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5 Games Like The Banner Saga

Updated on February 12, 2014
Rook, the protagonist of The Banner Saga, with his daughter Alette
Rook, the protagonist of The Banner Saga, with his daughter Alette | Source

The Banner Saga, a game created by three ex-BioWare employees and funded though Kickstarter donations, set the bar high for future crowdfunded games in 2014 and breathed new life into the tactical RPG genre. The hand-drawn art style is a treat for the eyes, and the plot and accompanying dialogue are as rich as one would expect from employees of BioWare, the company that spawned such RPG blockbusters as Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age. One common gripe with the game, however, is length: the average gamer can complete the game in less than 20 hours, which isn't a great length considering the $30 pricetag. What the game lacks in length, however, it makes up for in sheer quality.

While we wait for the next installment to satisfy our tactical RPG sweet tooth, there are a slew of other great games from the genre that we can revisit.

The cover of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSX
The cover of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSX | Source

Final Fantasy Tactics

The game that got many hooked on the tactical RPG genre, Squaresoft's Final Fantasy Tactics hit North America a half year after one of the greatest RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy VII. Both were released for the Playstation console, but they were two different games entirely. Final Fantasy Tactics turned away from the series' Active Time Battle system popularized in their earlier installments, and instead battles took place on a grid in turn-based combat.

Part of what makes Final Fantasy Tactics so addicting is the job system- a staple in the series since the first Final Fantasy- which allows any character to take on one of twenty specific classes, or "jobs," to alter his/her combat abilities. The jobs range from the simple "squire," a jack-of-all-trades fighter, to more complex roles like "time mage," "lancer," and "mediator." The better jobs are not readily available, but rather must be earned by collecting job points (JP) through battle, making level grinding (battling opponents for the sole purpose of powering up your characters) essential. In addition to human fighters, the party can also contain monsters, ghosts, and, of course, Chocobos, the unofficial mascots of the franchise.

The game has received generally favorable reviews, thanks to its strategy-based combat system, well-rounded main characters, and epic storyline. Its wild success has spawned a couple of indirect sequels (Final Fantasy Tactics: Advance for the Game boy Advance and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift for the Nintendo DS) as well as a full re-release on the Sony PSP containing updated cutscenes and new characters.

Final Fantasy Tactics is a great place to start the journey into what the tactical RPG genre has to offer because of its accessible gameplay and brilliantly written story.

How it's similar to The Banner Saga

  • Grid-style, turn-based combat
  • Characters use "jobs" similar to The Banner Saga's "classes"
  • Brilliant overarching story
  • Key decisions made outside of battle can gain or lose characters forever

The cover for the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
The cover for the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together | Source

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Another entry from the Playstation era, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was actually the first game to use "tactics" in the title, a move which forever defined the genre. The game itself is an entry in the Ogre Battle series, which consists of five games released over the course of eight years and features a variety of gameplay types.

Like both The Banner Saga and Final Fantasy Tactics, battle takes place on an isometric grid and in turn-based fashion. There is a job system in place for human characters, and experience points must be earned to unlock more powerful job types. Tactics Ogre takes the system one step further, however, with the introduction of the "alignment" system- an assigned ethical perspective (either lawful, neutral, or chaotic) that limits what job types a character may hold. This creates an added level of strategy since not all human characters can attain every job type (although alignment can be changed by using hard-to-find items).

Tactics Ogre also offers a wider variety of playable characters than either The Banner Saga or Final Fantasy Tactics. Characters come from one of several categories ranging from humans to the undead to, once again, dragons. If certain non-human characters gain enough experience, they can evolve into a more powerful creature, giving incentive to level grind with those characters as well. There are many more intricacies to the game- including elements, material statistics, and the emblem system- that take minutes to learn and days to master, making this one of the most in-depth RPGs available.

This game also found new life on the Sony PSP in 2010 and let to a spiritual sequel, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis for the Game Boy Advance.

How it's similar to The Banner Saga

  • Grid-style, turn-based combat
  • A staggering amount of non-combat decisions that can change the entire plot
  • Strong focus on properly developing and leveling characters

The cover for the first English release in the series, Fire Emblem
The cover for the first English release in the series, Fire Emblem | Source

Fire Emblem

The Fire Emblem series had existed over the course of six games and thirteen years before finally reaching North America in 2003, largely due to the popularity of Super Smash Bros. Melee fighters Marth and Roy. The first English release, simply titled Fire Emblem, contains a battle style similar to other tactics games, but with a few key differences. Instead of battles taking place inside a large room or within a small town, battles take place on large fields composed of squares with an overhead camera view. When a character moves to attack an enemy, the camera changes to a one-on-one fight scene where the selected character will be shown attacking the enemy. If possible, the enemy will then counterattack automatically and, if the character survives, he/she will gain experience.

One of the franchise's signature elements is the "permadeath" system, which means any character that loses all of his/her health in battle is lost for the remainder of the game (with the exception of some major characters). The only way to regain lost characters is to restart the current chapter from the beginning, which makes protecting favorite or powerful characters a priority. Combat also differs slightly from other tactics games in that it functions on a "triangle system," in which each weapon type has a specific weakness a'la rock-paper-scissors (lance beats sword, sword beats axe, and axe beats lance).

The characters, which range throughout the series with up to as many as seventy total, are all fleshed out nicely, with their own personalities, backstories, friendships, and rivalries. This makes for interesting dialogue and an engaging system of intertwining storylines. The game also has great replayability thanks to the number of character modifications that can be made by playing the game in different ways.

