The Women of The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga was one of the first major Kickstarter successes a few years back.

The game was made by a handful of ex. Bioware veterans and has a wonderful art-style reminicent of classic Disney films, but that’s not why I want to write about this particular game. I want to address the way this game portrays women. But first a little bit about the game in general…

(Note: this analysis contains major plot spoilers)

The Banner Saga is a story based turn-based tactical game set in a fantasy world very much inspired by Norse mythology. In this world humans live alongside horned giants known as Varl and are forced to fight as a mysterious race of stone creatures known as the Dredge attack their homes.

When the Dredge invade, the humans and varl have to band together and flee their villages in search of a way to combat the oncoming horde.

The world is one that is least as sexist as our own, yet the desperation of the situation forces old prejudices to be challenged. The description of the Archer unit (all archers are female) is quite telling: “Women were not accepted for a long time when it came to joining in battle. In fact, it is fair to say they were never accepted. Those women you see in war are only there because the men who protested are now lying beneath a pile of loose stones and soil, feathered with hand-made arrows.”

banner sagaThe game centres around Rook and Alette, a father and a daughter. Their relationship is something the player can very much influence by the choices he or she makes. The player can choose to have Rook be an overprotective father or he/she can choose to let Alette grow and become a formidable warrior who in the end saves the day. As such her portrayal is very much based on how the player wants her to evolve as a character. However; Alette is very adamant that she doesn’t want to kill people. If the player goes against her wishes he or she will lose out on an achievement called “Innocent”. It is an interesting choice by the designers and one that I have a hard time faulting the game for.

oddleif_frontOddleif is perhaps the most interesting character in the entire game. She hints that she was given a mans name because her father; a well-known warrior really wanted a son.

The chieftain of Skogr married her to bask in her father’s fame, yet she quickly ends up being the person really in charge of the place from behind the scenes.

She inspires other women in Rooks caravan and teaches them to become expert archers like herself. The finest being Nid from Frostvellr.

Oddleif and the player have several conversations during the course of the game. Rook would actually prefer Oddleif to lead the caravan and tells her this on more than one occasion. However Oddleif declines stating that in this world more people will join their cause if the group is led by a man. She reasons that realizing this is perhaps what truly makes her a strong woman.

Halfway through the game the group is joined by Juno; one of the most powerful seers in this world. She has seen the future and shows Rook what must be done to defeat the Dredge.

Finally there’s Yrsa, a witch and right hand of prince Ludin. Lubin is portrayed as a spoiled child and it’s clear that Yrsa might very well be the one telling him what to do. Yrsa is treacherous and if the player tries to trust her he or she will be punished for it…

As the player progresses through the story it becomes clear that the Dredge are not the mindless killing machines that they’ve been made out to be.

One of the greatest heroes of the Varl is revealed to have attacked the Dredge leader known as Bellower while she was giving birth. In a twist the main antagonist of the game is revealed to be female and out for revenge after the murder of her child.

The Banner Saga impresses with its nuanced characters overall and with several really cool women in particular. It’s a bit of a shame that we never get to see any female Varl. It is also a little disappointing that all the women characters with the exception of Juno are archers. Hopefully we’ll get a cool shield maiden in the sequel!

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