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iPad Game Review: Banner Saga Review
      #47307 - 11/13/14 04:50 PM

A pretty good tactical RPG wrapped-up in an epic storyline and polished to a high sheen. Banner Saga is a game with an impeccable pedigree. The two founders of Stoic Studios cut their teeth for 14 years working on Sony's Star Wars: Galaxies and Bioware's The Old Republic before launching their own studio. Perhaps that's why Banner Saga has polish that far exceeds what you usually find in an indy title.



Gameplay

In a nutshell, Banner Saga is a story-driven tactical RPG where the main character, Rook, attempts to keep his band of refugees alive while fleeing an apocalyptic menace called The Dredge. As straightforward as this sounds, Banner Saga easily exceeds the sum of its parts, and succeeds at moving its audience in ways usually reserved for good books. This is a tragic story involving sacrifice and loss, but manages to avoid the feeling of futility that often goes hand-in-hand with stories of grinding misery. Think: Grapes of Wrath in a fantasy setting with tactical combat; but with a more uplifting ending. Unlike most story-driven RPGs, the choices you make will actually affect gameplay substantially. This gives Banner Saga some pretty good replay value, and helps to keep you engaged as you make your choices. There are, of course, best choices; but these are not always very obvious, and some are downright obfuscated. As good as the story is, without a solid game underneath, Banner Saga just an eBook. Thankfully, there is a very robust turn-based combat system. It functions as you'd expect with action counters, special abilities, and health (and armor). While they don't really break any new ground here, the gameplay is solid and there is plenty of strategy to prevent it from become formulaic or tiresome. As I played, I found myself looking forward to the battles instead of groaning when I was drawn into one. Sadly, this is not often the case with a lot of RPGs, but Banner Saga held my interest throughout. One word of warning, however, while the interface is excellent on an iPad, it is a bit cramped on an iPhone; especially when trying to make conversational choices. If you have sausages for fingers and plan on playing it on a small screen, get yourself a stylus.



Graphics

You won't find lens flares or 3D explosions here. In fact, there is no visible technology to give it a dated look in the years to come. Everything is hand-drawn with great artistry and style. Banner Saga is a flat-out gorgeous game because Stoic clearly set out to make sure of that fact. This is particularly noticeable in the travel scenes. Drawn in the old Cinemascope ratio (2.35:1), Banner Saga looks like a sweeping epic from the days when Hollywood actually made sweeping epics. Even the grid-based tactical combat is beautiful in its own way. Each character's personality comes through as they slog through the battles, and you'll find yourself actually caring when a comrade falls.

Sound

Yep, the sound is great, too. Both music and effects will make you reach for your headphones in order to take it all in.

In-App Purchases (IAPs)

Banner Saga contains no IAPs.



Conclusion

Although Banner Saga's tactical combat isn't particularly innovative, it's very solidly executed, and fun to play. It's the story, however, that allows the game to exceed the sum of its parts. You can't help but get drawn in, and once you're there you won't come back out until it's over.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics: - 5 - Hand-drawn with a quality reminiscent of the golden age of Disney.
Sound: - 5 - First-rate audio that really enhances gameplay
Controls: - 4 - Great on an iPad, but if you're playing on an iPhone, you may experience some mistaps.
Gameplay: - 5 - This is a great game. Buy it.

Playing Hints and Tips:

Learn to live with your choices and failures as different outcomes and decisions will give different experiences. Know when to target an enemy's life and when to target its armor. Don't forget to use your special abilities!



App Facts:

Developer: Stoic
Release Date: October 2, 2014
Price: $9.99
Buy App: Banner Saga


Reviewed by Tom Slayton








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