Banner of the Maid, Azure Flame Studio’s tactical RPG that’s now crossing over from its PC origins to release on consoles, is set in a time of uncertainty and shifting priorities. France’s revolutionary era was defined by its competing factions and political shifts. It was war-torn, but it was also about behind-the-scenes posturing and alliances. It’s fitting, then, that Banner of the Maid itself feels similarly caught between these worlds.
In Banner of the Maid, you’ll lead Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister — we’ll get to that in a second — as you play through tactical battles on isometric maps. Some of the time! You’ll also gain the favor of the royal family, the revolutionaries and the people through your narrative choices. These decisions determine the sorts of resources and in-battle support you’ll get for combat maps, so you may be torn between what you think you should do and what would most help you win the war.
Banner of the Maid’s biggest strength is its tactical challenge. The developers clearly thought out what would make for interesting and varied matchups, and each chapter has been balanced to provide both interesting tactics and the pressure to succeed. Weapons have uses, sort of like Fire Emblem, but these are replenished each battle. Instead, these limits are more about making you use units in different ways over the course of combat. Medicine and food items are still one-use, but equipment and learned passive abilities allow for healing and support combinations to make those contingencies rather than constant necessities to restock.
After playing a game with such cared-for battle system interactions as the recently-released Fae Tactics, it’s hard to really enjoy Banner of the Maid’s implementation, but there are some ideas to like. You can gain more experience from certain fights! There’s a morale system! Terrain cover! Despite its isometric look, this isn’t really a game about elevation and facing in the Final Fantasy Tactics mold. There are occasional uses for this stuff, but it’s much more about the rock-paper-scissors of Fire Emblem or Langrisser than it is about getting the high ground.
So yeah, it’s a tactical RPG, but it’s also something of a Princess Maker-style training game. The visual novel underpinnings of the game and its engine are clear. This does make the tactical interfaces a bit unwieldy at times. They’re serviceable! They’re just clearly not as natively built as something like Fire Emblem. There isn’t the time pressure element of games like Long Live the Queen, so you can generally explore the factions and take advantage of side quests when they’re available. Still, the “side with Robespierre or Lafayette” sorts of moments do have you building a small number of loyalty meters that feel similar to those sorts of games.
Aesthetically, it’s also torn between worlds, though this one’s more of an audience thing. Most people who’ve heard of Banner of the Maid have done so through exposure to the, well, exposure of some of its characters. The alternate-history premise of the game essentially boils down to “what if super-capable cute military girls are there,” and with that comes some “are you sure this isn’t a mobile game ad” character art. And, well, that art’s still here. Even in the console port!
But surrounding these characters are others with an art style that could be straight out of an otome game. The palette is more pastel and muted, the young men are serenely respectful and Pauline spends most of her time in military garb that’s more endearing than eye candy. This aspect feels right with the game’s tone, as well as its genre maneuvering. And, of course, everyone is tiny isometric pixel art in the battles.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of Banner of the Maid is defined by its origins: it’s a Chinese game about France. It’s done better than you’d initially think, in terms of learning about and playing within a foreign historical setting. It feels like the team spent time getting the dynamics between factions to feel as tense and passive-aggressive as they should, and that part works. It does trip up occasionally, though, in its attempts to make an alternate setting with more evenly-powered factions, so perhaps don’t use the game as an educational tool. Also all the French people have Chinese voice lines. Again, understandable! But it feels out of place and we’d recommend muting voices for a better realization of the setting.
The translation of Banner of the Maid is serviceable, allowing you to play through the game just fine. You’ll need some tolerance for grammar mistakes, as well as occasional awkward phrasing that makes clear that the game was translated more than it was localized. (We’d show you some examples, but this game’s Switch port inexplicably blocks all use of the Capture button.) Also, we’re still talking about visual novel writing in a setting regularly rendered in higher rhetorical forms. But again: playable!
If there’s a narrative element that will take you out of the experience, it’s how the “hey, here are all these girls” part is integrated. Everyone is serious and making smart battle decisions, and then a woman wanders in and really loves getting drunk and firing cannons. There are all these new, important women, but the wider world seems to have not even noticed. Again, this is expected of games like this, but just keep in mind that it isn’t justified particularly well.