The Banner Saga 3 (Switch) Review

Raise the Banner High

The Banner Saga trilogy comes to a close with its final installment, four years after the first game launched. While the gameplay hasn’t changed much since Stoic’s Nordic fantasy tactics RPG began, the story’s stakes have dramatically increased. Surviving characters and player decisions play a part in shaping The Banner Saga 3’s epic conclusion.

 

Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!

If you’ve played the trilogy’s previous games, then it’s an easy recommendation to see the journey through to its end. On the contrary, it would be difficult to start with The Banner Saga 3. Although there is a brief recap, you might get lost in the lore and likely won’t be as invested in the characters and their dire plight, so newcomers will want to start from the first entry. Returning players can import their save file from The Banner Saga 2, as long as it’s on the same system. Alternatively, you can pick one of two protagonists, Rook or Alette, and join the action in progress.

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The trilogy comes to a close.

The story picks up right after the second game’s cliffhanger. Darkness is looming overhead, much to the dismay of the heroic cast of humans, giants, and centaurs. Like in the first two titles, the characters are divided into two caravans, which you switch between throughout. One group consists of Rook/Alette and their allies who have made it to Arberrang, a city that has not yet been overtaken by darkness. In a bold move, this team does not venture outside the city much, but instead makes its rounds settling political disputes and defending this last stand from the dangerous Dredge army. It may not be a standard journey, and it comparatively feels a bit underwhelming. Nonetheless, it plays out like a bitter hard-fought survival game. You still engage in turn-based tactical combat and make difficult decisions during narrative segments inspired by The Oregon Trail. The only difference is that the action is confined into one slowly crumbling city.

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Same here, same here.

This first group is literally buying time for the second caravan, who is heading straight for the darkness to restore light to the world. This team is more intriguing, thanks to its more dire atmosphere and diverse roster. One of the best additions is the mysterious but crucial spellcaster Juno, who is now playable. Her unique abilities to confuse enemies into hitting each other and revive herself if she falls in battle are extremely powerful and fun to play out. Other standout characters include a powerful and equally eccentric witch, and for some, playable Dredge creatures. This group also has an exclusive party-wide ability, the Valka Spear that can invoke chain lightning on foes. It’s a sharp contrast from the usual horn that grants heroes the willpower they need for stronger attacks, increased movement, and abilities. While you can get extra hits in with the Valka Spear, you have less room to squander your much needed willpower.

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Yellow tiles represent where you can go if you exert extra willpower.

Combat is just as strategically engaging as in previous titles, but don’t expect many updates. You and the opposing team still take turns moving around a grid-based battlefield, choosing to either target foes’ armor to make them more vulnerable or directly attack their health, which is proportional to their strength. Maps are tight to maneuver around, and interactive obstacles spruce fights up. These 6v6 encounters raise the stakes during the new wave battles, in which a turn limit steadily counts down. When it hits zero, a new wave of enemies ambushes the group, forcing the player to hastily kill foes to prevent this. If you achieve victory before the turn limit, you can either accept your win or continue fighting the next wave, able to switch out your tired fighters for fresh ones. I appreciate that this challenge not only grants brave players valuable rewards at a risky price, but also encourages full use of your roster.

The cast of over 40 playable characters make up the heart and soul of The Banner Saga. You can now strengthen your surviving fighters further than increasing their stats and abilities. Beyond a raised level cap, you can now pay renown earned from battles to bestow characters with heroic titles that offer passive power-ups like increased willpower or movement. The heroic titles are permanent and exclusive, meaning that once a character has one, it’s theirs forever and nobody else’s. Given how the fates of each character are hard to predict, this choice is difficult, but it feels gratifying to honor your favorite characters with these upgrades.

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Break enough of the armor to inflict heavy damage.

