Welcome to Save State, where we have banners, but no maids. Have you ever purchased a Steam game during a sale, thinking, “I’ve been looking forward to this game, I’ll make sure I play it during my vacation days three weeks from now” only to discover it’s the wrong game, and you’re past the refund date on Steam? Well, that’s the story of how I mistook a sale for Banner Saga 3 and bought Banner of the Maid, instead, and honestly, there are no mistakes: Just happy little accidents.
You take control of French armies during the revolution, playing as Pauline Bonaparte, the younger sister of Napoleon. The story is a dramatic departure of historical accuracy, and many liberties are taken with characters so they’re more endearing to the player. Much of the storytelling is performed through visual novel segments, and the typical progression for the game is visual novel portions that try to set the stage for what comes next, which then moves into an intermission where you can buy from shops or even complete side quests, and from there the player moves onto the battles. Upon successful completion of a battle, this loop will repeat until the game is finished. It’s formulaic and the story isn’t exactly anything to write home about, but anyone who has ever played a Fire Emblem or Tactics Ogre title should be familiar with this method of progression.
Units can promote once they hit level 15 (more or less, some units promote later than that), and many units have a branch promotion available
Banner of the Maid plays somewhat like a Dollar General Fire Emblem title: Many elements from Intelligent Systems’ series exist here, such as weapon durability and a weapon triangle, which I guess for this game is a weapon square. This is also a player phase – enemy phase game, where you effectively move all of your units in one turn, and then the enemy does the same, like Fire Emblem or Jeanne d’Arc. There’s also a rock-paper-scissors element is in play in Banner of the Maid, where one unit type has an inherent advantage over another while being weak to a different one- similar to Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle. Utilizing the unit quadrilateral will be especially helpful early on, as you will typically be fighting against much larger forces than your own.
Something that most SRPG fans would be familiar with is special terrain tiles. Tall grass yields bonus evasion to units who hide within, and other spaces may consume more movement to walk through, but the terrain tiles work in tandem with the weather system of Banner of the Maid. There are spaces on the map where you can set up camps with campfires and restore health each turn, but if it rains, the campfires get put out. Dirt tiles can become muddy spaces that are harder to maneuver over or give evasion penalties to units crossing them. There’s also fog, which makes it harder for artillery to hit targets, and night maps may have the familiar “fog of war” mechanic, but you can light candelabras to give your advancing units more awareness so you’re not caught unaware.
Losing units can cost you precious reward money, but after completing around a dozen missions you open up the option to grind indefinitely if you so choose, which means the hardest portion of Banner of the Maid is within the first third of the game. If you can crest beyond that point, it’s smooth sailing from there. However, should the beginning of the game prove too much for you, the game’s difficulty can be switched down to an easier mode that doesn’t cost you money if a unit retreats from battle, and lets you save multiple times a battle.
The artwork of Banner of the Maid is absolutely gorgeous, and intricately detailed. Similarly, the sprite based visuals in battle also sport a professional and pleasurable appearance, with crisp, clean tile sets and smooth animations that you can enjoy looking at while completely surrounded by a large number of enemies. The music can also quite beautiful, more so than you would think from an indie game. The translation can be rough in a couple spots, sometimes having poor syntax, but you should still be able to understand everything being said in-game, more or less.
For the most part, Banner of the Maid was a great accidental purchase I greatly enjoyed. For less than $20, I was insanely impressed by the quality, and quite frankly, this is one of the best SRPGs I’ve ever bought on a whim from Steam. Of course, I can’t compare it to Banner Saga 3, which I will eventually wind up playing, but if you’ve enjoyed Pokemon Conquest, Jeanne D’arc, or any other player phase/enemy phase SRPG, there’s a very real chance you can sink your teeth into Banner of the Maid and have a good time.
So the next game we’ll talk about this week is actually one that I got a taste for playing again after Nintendo’s most recent Direct: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. No More Heroes 2 takes place 3 years after the first game, with Johnny Knoxville-wannabe Travis Touchdown getting pulled into the world of assassins again- this time due to the younger brother of a foe Travis killed in the first game. No More Heroes was known for violent and immature themes, and the second game does not disappoint if you were even remotely open to its particular brand of toilet humor. Desperate Struggle is everything a player of the first game could like, but more, in almost every respect.
Now, if you haven’t played No More Heroes, the second game offers no flashbacks or explanations of what’s happened in between the games, nor does it really stop to give you a synopsis of the story; the game even breaks the fourth wall to tell you that people don’t care about continuity. The plot of No More Heroes 2 is… something, all right. Travis killed his way to the top of the United Assassins Association he walked away and lost his rank, but the death of one of Travis’s few friends prompts him to seek revenge after the new rank 1 assassin. Travis will fight robots, superheroes, and a Batman knockoff, all the while doing 8 bit minigames to earn the money for various upgrades.
Combat in No More Heroes 2 is absolutely a delight. Travis wields his beam katanas and bashes a large number of foes per stage. That’s it. That’s the whole game: Nonsensical storytelling, fourth wall breaks, toilet humor, and gratuitous violence. The variety in combat, especially in comparison to the first game, is much appreciated, as Travis now has four separate beam katanas he can use that each have their own properties (the Peony is heavy, but has a wide range, for example), and a slots wheel can give you bonus powerups like lasers you can fling at targets by swinging your weapon. You slash high and low, utilize kicks to stun, and can perform flashy wrestling finishers on stunned targets, or use powerful execution attacks with your beam sword that can cleave foes in half.
Slashing with your beam katana wears out its battery, so you’ll have to recharge by performing a specific action, but thankfully the need to recharge the battery is significantly reduced in No More Heroes 2 in comparison with the first game. There’s even an ecstasy meter, represented by a tiger on screen, that fills when you defeat enemies without getting hit. Once filled, you can press a button to literally become a rampaging, invincible tiger and tear through your enemies. The combat is quite reasonable in its own right, but there’s a lot going on in a short run time, so it’s always entertaining to utilize these abilities while slaughtering your way to the next assassin boss fight. There are even two additional characters you can play as while you progress through the story.
The open world from the first No More Heroes is gone, making the progression of Desperate Struggle much faster paced. The side job minigames from the first title do return, but are now done to get money that you can spend on various upgrades. The 8-bit minigames have variety across genres, as well: A racing one where you deliver pizza, one that tests timing skills by cooking steaks, puzzle solving with Tetris pieces, and more. There are four more minigames outside of those, as well, the best being the one where you exercise by lifting Travis’s chonk of a cat, though there is a vertical shoot ‘em up style minigame with its own anime opening. So that’s a thing that exists inside of this game.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Variety’s the spice of life” then you’d know that was initially said because William Cowper was so blown away by No More Heroes 2 that he decided to write about it in his poem, “The Task.” There’s a lot to do in this game besides killing, but all of it feeds back into making the killing part easier. From the over the top enemy designs to the genre-jumping soundtrack, this game is an absolute roller coaster from beginning to end. Unfortunately, this game is a lot to take in, so if the action, humor, cel-shaded visuals, and music don’t hit home with you, then unless you take a lot of pride in cat calisthenics there isn’t much left to enjoy. The cast of characters is all over the top, but that’s not necessarily going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
No More Heroes 2 is an absolutely ridiculous game that I wanted to start over from scratch after catching sight of the trailer in the latest Direct. Whether it’s my childish sense of nostalgia or love for beat ‘em ups, I greatly enjoyed revisiting this game before No More Heroes 3 releases sometime this year. Maybe, just maybe, before that time comes I’ll be able to clear out some more of my backlog? Probably not. Steam sales are one heck of a drug.