The Banner Saga Review (Nintendo Switch) – A Brilliant Fit

Bringing Stoic Studio’s The Banner Saga to the Switch is a masterstroke. The series, which is set to become a trilogy in July, has been a favourite of mine since the first game’s debut back in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the Switch port of Stoic’s first Banner Saga outing is excellent — playing well in both docked and handheld mode with no major issues of note.

The Banner Saga takes place in a world inspired by Norse mythology, and has you playing as two characters throughout the 10-hour adventure: Vognir and Rook. Each have their own motivations and ideologies, though they’re both faced with the consequences of the climate at hand after the sun stopped moving. Further, the Dredge — an ancient race who’d been extinct for quite some time — have returned to kill all living life.

Coming in with no knowledge of the game or its story, it’s likely you’ll feel a bit confused in the opening hours of the game. It’s a narrative that attempts to whisk you away into its world as quickly as possible, and this can be jarring as you try to make sense of what’s going on. It feels almost as if you’ve started reading a novel at page 100 rather than 1, but overtime The Banner Saga does tend to grow on you, especially as you come to understand the consequences and sheer gravitas of the situation the characters are facing.

Perspectives shift throughout as well, with Vognir and Rook starting off on opposite sides of the country. Slowly they come together, and the way the game’s story weaves everything together is fascinating. That said, one of the best parts about The Banner Saga is that choices matter — every decision you make, big or small, has some weight and levity to it.

Of course, this isn’t just a game that focuses on narrative decisions, as a lot of your time in The Banner Saga will be spent battling Dredges. The game handles similarly to XCOM and Final Fantasy Tactics, implementing a turn-based combat system that rewards tactical nuance and smart thinking. Gameplay is focused around grid-based combat, and has each character taking turns, dealing damage, and making use of special abilities.

Completing combat situations will see you awarded with renown, which you can use to upgrade characters, promote them to higher leadership positions in your group, and improve specific skills. It’s worth noting losing characters on the battlefield won’t lead to perma-death like it does in XCOM, but it can leave you at a real disadvantage if you haven’t played your cards right. Further, the game doesn’t seem to hold back in terms of difficulty (especially towards the end), so experimentation and a sound understanding of the game’s mechanics play a big role as you approach the finale.

This all transitions over perfectly to the Switch, with no noticeable issues in terms of performance at all. Further, the game looks great in both docked and portable modes, though the art style really pops when playing handheld. It’s worth mentioning that the game supports touchscreen controls if you prefer them as well, which is a nice little addition.

I did notice, however, that zooming in during combat scenarios in docked mode will have some of the characters become noticeably blurry. Zooming’s not all that necessary though — and it’s not something I often made use of — but it’s worth mentioning, especially for those that like to dive fairly deep into examining all of their potential options on the battlefield.

As a portable experience The Banner Saga thrives, though it’s also a fantastic game to adventure through on the TV, too. It prides itself on its epic story and tough narrative choices, and the brilliant score suits docked mode to a t. That said, the game also works well when played in bite-sized chunks, and thanks to frequent autosaves you won’t have to worry about losing your progress if you need to jet off. It works well in both environments, and is a perfect fit for Nintendo’s hybrid.

Packed with a great campaign to venture through, as well as a narrative that plays to your choices and has meaningful impact no matter what you decide, The Banner Saga is still as good as it was when it launched back in 2014. Further, the Switch port is excellent, and is easily one of the best ways to play the game. I’m really excited to continue my adventure when the sequels land on the console over the next couple of months, and definitely recommend checking this one out.

THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.  

 

8
Conclusion
The Banner Saga is an excellent game, driven by a wonderful score and a moving story. It’s a perfect fit for the Switch too, and the port itself is handled well.
Positives
A Well Handled Port
Docked and Handheld Mode Are Excellent
Fantastic Narrative
Satisfying Turn-based Combat
Sound Design and Score Are Top Notch
Negatives
Blurred Zoom Can Be Annoying
Story Can Feel Overwhelming In The Beginning
Some Difficulty Spikes Are A Nuisance
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