” which are charged through battle and offer increased attack power and accuracy. Thanks to this, there’s no randomness present in skirmishes themselves; for better and worse, winning or losing a fight all comes down to your units and your strategy.
On the whole, Banner of the Maid is a rock-solid SRPG that any fan of the genre should enjoy. Its mix of visual novel-style storytelling and deep tactical combat makes it absolutely perfect to play in the Switch’s handheld mode, and it’s clear that a significant amount of care has been put into its presentation values with crisp visuals and partial Chinese voice acting. There are a few lacking quality of life features worth mentioning–there’s no way to zoom in on the grid, rotate the camera, or take screenshots–but if the narrative continues to be this enjoyable and the battles remain this challenging and fresh throughout, Banner of the Maid is an easy recommendation.