The combat is pretty serious: Even with the cartoonish, colorful look, the grid-based battles in The Banner Saga are no laughing matter. Skirmishes play out like in classics such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, with each turn providing the ability to move a hero a certain number of squares and then perform an action, whether it's a melee or weapon attack or perhaps a magic/support interaction.
You'll command a squad of up to six fighters, each of which can be lightly customized and upgraded over time, and each of which also has its own strengths and weaknesses. While not the most approachable tactical RPG I've ever played--the UI in particular could be a bit more refined and/or better explained--the combat itself is satisfying, and there's a real thrill to planning a strategy and then properly executing on it.
It looks and sounds wonderful: Compared to most AAA-style games, The Banner Saga was made on a shoestring budget with a tiny team--and it shows in the dry menus and minimal animation. But the art design itself is really gorgeous, with a Don Bluth-inspired look that makes the Dredge look like a second cousin to The Iron Giant, and stunning backdrops that'll wow you as your caravan rolls through the countryside. And Austin Wintory's haunting original soundtrack matches up perfectly with the dreary tone of the setting.
If you have a soft spot for nicely realized fantasy worlds, love obsessing over tactical affairs, or simply need something complex and absorbing to play on your iPhone or iPad this holiday season, The Banner Saga's robust role-playing should be at the top of your App Store wish list.
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