Oldschool SRPG meets an alternate French Revolution… now in English!
Genre: Strategy, RPG
Developer: Azure Flame Studio
Release date: 28 May, 2019
Banner of the Maid is an SRPG made by the Chinese Developer Azure Flame Studio and is their very first game on Steam at least. To keep things short, the game is an isometric Strategy RPG as you know them from Final Fantasy Tactics and it’s ilk and comes with HP, Levels, Skills, Equipment, etc. and visually represented in good looking sprites and Asian styled Anime art.
With everything said, the advantage of this visual design is immediately clear… You can run it on many PCs due to the low hardware requirements!
But is the game any good?
Before we get into the meat of things. Let’s talk about historically-accurate-TM. The very beginning makes it clear that this is a completely different timeline that doesn’t have the Royals being beheaded by guillotines but a less bloody and more diplomatic approach. You’ll also find yourself finding some fantasy elements sprinkled into this world to make sure what you’re going to expect.
That fantasy element has a simple name: Maid. These are females that have their own supernatural abilities though not much of them is known. In this regard, our main protagonist seems to have the ability to inspire people and push them above their limits…
Now that we’ve set up the baseline it’s time to talk about what the story is about. You follow the footsteps of a traumatized Pauline Bonaparte who’s none other than the sister of the famous Napoleon. She’s a top scorer from a military academy that trains the best of the best. After graduating it she then experienced a heavy conflict that scarred her. Not being able to keep her conscience clean after witnessing the huge amount of deaths, even though she won and has since been lauded as a hero, she decided to hang up the military uniform for the meantime and find her brother Napoleon that leads her to the battlefield once again.
Will she overcome her trauma? What are Maids? Where do they come from? Will they win the war against the Austrian/Prussians?
Let me leave you with something in advance as it’s important for the title of the game. Later in the story, Pauline is getting bestowed with a banner. Not just any banner! It’s none other than the banner hoisted up by Joan of Arc or also known as Jeanne d’Arc: The Maid of Orléans.
Banner of the Maid opts for the usual Visual Novel style of storytelling with the usual amount of text. Within the story, you’ll meet many historical figures such as Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lafayette and many more.
The first arc is about the war against Austria/Prussians while having Pauline meet various characters, giving some exposition about her, the current state of the country and depicts her growing because of it.
As there are many factions involved (including gameplay-related elements) and the tension between them is palpable as you’re thrown in the middle of the conflict while trying to get on their good graces.
I haven’t found any big issues with the English translation and the story itself looks tight without any big mishaps. Pauline is well trained by experienced veterans and is growing as the story continues. The supporting cast is showing clear characterization making a fast impression on you.
As for the enemies, you won’t get to see too much from them at the beginning but there are enough tidbits thrown at you that France most likely isn’t the only country that has the power of the Maids.
The game is made with the traditional Mouse and Keyboard in mind, while it also perfectly supports the controller. I was using the Xbox One controller for this review and it’s a simple plug and play. If the initial button setup isn’t to your liking then you have the option to remap them.
There are two settings and neither of them is on the easy side. Easy has some extra funds at the beginning and does not punish you for retreating units. The hard difficulty comes with no initial rewards and deducts money for losing a unit.
This will take a little bit more since we’re going to a more detailed look on what it encompasses. The usual flow is always Story -> Intermission -> Battle. We’ll be taking a look at Intermission and Battle separately.
Intermission: Preparation is the key to success
This won’t matter as much in the beginning but as you progress through the story, more options will open up.
Shops, sidequests, equipment, skills are all part of it. There are also…
That will decide what items each shop is selling as they in tie with the different factions. The Royals have accessories, Civilians have groceries, etc. Most of the time you’ll get faction experience points from making decisions in the story or from sidequests.
Items, Weapons, Accessories, and Skills
Items are consumables that vanish once they are depleted and offer things such as HP Recovery, Experience Points, Morale Increase, etc. They are strong but if you’re a money sensitive type of person then these will be something you’ll buy very begrudgingly.
Weapons are depleting items on the field but are getting restored at the end of the battle. As it’s a finite resource there’s a good chance of you wanting to equip your forces with more than one pack of weapons, especially when you consider the weather effects (more about that later). They affect the hit rate, range and strength so it’s in your interest to keep your army well equipped.
Accessories are essential as they give your units passive buffs and you can only have a single one in use. Look at each type of unit and carefully decide what to equip.
Skills are a little bit more special because they require a special currency: Battle Reports. Considering the special buffs they give you, it’s clearly a balancing decision. Some buffs are tremendous such as making them ignore surface limitations.
There are different skills available depending on your unit’s class.
Don’t forget to equip them before deployment!
Funds and Battle Reports
Because there’s no such thing as a free meal, you’ll have to juggle your funds to keep your units strong. The only way to procure funds is either to sell things or finish missions. Since it’s a rare resource, it’s going to be in your best interest to complete them.
This becomes available once your unit reaches level 15. Rather than a class “change”, it’s more in line with an evolution. On top of increased stats, they also get a different class skill.
