|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Studio Archcraft||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Graffiti Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jun. 12, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
February 24, 2009 - In development towards the rapid decline of the Game Boy Advance's lifespan, Project Exile had an uncertain fate as a GBA release. This epic RPG's day in the sun never arrived, thanks to the handheld system's eventual demise following the runaway success of the Nintendo DS. Undeterred by tough luck, Montreal developer Studio Archcraft pushed on in 2006 with the decision to port the unreleased game to Nintendo's dual-screen handheld under the new title of Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled. Several years later, that plan is about to come to fruition.
By all appearances, the fact Black Sigil was originally slated for GBA release is readily apparent in every aspect the game's presentation. The 2D artistic style is tight yet dated, and everything about the gameplay itself smacks of old-school RPGs. But as anyone who's been a video game enthusiast for a lengthy stretch of time will tell you, "old" doesn't necessarily mean "bad." After some hands-on time with the game, it's clear that Black Sigil will hold players in its grips for some time. RPG fans have a reason to be excited.
It's tough being born into a world where everyone (and their cousin's uncle) possesses magical abilities - everyone except you, that is. Even worse, Vai - the last person to come along without magic prowess - was cursed and responsible for great evil and dark times. As the young, magic-less boy named Kairu, whose father was responsible for defeating Vai and sealing him away many years before, life is indeed tough. Kairu's skill as a swordsman is first-rate, but his inability to use magic brands him as an outcast and spurs everyone but his immediate family to ridicule, shun, fear, and despise him. It's this unique premise that sparks a grand and extravagant fantasy tale. From what we've played of the game's story so far, it doesn't take long to throw some unexpected twists into the plot. Anyone who enjoys a complex fantasy story will find the tale should hook their interest early on.
Black Sigil deviates very little from many of the fine traditions established in RPGs of days past. Whether that's a positive or negative note depends on personal taste. As Kairu, we initially spent time embarking on a few errands and chatting up the locals in several towns - who turn out to be less than amiable. With meager starting funds, we purchased and equipped new items, conversed with NPCs to uncover clues on where to go next, and prepared for the inevitable grind and difficulty to be found beyond the safety of the boundaries of civilization.
On the larger world map and on smaller, area-specific maps, enemy encounters crop up at random. Battles are essentially turn-based aff airs with a slight real-time flavor. Each character's action meter fills slowly. Once it's ready, you can strategically position yourself on the battlefield manually or select an attack or ability to use against a specific enemy. Solo combat against various monsters was functional if a tad unimpressive. Once the initial introductory period winds down and the plot starts to kick in, things quickly become more interesting. Others soon join the party, making combat a group venture. Up to three characters can be on the battlefield at once, and their unique abilities and skills can be combined to produce more powerful effects. The battle system isn't the highlight of the game, but it serves its purpose well.
Aside from a static map, character portraits, and some extra information pegged to the top screen, nothing really innovative or unique is going on here with the extra visual real estate. This isn't surprising, given it's originally designed for a single screen. Similarly, stylus controls are integrated into the game, yet they're not special or particularly useful in any way. Black Sigil was meant to be played with the D-Pad and buttons, and that's what feels the best in this case. Graphics-wise, the GBA-style visuals are charmingly retro. The audio follows suit. The game's SNES style gameplay and imagery is reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, and that won't be a bad thing for most of the players interested enough to pick the game up.
On their own, the individual components of Black Sigil may not dazzle, but taken as a whole, this game is shaping up to be a substantial offering for serious RPG gamers to watch out for. Had it been released in the GBA's heyday, the game might have been filed under must-have. With flashier gaming fare and newer concepts pushing the DS upward and forward, Black Sigil may have some trouble standing out among a broader audience. Still, a compelling story and solid RPG trappings are what will shine through in the end, even if innovation and accessibility aren't particularly high. Look for this unreleased GBA port to hit store shelves in finished form next month.
CCC Staff Contributor