Even though preventing the apocalypse is the priority, witnessing who lives, dies, and leaves your party remains a hallmark of the Game of Thrones-esque narrative. Regardless of what happens, it’s rewarding to see how your playthrough has paid off, for better or for worse. Even your caravan itself plays a part in survival. I won’t spoil anything here, but the story has a definite conclusion. I was fine with how my ending played out, although I wish I had seen more resolution. I did encounter some variations for the final moments after going back and remaking choices, so there is room for variability.

My biggest issue was with the performance of the Nintendo Switch version. The game retains its trademark eye-popping visuals inspired by classic animated films and bittersweet and beautiful music from talented composers like Journey’s Austin Wintory. However, the frame rate tends to stutter on Switch. Worse, if you leave the game on or asleep for too long, there may be heavy lag during battles. Hopefully, performance updates fix this, as it is otherwise convenient to bring the tactics game on-the-go, especially with its adapted text sizes and touch screen support for portable play.

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Grimmest parade I’ve ever seen.

Conclusion

As a finale to a trilogy, The Banner Saga 3 delivers its long-awaited conclusion, told through a sharp character-driven narrative. Although the mash-up of tactical gameplay, Oregon Trail decision segments, and serialized fantasy drama haven’t evolved much, they effectively carry the emotional weight of a banner years in the making.

Score: 8/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was written on DarkStation.

What do you think of The Banner Saga? If you’ve played the series, who are your favorite characters and what are your favorite moments? (Please be respectful of spoilers.) What are your favorite strategy RPGs? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

13 thoughts on “The Banner Saga 3 (Switch) Review

  1. Awesome review! The final installment of an epic medieval fantasy trilogy, eh? Makes me think of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (my favorite movie!). I haven’t played the first two, so I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate this game. I do like the cartoon art style and the haunting Nordic music. I’m also a fan of strategy RPGs like Fire Emblem. Maybe I should check out the complete saga. For that matter, I should also finally start watching Game of Thrones! I have the first Blu-ray set ready and waiting for me! 😉 Great job on this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement! Your kind words truly mean a lot to me! The Banner Saga 3 isn’t quite The Lord of the Rings, but it’s still pretty epic. It definitely has a mature Game of Thrones vibe, and I appreciate the relationships between the characters and witnessing who lives and dies throughout. Yeah, as a fan of other strategy tactics RPGs like Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, I would say go for the whole Banner Saga trilogy starting from the beginning! I think you’d appreciate how it looks and plays. And yes, I also need to watch Game of Thrones still hahaha!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool review! I hadn’t heard of this, but it seems like an interesting series. Also, limiting most of the action to a single city is an unusual but intriguing choice for an RPG.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much my friend! Dude, I think you would like The Banner Saga trilogy. Maybe not so much the strategy tactics RPG aspect of it, but the serialized Game of Thrones-esque medieval drama element. The choices and Oregon Trail segments all factor in to who lives, dies, and leaves your party. Nobody is safe, and I think you’d appreciate this kind of story! The Banner Saga 3 and its single city setup will also make more sense if you play the first two games, which are more standard survival journeys.

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  3. It looks so complicated so it would likely take me a while to get into it, haha. I got some Fire Emblem vibes from your video. I hope I can make time for this game series someday! I do like the story dramaz 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah! I definitely got a Fire Emblem vibe, but The Banner Saga definitely has an extra layer of strategy that makes it harder. Luckily, there isn’t permadeath. The heroes get injured, though, which puts them out of several battles and impairs their strength. Oh, and if they die in the story, tough luck hahaha! I do wish there was a straight-up Oregon Trail version of these games that focused on the decisions and the dramaz. For some, the strategy might be a bit too much to handle, whereas the intense story would still make for a great choose-your-own adventure game!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Things on the XIIIth: August & September 2018 – Livid Lightning
    1. Thank you very much for your kind words! I hope you enjoy the finale to the Banner Saga! I was literally just talking to a friend who loved the first two and he got super hyped for The Banner Saga 3 after watching my review, so it’ll definitely be fun! Ooh I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for sharing!

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