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Banner of the Maid (Switch) artwork

Banner of the Maid (Switch) review

"Important question to history scholars: How would the post-French Revolution era be different with cute anime girls?"

No, really, it's a serious question. Naturally, we posit that cute anime girl Marie Antoinette could never go to the guillotine. Thus, she would instead broker a truce between the royalists and the revolutionists. Ergo, instead of the Reign of Terror, Louis XVI and Robespierre would merely be sipping champagne and having polite disagreements while Beethoven plays in the background. Also, everyone knows cute anime girls make the best military officers, so many would quickly enroll and rise up the ranks. Naturally, these cute anime girls must show off their fighting skill while exhibiting their single personality quirks and custom cute uniforms, and so the Napoleonic War will still happen, and not even cute anime girls could stop Napoleon from becoming famous. But naturally, his cuter and anime-ier little sister Pauline would become equally celebrated, and indeed would fight under the banner of the original French cute anime girl, none other than the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc herself.

No really, that is all 100% fact. Trust me, I'm a scientist.

Banner of the Maid (Switch) image
Doesn't that look like the face of a grizzled, war-forged brilliant strategist to you?

Well, at least that's what developer Azure Flame thinks. Yes, this is a Chinese developed, anime inspired, alternate French history Fire Emblem clone, something one wouldn't think possible. Virtually all of the characters are ripped straight from history, albeit with obvious differences, yet dripping with anime tropes. Turns out some women (called Maids) have subtle magical powers, and Marie Antoinette is using them to help win the war and free all of Europe or whatever. It's bizarre, yes, and perhaps you might consider it silly and perhaps even a bit offensive that such a bloody period of history might be used in a glib manner. Personally, I was mostly bemused. But whether you are intrigued or not, please note that despite my irreverent introduction the game is NOT just a PG pastiche of this era with magical girls. Despite the seeming peace in France, the tensions are still boiling hot underneath, and it is soon made clear that the guillotine may yet claim her bloody prize. Pauline herself, despite being a cute anime girl, is forced to navigate the difficult politics of the various factions, and her military fame results in her being used and manipulated by the politicians behind them. And that magical Maid power? There's a clear message that many of these cute anime girls will end up sharing the same violent, painful end that Joan of Arc did. Despite the anime aesthetic and silly idea that teenage girls make great generals, there's a solid attempt at a serious story here.

But the story itself is simply the backdrop for this tactical RPG. And it turns out "cute anime girl" isn't the only thing they copied from Fire Emblem, as the battle system is clearly designed on FE's rules. It's turn-based, with all your characters moving and attacking first, followed by all of the enemies. You must move first, then attack (although, like FE, some characters can move again after attacking). There's a weapon triangle of sorts, albeit a weapon square in this game (four classes: light and heavy infantry and cavalry, with each one being weak against one, strong against another, and neutral against the third). After attacking, your opponent counterattacks, and depending on each character's speed there's a possibility one of them will do a second attack afterwards. There's weapon durability (although it replenishes after each fight) and items (bread) with very limited uses to restore limited health. Each character gets a class upgrade halfway through the max number of levels. And there's even about 30 chapters, roughly the same length as FE! Yes, all of that is identical to Fire Emblem, and represents the majority of the combat elements.

Banner of the Maid (Switch) image

Of course, this is an indie game, so it's more realistic to say it's Fire Emblem with some corners cut. While FE now seems to push the character interaction side of things, Banner of the Maid is plot and battle and not much else. Lengthy side-stories with your secondary characters are noticeably absent. Sure, there are side quests in the game, some even featuring the other members of your team, and they might even get a line or two in the main quest, but the support conversations and relationship rankings are nonexistent. And I hope you aren't expecting a visual or aural tour de force. Did you like all the unique animations each individual character had when they fought in FE? Here we have a generic line of soldiers firing and some falling, repeated over and over. Unsurprisingly, I turned off these animations after the first chapter. There's some limited voice acting, but A) it's mostly one-liners when performing actions rather than the plot and B) it's only in Chinese (leading to the joy of watching French characters speak Chinese with English subtitles. I feel so worldly). Oh, and basically everything plot-wise is just characters standing still with text and the occasional change in expression. There's a plot point about a quarter of the way in that's meant to be super dramatic, and even if it is a little corny it honestly pulled it off fairly well thanks to integrating it well with the actual gameplay. But, of course, it was just text and a picture, so you have to imagine it. That's fine for me, but I suppose some might find that disappointing.

So it's just a cheap indie knockoff Fire Emblem clone. Why bother?

Well, besides the whole French alternate history thing, because this is much more challenging than Three Houses was. Enemies tend to be at or above your level, and it's often harder to isolate and crush a few, regroup, and prepare for the next few opponents than you might expect. And thanks to the weapon tri - er, square, you simply cannot leave some of your units exposed because they will be killed in one or two shots. Sure, there's no permadeath, but it is so easy to get quickly overwhelmed and force a reset. When they keep coming at you (or, in timed missions, when you have to keep pressing on), it's very challenging to balance keeping a strong defensive position vs taking an offensive approach, and your tactics may not work as well as you first thought. And then you're fighting with less health and you can't get your healers over to assist and you've already eaten your bread and thus have no healing items left ("Let them eat..." oh shut up!). I confess a couple chapters required not one but two resets from me, and I even had to *gasp* grind once (only a little bit! Just to get a couple promotions!). But that made it feel like a real accomplishment when I worked my way through the problem. It also helps (or hurts!) that money management is fairly challenging in the early game (and even onward depending on how much impulse buying you do). And there's even optional objectives that grant you bonuses as well as a hard mode that, while not changing the stats, punishes you for deaths and prevents save scumming. So it works as a way to improve the system while not actually adjusting the gameplay to the point where it no longer feels the same.

Each chapter was more interesting thanks to the challenge. Which often made them more memorable as well. When you have to defend your artillery from a steady barrage, and you know that that means exposing your flank, you really have to think about unit placement. When a chapter looks simple and you KNOW that's deceptive and KNOW that reinforcements are going to come pouring in but get lax and rush anyway, you know you deserve it when you suddenly find yourself outmaneuvered. Of course, some levels are memorable for other reasons - one of them has you fighting in the Louvre for example. And there are a few new things not seen in Fire Emblem. Each unit can have five abilities attached to it, which you can get and customize either naturally through leveling up or purchasing them (remember what I said about money management?). And there is weather as well, so a sunny day can switch to fog (reduced range of attacks) or rain (lowers your durability) as the battle wears on, for example. Basically, there are plenty of little aspects that can have a big impact - I completely lost the use of my artillery once thanks to being stuck in the mud!

Things aren't perfect, of course. The weapon square is unfortunately not perfectly balanced; light cavalry simply cannot tank hits like your heavy units and cannot dodge as well as light infantry, and thus absolutely must steer clear of their weakness (heavy cavalry). The side missions are simply playing the same map you just completed, thus losing their luster. And the ending, while appropriate to the historical era, just sort of leaves things hanging. Ultimately, these are mostly nitpicks, things that can be improved upon in a sequel rather than something that would steer someone away from the game.

Fire Emblem is certainly the more famous game, but Banner of the Maid is able to hold its own against it. Sure, it's not as flashy, and there's less focus on character relationships. But it also provides a greater challenge as well as a unique idea of creating an alternate French revolution era. I honestly can't say, one way or another, which one I prefer. I'm just glad I played both.

mariner's avatar
Featured community review by mariner (August 23, 2021)

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