Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled
Description official description
The world of Black Sigil is filled with magic. The magic is a part of everyday life for its inhabitants, and can be harnessed by everyone. A child born into such world without any magical abilities is considered cursed, as once such a child has grown up to be a ruthless villain – General Vai, who waged war onto the kingdom of Bel Lenora. Blade of the Exiled tells a story of a young man named Kairu - an orphan adopted and raised by a nobleman of his country. Kairu is one of the cursed children - born without magic, he is feared and ostracized by most, but despite the cruelty inflicted on him by his peers he remains optimistic and compassionate. One day his adopted father – Duke Averay informs Kairu of one last opportunity granted by Spirit Temple elders to possibly ignite Kairu’s magical abilities. For this he is sent to the Spirit Temple to consult the Sacred Crystal. Albeit – Kairu appears to be beyond the crystal’s ability to heal, and upon his return to his home city Kairu is exiled from Bel Lenora.
The game is designed to resemble a SNES-era Japanese RPG not unlike Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI. It features standard overhead perspective for towns and dungeons, and a Mode 7-style overworld. Like in most console role-playing games of that period, the player has to gain experience by battling randomly encountered enemies which unlike newer entries in the genre do no show up on the map. The battles are fought using a top-down, pseudo-real-time system where both, the enemies and the player characters can move freely around the field, but can only execute battle commands when their turn gage fills up.
Credits (Nintendo DS version)
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Average score: 66% (based on 15 ratings)
Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 6 ratings with 1 reviews)
Black Sigil tries to look and feel like a DS port of a classic SNES RPG that for some reason we never heard of, and it largely succeeds. The similarity in look to top-tier Square games of the day was enough for some people to claim Studio Archcraft was ripping old sprites, but if one actually examines things closely they won't find a match--they're just well-done in a similar style. The music isn't exactly going to put Yasunori Mitsuda or Nobuo Uematsu out of business, but it's suitable and there are a few quite catchy tunes.
The battle system is of particular note, because I don't recall playing anything like this in the SNES days. Placement in battle and movement matter, so if anything it reminds me a bit of the later Grandia games. Characters can be moved in battle, though doing so prevents them from using a standard attack that turn--they can still use a special attack. If a character is told to attack someone further away they'll have to run to them, possibly having to pause to briefly recharge if the distance is long. Different attacks and special moves have different ranges and areas of influence; usually circles of varying radius, though occasionally you'll get something like a rectangle.
Another thing that sets it apart from just being a completely run-of-the-mill RPG is that there's a lot of variety to the equipment. In some games going from the least to best weapon or armor is almost like following a line, with things improving each time along the way. In Black Sigil, it's not uncommon to find a new armor that's less upgrade than it is alternate. Perhaps one armor will provide higher physical and magic defense, but the other will provide more protection against fire and several status ailments. Perhaps one sword will have a higher chance of critical attacks, but another will poison enemies. Which you go with will depend on your priorities, and what the enemies in the current dungeon are like. Since status effects come up in battle possibly more than any other game I've played, this can be a pretty big deal.
Black Sigil is pretty packed with content. There are plenty of side quests, not all of which I did, but my game time did still pass 50 hours.
The most apparent negative is the high enemy encounter rate. While I earlier wrote that battles are fun, that doesn't mean they can't get old. The more complicated and lengthy a game's battle system, the fewer battles are necessary. Black Sigil, however, gives a battle system more complicated than the standard Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, yet an even higher encounter rate. The first time you fight a certain group of enemies in a dungeon might be tricky. The fifth time you've probably figured out a good plan of attack. The tenth time it's getting pretty old. You can run away from most battles pretty easily by holding B, but you may be holding it for a while as your character's turn gauges charge up and enemies make a few moves.
Another downside to battle is how usable items are handled. Each person can only hold four items, and a limited amount of each--fair enough. However, if you've got 60 of an item that a character can only hold 5 of, you can't have three characters each hold 5--only one character. This really makes things a hassle to deal with, especially later when you might be switching characters in and out of the party. For me, it basically trained me to ignore items as much as possible, except trying to make sure somebody in the party had one of the few reviving items.
There are also quite a few bugs or other mysterious rough spots. Studio Archcraft is a small company and this is their first game so I'm not going to hold it against them as much as I would for a game with 100 people in the credits. However, a handful of times while I was playing, things froze, necessitating a restart. This is especially annoying if you're in a dungeon, where save points are not common. Once I could keep moving around the map, but no longer interact with anything, enter stairs, or have random battles start. There's a "Monster" bar always visible on the top screen while on the world map, that the instruction booklet says fills up as one character uses his Appraise abilities on monsters. However, it never seems to change. It is things like these that most obviously remind one that it isn't actually a classic SNES RPG.
The Bottom Line
This is a flawed first game from a small developer. But if you appreciate what they're trying to do and can overlook the rough spots, there's a pretty decent game in there. If you don't particularly have a nostalgia for mid-1990s RPGs or care about development circumstances, there are probably other DS RPGs you'll enjoy more.
Nintendo DS · by Joshua J. Slone (4656) · 2009
Black Sigil was originally developed for the Game Boy Advance under the title Project Exile. The developers later changed platforms to the DS due to the end of the GBA's lifespan.
- MobyGames ID: 41259
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Game added by DarkFalzX.
Game added July 21st, 2009. Last modified February 22nd, 2023.