As an alternate historical take on the French Revolution, Banner of the Maid was a novel concept stacked atop a solid tactical RPG. While the original game had a decisive ending which wrapped up most of what it started, it did leave the door open for a sequel. The Banner of the Maid: The Oriental Pirate DLC pack introduces a new character, new units, weapons, and five new challenging missions which continually escalate in difficulty. Rather than continue the campaign, the newest DLC for the game decides to take a different route by weaving through the tale it told. What better way to continue the historical remix than to add in pirates?
The DLC opens with an introduction to Mu Zhiyun, a Chinese pirate with a soft spot for alcohol and a fascination with the French language. She’s been dispatched to recover an artifact unceremoniously pilfered during battles with the British fleet, leading her to cross paths with Pauline’s army. The very first episode takes place on the most visually ambitious set piece within the game: a battle across three ships on the roaring waves. The map itself is quite a visual treat and a welcome respite from the horse-trodden plains and rubble-littered streets of Paris. Rain falls and tides crash against the bow of the ship as Mu Zhiyun and her group duke it out on the decks. She’s able to move to the edge of each ship, grab a rope, and swing across the gap with all the style and swagger a pirate should have.
As a pirate, Mu Zhiyun is a unique unit on all fronts. She comes equipped with a pistol and a machete – weapon types previously not found in the game. Her abilities allow her to be a bit of an evasive tank who can also siphon HP from the enemies. As she levels, she becomes a strong addition to the force who can easily change the tide of battle with one simple move. With the ability to ‘misguide’ enemies, she can swap places with any unit within three squares of her regardless of terrain or obstacles. This ability is exactly as good as it sounds and can completely change how you approach some of the story battles. Upon completion of the first episode, she’ll join your cause. While Mu Zhiyun’s introduction into the narrative is a bit odd and almost comically coincidental, she has no problem interacting with her booze-loving comrades.
Once she’s joined your force, she acts as a unique unit with her own exclusive weapons, skills, and abilities. Starting her at level 5, however, indicates that this DLC should be started much earlier in the game than where I started it. As the main campaign progresses, the additional four challenge missions ‘The Sailor’s Gossip’ are unlocked and can be tackled in the salon where all other side quests begin. In these quests, Mu Zhiyun and Paulette interrogate soldiers by getting them drunk and coercing them to regale their tales of combat in an effort to learn more about the enemy. While allowing players to control the enemy force across a couple of missions is a novel idea, this DLC highlights some of the worst aspects of Banner of the Maid and condenses them down into two grueling back-to-back battles.
The first of this painful pair of encounters is a tiresome slog against 36 heavy cavalry units. Anyone familiar with the game will know heavy cavalry take numerous attacks to bring down. They’re the heavy tanks of the game with high HP, defense, and damage reduction traits. Rather than being given the units to counter them, you’re given a force of all heavy cavalry as well. This leads to an exhausting back and forth barrage of blows that feels like it’s designed to challenge your patience rather than your tactical prowess. To add onto this, you’re controlling British troops rather than the French army you’ve been nurturing. None of your abilities, equipment, or characters matter for this map. You’re granted only what’s given to you for this episode: twelve faceless riders and a notable British commander who you’ve crossed paths with numerous times in the main campaign. Should she fall however, the battle is over. It is quite possibly the worst battle in the entire game and it feels as if it exists solely to punish you.
The following episode is less draining, though its gimmick overstays its welcome almost immediately. Food lies scattered about the battlefield that anyone can eat, though some of it is rotten. This leads to the introduction of full heal and instant death mechanics that the enemy can and will abuse. Again, due to being unable to control the French force you’ve been building up through the story, the units you’re given are lacking the skills or abilities you’ve invested in throughout the campaign. Meanwhile, the enemy can stun and drag your units after attacks, leading to some unfortunate forced placement that will kill your soldiers instantly and debuff any surrounding allies. The food mechanic paired with a fail state if the enemy reaches a particular point can lead to a frustrating push to the western side of the map in a short turn limit.
The next episode is the first in which you’re finally able to use your own forces, with the caveat of two units who are required to be in battle. Mu Zhiyun’s Misguide ability works wonders on this map, allowing her to teleport artillery units and healers behind your own lines to be dismantled by your soldiers. Thankfully, she’s strong enough to stand on her own against assaults from four or more units after some levels, so there’s little reason to worry about where she ends up after the teleport.
Like the two episodes before it, this map pales in comparison to the very first encounter where we met our new pirate ally. These past three skirmishes take place on maps you’ve already battled upon, in some cases twice. They may be set in different weather or during another time of day, but little else is done to make them interesting. On a narrative front, the DLC does give a glimpse into some of the later events within Paris: how some of your troops came to learn about the turns the revolution has taken, why former allies have raised blades against you, and just how a particular princess managed to make her way to your army in the chaos engulfing the city. While some context is added to events in the main story and some answers provided, they’re not revelatory by any means.
Our final episode is the most mechanically unique and hearkens back to the beginning of this adventure with our swashbuckling friend. I was relieved I was facing off against only two enemies, each on their own ship. Once again, we’re crashing through chaotic waters and clashing blades atop the high seas. Relief washed over me as I set my forces and went to engage my foes. Finally, I wouldn’t have to battle through wave after wave of heavily armored troops. Yet my calm shattered immediately. The enemies are a pair of level 99 units with 666 HP each. They have high evasion and defense, so when hits do land, they do minimal damage that is likely to be fully recovered on the next turn.
To top it all off, these bosses have an arsenal of abilities that give them unprecedented control of the battlefield. Numerous area of effect (AoE) attacks can kill units in one hit should they be caught in them. Telegraphed AoEs also force the player to reposition units and give up the chance to attack in order to survive until the next turn. Additional enemies will also appear outside the arena and fire inwards, covering the already cramped space in rather large ‘danger zones’ that take up a third of the arena. In a white-knuckle damage-race fight with a short turn limit, having to sacrifice precious attacks just to survive makes the encounter feel like a one-sided dance of attrition.
This final battle is brutal and punishing. With 16 turns to kill the enemy (more accurately 14 due to scripted mass confusion), it’s an uphill slog that is grueling to play. I spent hours on this final battle retooling my team, swapping all my equipment around, grinding to get money and items for skills, and precariously placing my supply units in the line of fire, hoping they’d survive with mitigation stacked upon them. After finally getting one of these enemies down, I was met with an instant revival at full health on turn 12. It became immediately clear these super bosses were meant for New Game+ with a fully geared team with all the best secret equipment from the main game’s challenge missions. With the high number of mechanics these bosses introduce, it feels like they’re playing an entirely different game than you are.
Ultimately, The Oriental Pirate DLC is tough to recommend, as it highlights both the best and worst that Banner of the Maid has to offer. While it adds in a great new unit, it carries over significant issues from the original game: walls of enemies and rampant reinforcements. The first and last episodes show unique maps with intricate mechanics, but the middle episodes are padded-out endurance tests. Sure, players could get Mu Zhiyun and simply carry on with the rest of the game as normal, but at $4.99, it’s quite a bit of money for a single unit in a game with 30+ characters in the roster and over a dozen on the field. Like the first (free) DLC, there’s plenty of challenge here if players wish to test their mettle. For anyone who enjoyed the original game and finds themselves interested in the DLC, I’d strongly recommend approaching it on New Game+. Despite the frustrating elements, there are flashes of greatness that I hope carry over to a sequel.