At first look, one could dismiss The Banner Saga as just another tactical RPG, however, once explored, The Banner Saga reveals itself to be one of the more unique and original RPGs recently developed. The game's narrative mostly unfolds through a branching journey that bounces between protagonists in which comparisons could be made to PC classics such as Oregon Trail or King of Dragon Pass. The heroes lead a caravan of warriors and followers to various plot-driven locations, and encounter events along the way in which the player must make tough choices with dire consequences such as the loss of supplies or soldiers and even the death of important characters.
The combat system attempts to take a unique spin on the standard tactical formula as well. Combatants do not have the typical HP and MP bars, but instead use a power, armor, and willpower system in a way not seen before. Power acts as both the life and attack strength of a character, while armor mitigates damage, and scarce willpower can be used to unleash special abilities or boost the strength of normal attacks. The player has to make a tactical decision of when to attack a character's armor or his power while strategically positioning his own characters on the battleground grid in an effort to support weaker characters and exploit the enemies' defenses. The beautiful Disney-inspired art style not often seen in games, enchanting soundtrack by Austin Wintory, and the uncommon Scandinavian viking setting complete the package to make The Banner Saga RPGamer's most original title of 2014.
Sometimes a game doesn't need to contain completely original parts to do something fresh and new. Such is the case with Child of Light. The combat pulls from classic RPGs like Grandia, the graphic engine is the same as the recent Rayman games, and the exploration calls from classic platformers. The combination, though, is something else entirely. The game world is simply gorgeous, not to mention the fantastic soundtrack. More importantly, Child of Light is a joy to play thanks to a fantastic mix of exploration and turn-based RPG combat. It may only be a cheap downloadable title, but Child of Light has AAA heart.
Natural Doctrine is the first game developed by Kadokawa Games, but its team has plenty of veteran developers. The result is an SRPG that, while it may resemble some other games, is its very own beast. Focusing on turn order manipulation, unit placement, and effective aiming of ranged attacks, Natural Doctrine punishes those who aren't careful by giving a game over if any of the player's characters fall. Thankfully, no challenge is unsurmountable as smart players have a ton to work with to effectively destroy enemies. Topping off the challenging single player campaign is a trio of battles where instead of getting a game over if a character dies, the player will be without that character for the remaining fights. The game also includes a pretty unique multiplayer mode. Currency is used to buy packs of character cards containing various versions of characters from the single player campaign. Players make their own parties to face off against co-op challenges or to fight against other players. It's a really cool idea, though the server population was never big enough to fully take advantage of what the mode has to offer. The SRPG genre can be a bit stale at times, so it's nice to see a game try something new, even if the result isn't perfect.
by Johnathan Stringer, Michael Apps