Banner of the Maid is an alternate reality narrative of the French Revolution. France is in turmoil, Napoleon is on the frontlines of war, and a group of women unknowingly wield a magical power that can change the fate of France – and the world – forever.
This turn-based strategy RPG has you playing as Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, leading your troops into battle while uncovering the true story of France behind-the-scenes. Meanwhile, Pauline has to figure out the strange magical ability some women (including herself) seem to have, and why. Banner of the Maid is a single-player, offline game with intriguing characters, a compelling story, and a unique magic system that draws you in.
Set in a fantasy version of the French Revolution, you play as Pauline Bonaparte, sister to Napoleon. You are admitted to the Ecole Militaire (military school) at the recommendation of the royal family, along with several other young girls from around the country. As soon as the game begins, you play through a tutorial which, in addition to teaching the mechanics of the game, makes you immediately aware that in this alternate history, the royal family was not beheaded in the guillotine. This is attributed in part to the magical abilities of Marie Antoinette. Additionally, women in this timeline have much greater freedom, power, and rights than they had in actuality… and much less clothing (more on that later).
Pauline is already aware as her narrative begins that she has some ability to inspire those around her, which is particularly useful in leading troops on the battlefield. This has helped her rise through the ranks and gain fame throughout France. Through the course of the story, several other women join Pauline, also in possession of unique, special capabilities. These women gain the title “Maid” as it becomes clear they are unique, and share a quality attributed to Jeanne d’Arc, who was perhaps the original Maid. Pauline is eventually bestowed with Jeanne d’Arc’s banner, ultimately becoming known as the “Banner of the Maids.” Some of these Maids do not share Pauline’s politics, however, and use their powers for espionage or in opposition to Pauline on the field of battle.
While most of the game plays out in military battles, the story is uncovered between adventures as you visit shops and talk with others in visual novel type dialogue. What exactly is the queen hiding? Is there the possibility of love for Pauline? Which of the various factions should be supported? Where did the power of the Maids originate? Can fate be altered? These questions and more are swirling through the background to captivate your attention and curiosity.
The gameplay is mostly split into two alternating modes – story, and battles. The story is framed in a visual novel format with characters talking, sharing, and discovering information that gives context to the battles and undercurrent of France’s difficult history. This is also how the player gains reputation with the various factions. You have optional side quests that grant faction reputation and often in the course of the story you get to make choices which will sway your reputation between factions. As you improve your reputation, you acquire benefits such as unlocking new items and weapons for purchase. Additionally, you can increase reputation with individual people by your choices and progression during the 29 chapters of the story. There are more than 30 characters available for you to command, each with their own compelling story arcs, some of which only become available by carefully choosing the correct dialogue options.
Also, in between battles, you can prepare for the upcoming fights by visiting shops in town to purchase bread and wine (which give health and morale, respectively), weapons, upgrades to skills, and more. As mentioned, the availability of things to purchase opens up as your reputation increases. For example, by increasing your reputation with the citizens of Paris, you unlock more items unique to the Magasin (grocery store). You should also use this time to look at the roster of allies under your command and equip them with weapons, items, and skills as needed. You help them learn new skills and abilities at the Ecole Militaire, which is paid for by using Battle Reports gained in battles.
The battles themselves are a unique format of turn-based fighting. Each battle has certain conditions for Victory, Defeat, and sometimes an optional bonus Challenge. You can check these requirements by looking at the Advice page prior to entering the battle. Once the combat encounter has begun, the style changes from the visual novel format to that of an isometric strategy board, with pixelated environments and high-quality sprites on a fixed playing field. Terrain and environment become increasingly more important to the strategy as the game progresses, with certain terrain hindering or helping movement, or with aspects like nighttime affecting visibility.
Units are moved in a turn-based fashion, with characters of differing classes and abilities permitted to move or attack at different times in the turn. Pauline, for instance, is line-infantry, while others may be cavalry or artillery. Each class has their own benefits and weaknesses, familiarity with which ensures proper strategic placement and movement, and ultimately victory. Support classes are beneficial not only for recovering HP, but also to raise the morale of your troops. Morale is treated somewhat similarly to mana, as once the morale bar is filled, your troops may perform special Heroic Attacks or skills.
The artwork in Banner of the Maid is beautiful, focusing on vibrant colors and a mixture of simplicity and careful attention to detail. The switch between the story mode graphics and the battle mode graphics feels seamless, but much of the artwork is intended for older players as some of the women’s clothing is quite revealing.
Paulette is a good example of this—no woman would wear this into battle, or even to the grocery store…or pretty much anywhere but a cosplay photoshoot.
While the story is told entirely through captions, there is some voice acting that’s a mixture of French and possibly Chinese. All of the characters are European, mostly French, so it’s a strange stylistic choice to leave in the Chinese voices. But it works, because no matter what language they’re using, the tone and energy conveys the feeling of battle and adds to the overall atmosphere.
In the battle sequences where environmental effects, like rainstorms and snow, affect the battle, the graphical changes are gorgeous and create genuine ambiance regardless of how much or how little they increase the battle’s difficulty. It’s always beautiful to see the subtle visual changes. The cutscenes of individual fights can be skipped, if desired, but shows the armies in a line attacking each other with simple animations. These scenes do not accurately represent the number and placement of troops, but is an engaging feature that I almost never skip.
Impressions and Conclusion
Overall, I was impressed with Banner of the Maid. The artwork is beautiful, and the story captured my attention; I just wanted to keep playing to find out more and watch everything unfold. Be warned, however, that the battles are not simple. When you start the game, you have the option of creating a game in General Mode (Hard Mode), Officer Mode (Normal Mode), or Story Mode (Easy Mode). Originally, I started my playthrough in Officer Mode, but ended up starting again in Story Mode because I was not enjoying how difficult the combat was. In Story Mode, there is still considerable challenge but it is much more manageable.
My only real complaint lies in the extreme sexualizing of Marie Antoinette. While I understand that provocative attire is common in games of this genre, and I can overlook it in most cases, Marie Antoinette was a real person, and the clothing she is wearing is most definitely not “historically accurate.” Regardless, Banner of the Maid is a very enjoyable game with a compelling story and is absolutely worth picking up.