Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Banner Saga and the Satisfaction of Identity

The Banner Saga has a Kickstarter page up: Banner Saga 3. It deserves your support, and I'll tell you why.

I remember starting the first game when it first launched, and quitting only a few hours later. I had a reason, which I've long since forgotten, but I remember it was trivial.

My loss.

In the last five days, I've played through both the original Banner Saga and the second installment. They're brilliant, and some of my most enjoyable moments in gaming.

Why? It's an answer in four parts.

The first part is the story, which is complex and engrossing. Almost nothing is quite as it appears, and the story reveals itself with exceptional skill. It's a game where a book could easily be written about the story in the game, and the story would stand on its own terms. It's a story with the strength of myth, but with a surprising amount of nuance.

The second part is what I call the satisfaction of identity. Characters have strong and distinct identities, which you learn through the course of the games. The characters are finely drawn, and they're not single notes. It's tremendously satisfying to find characters who live and breathe and stand up and break down. It's not something I see in games very often, and it's done extraordinarily well.

The third part is combat, which is meaty and worthwhile. The game has a series of set piece battles, but the number of ways you can approach them is essentially infinite. Character classes are unique and have such different strengths and weaknesses that combining them into an effective party is a genuine challenge, and because you know these characters so well, what happens to them in battle matters to you. The combat mechanics are well developed, and there are some interesting design choices that enrich the experience.

Fourth is that these games are just so damn beautiful. They are a hand-drawn Disney cartoon brought to life, and I can't possibly do them justice in words. Images just explode off the screen, the colors are unbelievably rich, and it's all entirely consistent with the hand-drawn style. It's one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, and I've played my share.

These games also have a quality that seems lacking in most games these days: they're memorable. There are so many little moments, so many details, that stick with me, and they'll stick with me for a long time.

The third installment of the saga is going to bring the story to its conclusion, and I can't wait.

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