Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled Review
Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled box art
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
To Boldly Go Where
Everyone’s Gone Before!

by Tony Capri

Within the first year of the DS’ launch, we had pretty much two RPGs to choose from – Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and Lunar: Dragon Song; by the second year in, the system still had very few games in the genre to choose from. However, fast forward to the present, and it seems the Nintendo DS has taken up the mantle of the PS2 for being the system to own if you’re a fan of role-playing games.

Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled screenshot

Studio Archcraft and Graffiti Games have now teamed up to throw their latest creation, Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, into the ring. Does it have what it takes to stand out as a contender among the growing library of RPGs on DS? Black Sigil is a game whose development almost pre-dates the DS hardware and was originally intended to be released as a Gameboy Advance title. With so much time in the hopper, expectations are, for many, understandably high. The story takes place in a fantasy world where magic is the norm. However, one man, who alone did not possess any magical abilities, was exiled for draining the life from the people of the land. Years later, our hero Kairu finds himself also without any magic coursing through his veins, and through alienation and deception, he’s thrust into a grand adventure.

To put it plainly, Black Sigil is old school – very old school. You’ll begin your quest with a training session among the young ranks of the Bel Lenora army, but the game doesn’t actually walk you through any of the basics. That said, a bit of patience and noodling should easily acquaint most players with the clockwork of the battle system, and the gameplay, in general, is pretty straightforward stuff. There are some obvious cues taken from the SNES classic, Chrono Trigger, including an active-time-battle system that tries to make strategic use of unit placement on the battlefield.

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As Kairu, you’re the adopted son of the duke, and early on the duke will send you out on various, seemingly unremarkable errands. The game as a whole is a slow burn, but the developers have done a fair job of tying the gameplay into various plot twists along the way. However, the overall game design is pretty archaic, and the endless onslaught of random encounters is sure to prove monotonous for even the purest of RPG enthusiasts.

Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled screenshot

Black Sigil has borrowed more from Chrono Trigger than merely elements of its battle system, and you’ll soon find yourself venturing forth into the great unknown. There are some interesting environments to explore, but finding your footing can be frustrating when you’re constantly drawn into battle by merely nudging the D-pad.

You can have up to three characters in your battle party at any given time, with an active time bar for each party member. Each character’s time bar fills at a rate based on their inherent speed, and you can toggle characters using the right shoulder button. The battle options are simple: you can choose a basic attack, single-character spells, multi-character spells, or you can use items hot-keyed to a particular character. You can opt to control the action with either the face buttons or the touch screen, and either works just fine. That said, navigating dungeons with the stylus can easily prove fatal, since control is a bit too sensitive when trying to avoid hazardous obstacles.

Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled screenshot

There’s no free movement or direct control over your characters during battles; however, commanding them to attack certain foes will cause them to advance to a specific area of the screen. So, having a character attack a monster that’s perhaps on the far end of the battle screen might prove a good strategy if it moves them out of attack position of a stronger monster. Unfortunately, your characters don’t have unfettered access to all enemies onscreen, and if a monster or one of your other party members is blocking their path, they’ll be stuck, often unable to attack at all. As Chrono Trigger was cutting edge for its time, Black Sigil would likely have had an impressive impact on gamers 14 years ago. Up against today’s competition, however, the combat here feels dated.

Screenshots / Images
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