There are gamers who wish the 1990s never ended. 3D, high-def, online multiplayer? Bah. All of this is trumped by the greatness of the 16-bit era and most markedly, the SNES. Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled is a game made entirely for these gamers, and despite some stumbles, it largely succeeds at tapping into that sense of nostalgia for games gone by.
Black Sigil follows Kairu, an outcast maligned because he is unable to use magic in a world full of people who can. People look at him with suspicion, and eventually he is exiled from his world. As one might expect, adventure ensues. Just looking at the graphics and sound, it is obvious developers Studio Archcraft, were trying to emulate the likes of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, but where those games are remembered because of what their excellent stories did with the “good guys vs. ultimate evil” plot line, Black Sigil never moves beyond that basic formula. That said, Black Sigil features an incredibly likable cast, held up by a foundation of well-written dialogue. The characters aren't too deep, but they're all distinct and charming enough to carry the game through.
The gameplay has its ups and downs but at its core, it's very solid. The combat draws a lot from Chrono Trigger, but there are some key differences - in many ways Black Sigil draws on strategy RPGs as much as standard Role Playing Games. Your position on the battle map is important: a melee fighter may need extra turns to close the distance between him and his target, and most attack spells affect a fixed area. Even early on, the game likes to throw superior enemies at you and absentmindedly clicking the attack button will generally lead to a game over. You need to pay attention to the battle situation, and when possible obliterate grouped enemies.
The gameplay is dragged down by some flaws. Early on the game can be too hard and it takes a few hours of grinding before you're remotely formidable. Throughout the game there are frequent areas where the enemies you encounter suddenly become much stronger. This wouldn't be such a problem if the encounter rate in the game was more moderate. Progressing through the game's various dungeons can be tedious as every few steps brings you into another battle. Battle also always seems to be slower than it should be, even with the game speed kicked up to high. The dungeon design in Black Sigil can be frustrating, and when you have no clue where to go or what to do, a near constant barrage of random encounters can be very annoying.
This becomes less of a problem as the game progresses and you become more powerful, but then the last few hours of the game are too easy. Decked out with the best spells and an overabundance of MP, you'll find yourself plowing through random encounters. Bosses take longer, not because they're a challenge, but rather because they possess a lot hit points. Simply put, Black Sigil could have benefited from more balance in its gameplay.
All of that said, Black Sigil will still be enjoyed by a lot of people. It's not a perfect game, but it has a definite charm, and fans of the SNES era RPGs will probably find a lot to like. For the nostalgia it evokes alone, it's worth a play – while it's certainly no match for classics like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, if you've already played those, this is pretty close to the next best thing.
Jul 2, 2009
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