Perhaps the greatest part of the series is how many games exist: seven excluding the six Japanese-only releases, which means that there will always be another game to fill the void left after beating the previous one. There will undoubtedly be more on the way as Nintendo looks to continue one of their most successful franchises.

Players should look to Fire Emblem if they want a seriously challenging tactics game with deep characters and neat battle animations.

How it's similar to The Banner Saga

  • More grid-style, turn-based gameplay, but with a touch of animated flair
  • Well-developed, memorable characters
  • Fewer battle options, but finds difficulty in simplicity

Advance Wars for the Game Boy Advance
Advance Wars for the Game Boy Advance | Source

Advance Wars

Stepping away from the shields and swords-era combat, Advance Wars finds us fighting with such modern-day military weapons as rocket launchers, rifles, tanks, and stealth bombers. First released in North America on September 10, 2001, the game is one of the highest-rated tactics-based games of all time, receiving a 92% on the aggregate site Metacritic. The game sold so well in North America that it even managed to convince many Japanese developers that, indeed, Americans knew a good game when they saw one.

Battle takes place on a large field with an overhead camera angle, just like in Fire Emblem; however, the similarities end there. Unlike every other game in this list, the characters used for combat are not members of the player's party; rather, they are generic units produced by spending earned funds at various types of production facilities. Each unit has an attack range, vision range, movement range and style, fuel gauge, and strengths and weaknesses. More powerful units require more money to build and a higher-level facility. Unlike the other games on this list, the player moves all units during his/her turn, making the strategy for victory very different. Also unlike the other games, battle is not necessarily won when the player destroys all enemy units: in most battles victory occurs when the player captures the enemy's HQ building.

The characters of the game are all generals, who do not directly take part in combat but instead lead their troops from afar. Each general has a distinct personality, which usually translates to bonuses on the battlefield: for example, Max, the most physical of the Orange Star Army generals, prefers face-to-face combat, and so his tanks gain a large stat boost in battle. In addition, each general has a special power that can be activated after enough enemy units are destroyed or buildings captured. Most powers can completely turn the tide of battle, either by destroying a number of enemy units, healing friendly units, or causing the battlefield itself to change.

This game is the easiest on the list to learn thanks to a gracious tutorial period and a number of training options, but it is also undoubtedly the most difficult toward the end of the game as new units and generals are introduced. The characters are generally cartoonish in nature and the humor is light, which is a nice change after so many tactics games with darker stories. This game should appeal to gamers who want to slowly learn the intricacies to the game before being left to their own strategy.

How it's similar to The Banner Saga

  • Grid-style, but this time the entire team moves on each turn
  • Cartoon art style, as opposed to the more realistic look of the other games
  • Engaging plot, although not as heavy in nature

The cover for Viking: Battle for Asgard
The cover for Viking: Battle for Asgard | Source

Viking: Battle for Asgard

This game isn't like the others on the list; heck, it's not even an RPG. What it is, however, is Viking themed- a rare quality in the video game world. It's also the only game on the list released on "modern" consoles.

Viking is a hack-and-slash adventure game which takes the player into the world of Asgard, Norse domain of the gods, to fight the evil Hel in an attempt to maintain the cosmic order. The game plays out like a mix between God of War and Assassin's Creed, fighting enemies one-by-one with a combination of flurry and power attacks, leading up to a quicktime event to deliver a final blow.

The game received mixed reviews, and ultimately isn't one of the more memorable games of this era; but hey, it's got vikings in it.

How it's similar to The Banner Saga

  • Vikings
  • Preservation of the "old gods"
  • ...Vikings

Doug C. is an English major with a love of all things geek- gaming, tech, literature, you name it. Follow him for more!


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    • SimilarSam profile image

      Sam 3 years ago from Australia

      Advanced Wars is a true classic, I can't think of too many people that haven't played that. Never heard Tactics Ogre before, might have to check that one out.

    • profile image

      Garulfo 3 years ago

      Viking battel for Asgard ? really ?

      This game is a monumental turnip...

    • dglsconklin profile image

      Doug C. 4 years ago from Beach Lake, PA

      The Disgaea series is great as well, and it would have been first on the honorable mentions list had I been sensible enough to write one, but it's so similar to FF Tactics and Tactics Ogre that I left it out so I could add some variety. Also, while Shining Force definitely inspired the other tactics games, I personally don't think it held up as well over time.

      I agree about the music in FF Tactics, and the same can be said of all FF games. The music contains so much of the games' emotion that it really sticks with you.

      Thanks for your comment, and glad you liked it!

    • profile image

      Mitch 4 years ago

      You forgot Disgaea and Shining Force :)

      As for the other games you mentioned, i've only heard of/played FF Tactics and Fire Emblem. One of the best thing about FF Tactics is the music which I still remember to this day.

    • dglsconklin profile image

      Doug C. 4 years ago from Beach Lake, PA

      Thanks for the comment! Advance Wars will always have a place in my heart, but I got started with FF Tactics so that will always be my favorite. I had been replaying original version when the remake came out- needless to say, I bought it and started all over.

    • ilikegames profile image

      Sarah Forester 4 years ago from Australia

      I agree The Banner Saga really set a new bar, I know I LOVED it.

      My vote from this page has to go to Advance Wars, now that game takes me back, love the Hub!


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