Most classes are linear but some have a second choice but these require you to complete something beforehand.
Before going into the battlefield you can take a look at it and decide how to place your army. It’s limited to swapping your units but do make sure to think about it since you wouldn’t want support units to be on the frontline. Though I haven’t seen initial placements that do it.
On the Battlefield: Think 3 steps and expect the unexpected
Win, Lose and Extra Conditions
Depending on the mission, there are things you need to keep a lookout on. There are Win conditions such as defeating specific units or defeating all enemies.
Losing encompasses mostly losing either Pauline or multiple units. It’s important to note that there are also missions that come with time limits that require to win the map within x amount of turns, though I consider them to be one of the worse ones.
Extra Conditions are things like keeping an ally unharmed and offer you extra rewards on completion.
Every battle is a struggle against time because everything is limited. Especially your weapons, if you run out of them then they become nothing more than sitting ducks.
HP is not as rare because the Drummers and Camps are available. The latter is just a simple matter of being adjacent to them and recover 10 HP each turn.
This is something akin to MP. Once you have 100 it creates a stock that enables you to activate a Heroic Attack. It’s 1.5 times the damage or healing depending on your unit and adds some extra EXP to it.
Later on, it’s also used for skills. One of them, for example, requires 50 Morale for each activation.
Banner of the Maid utilizes a 4-way “element” System that each class has an advantage and disadvantage against. Heavy Infantry beats Light Infantry, Light Infantry beats Light Cavalry, Light Cavalry beats Heavy Cavalry, and Heavy Cavalry beats Heavy Infantry. Keep an eye out on your enemies and fight accordingly!
Then there are support type classes that are pretty much weak against all of them. Drummers can raise morale and recover HP while Artillery attacks from afar without fear of retaliation. Both of them are extremely important as they are elements that either recovers or helps to keep your resources.
As important as it is to keep watch on your own units, it’s also important to keep an eye on your environment. It’s as much of a matter of winning and losing like everything else.
Things such as tall grass are helping you to have a better evasion rate and therefore your rate of survival. Then there are also the before mentioned Camps. These look like fireplaces, though it comes with a caveat…
At the heat of the battle, things can turn severely due to weather. The terrain can change like from normal terrain to mud and more terrifyingly it disables camps, plus something else… All your firearm weapons (classified as Hot Weapons) take double the resource to use! I.e. a rifle with 6 Ammo left will only be able to attack 3 times!
This is one of the reasons why keeping more weapons at hand is a viable strategy.
These are boss-type units on your opposing side. It’s a folly to try to fight them with a single unit as they are significantly stronger than the normal grunts.The good thing is, they leave some Battle Reports behind.
The gameplay favors strategy over the RNG gods as hit rates are high and require you to use special things to reduce them. The different classes require you to think about your approach as a big mistake can prove to be lethal. Leading to a collapse in forces and ergo a miserable defeat.
Under no circumstance should you learn from the last season of Game of Thrones and put your Artillery to the front without protection. They’ll die faster than you can say cheerio.
While the Ai can be accommodatingly passive due to mostly reacting only when you’re getting within their range, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I have experienced losses quite a few times.
The static elements of the game make sure that every level has a solution but there’s one thing I didn’t like… Many missions have uninvited enemy reinforcements and are used far too often. This is especially grating when you’re having a mission that requires to defeat all enemies. There’s no warning and they just appear depending on circumstance. It’s a cheap way to increase the challenge and is practically a one-time-trick-pony.
Graphics and Sound
Banner of the Maid is a great example of the advantages of its graphics type. Beautiful sprites and artworks are giving it a distinct feel at low Hardware requirements. Unlike many other games, it forgoes 3D elements resulting in clean and coherent visuals.
Battles are animated in simple attacks with armies in a line. Though it does not take into account how many are left, it’s just a neat extra that can be skipped.
The male characters seem to have a mixed type of visuals. The older generation has a distinctly different look than younger ones. The latter being the typical pretty boy visuals.
Female characters are varied too though there are quite a few well-endowed ones with cleavage… The latter is mostly reserved for more mature characters.
There’s no doubt that it has a beautiful soundtrack that fits well within the historic theme with instruments like violins.
Most importantly, there’s no voice work within the story. The only time you get to hear their voices is in battles and they are all in Chinese.
Considering the size of the game and budget, it’s hardly any dealbreaker and well within expectations.
Banner of the Maid is without a doubt a good game with a few blemishes to account for. It’s good looking, has nice music and the story is certainly at least acceptable. The gameplay does a lot of interesting things that require you to take the unexpected into account but it also puts you into disadvantageous situations most of the time. These happen most of the time unexpected and doesn’t give you a good feeling when you experience it each time you get to a new mission.
As someone who can’t stomach heavy RNG games like X-Com, it’s to my delight that this game doesn’t have much of this particular element.
If you’re a fan of Japanese SRPGs there’s a high chance that this is something for you. At the current budget pricing, it’s certainly worth a shot if you like what you’re reading.
The final verdict is a Save but on a very high note.