Banner Saga 3 Review – Switch
+ Still an amazing visual presentation
+ Previous choices have real impact
+ Tough but enjoyable wave system
+ Top notch narrative that sticks with you
- Occasional long load times
- Minor glitches
- Not a "jump into experience"
The thing about sagas is that as much fun as they are to hear about they all share a similar fate as with all things in the form of an ending. The difference between a spoken or written story and say a video game is that things are not so cut and dry. Anyone that’s played the rather fantastic tale, The Banner Saga, created by developer Stoic so far knows that nobody is safe and anything can happen. With the release of Banner Saga 3, the final chapters of an already stellar narrative, players will finally see all their choices come to a head in one final push to save their world.
This time around I’ve had the opportunity to take this Viking RPG on the road, much like our heroes journey to survive, thanks to its release on the Nintendo Switch. Once again, players looking to experience the Banner Saga series should not start with this title as it kicks off directly following the events of its predecessor. Unlike more open saga titles like some of the BioWare series, Banner Saga’s narrative and character interactions as so intricately wound that it would make players miss out on a lot of back history and motivations that could sway your choices into one of Banner Saga 3’s five possible endings.
While you’re wrapping your head around that last sentence, I will say that Stoic anticipated this by releasing both of the original two titles onto the Switch before the final chapter’s release. You can now own the entire series digitally for about the same cost of a new BioWare release. Unlike other popular sagas, Banner Saga is special in a number of ways that set it apart. The growing trend in consequences based titles is definitely present once again right up to Banner Saga 3’s final moments. In fact this final installment turns the tension, gloom, and desperation dials all the way up as every individual battle and decision can have harsh effects on the whole outcome.
Though it’s nice to see that while much of the core mechanics are in place this time around the overall breakdown has changed. Like before you still have two groups of caravans, but this time only one of them is on the move to stop the ever encroaching darkness from consuming all. The first caravan headed by Rook or Alette finds refuge in Arberrang where they setup to make their last stand. The second caravan follows Iver, Juno and Eyvind as they push forward to into darkness to reach the White Tower. Talk about a name potentially inspiring hope.
In contrast to that possible ray of hope there is the crushing, demoralizing mountain that is you’re every previous failure made physical into twisted inhuman entities known as the Warped hell-bent out for your destruction. This isn’t the first game or series that I played that made me regret past actions but it is definitely amongst the finest examples of decision based storytelling out there. The impending collapse of the world upon our “heroes” is even more pronounced with this time around with a doomsday countdown. The battle of survival is two-fold this time around as previous mechanics like supplies are not as demanding as others. They do however still play a role as the struggling to survive folks in Arberrang are there as a last ditch effort to hold the line so the other caravan can make it to their destination.
Outside of conversation driven outcomes a big chunk of your survival comes in the form of the turn-based strategy combat system. Not much has changed in the way of combat though a few improvements and features spice things up. Players can now use Up on the D-dad to display the stats for all characters on the battlefield making it easier to plan attacks without manually highlighting each unit. While that makes things easier the new Wave system puts the imminent doom pressure right back on you. A lot of the battles you face will have a wave counter in the turn order. Once this happens more enemies with be added to the battlefield worsening your odds.
This makes it so you’ll want to finish battles as quickly as possible though there is more renown and the allure of a powerful item if you do stick it out. You are given the choice to flee, fight more and/or refresh your roster between waves. So the biggest foe you face in combat is ultimately yourself as you try and build up your heroes. That said imported progress might make things a little easier than players starting with this title. Of course there is the also newly added Heroic Titles that can be activated once a character hits rank 11. These different titles can be used to often give single or multiple stat bonuses to a single character regardless of class. For instance I would use Whisper on an archer to make them harder to hit and more versatile in tile movement. These titles can be upgraded five times using Renown to bolster their effect.
There are new characters to flush out the ranks including Guard Caption Petrus whose aid summoning ability I really like. There is also Alfun whose presence offers later options in the story as well as being a good source of ranged strength damage. In an odd turn there are also a few Dredge heroes that can join. Seem like even in the darkest moments there is room for surprises. For both newcomers and veteran players, just remember that you shouldn’t get too attached to any character because Stoic doesn’t hold back on character deaths. This is one of the reasons that the series and this entry in particular really pulls at the heartstrings.
This is more than ever seen and felt through its presentation both in and out of battle. Banner Saga 3 features a larger number of animated cutscenes than the other two entries but it adds more impact to crucial moments then ever before. The Banner Saga 3 is a significantly darker experience than its predecessors in almost every way, contrasting greatly against the vibrant countryside seen before. That doesn’t mean that Stoic slouched on the hand painted details as this entry is every bit of gorgeous in the face of apocalyptic doom right until the very end. These strong visuals and storytelling are backed by series veteran Austin Wintory’s stellar score that really adds emotion and weight to every aspect of Banner Saga 3.
Continuing my adventure on the Nintendo Switch was a big change of pace much like the gameplay within from playing it on a stationary console. But surprisingly, Banner Saga 3 plays quite well on the Switch. Load times ran a bit long here and there and I had a fight or two not trigger but overall Stoic pulls it off remarkably well. Even being late to the experience I found that The Banner Saga was one definitely worth seeing through to its endings. Stoic does a great job of tying up loose ends and bringing the story to pretty satisfactory ends with Banner Saga 3. So if you’re new to the Banner bandwagon or a veteran player this is an engaging struggle you don’t want to miss.