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[Reviewer's note: I suppose an explanation is in order for why a game released in June is being reviewed in October. To be honest, I bought the game upon release to review it, but I became seriously depressed after playing through the first half. It wasn't until about a week ago that I could bear to pick it up again and finally finish it. Read on to find out what kind of game can drive a man to depression.]

Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled is a desperate attempt to hearken back to the ‘glory days’ of the SNES era RPGs. Almost every facet of the game, from programming to art to game design, was worked on by three people who probably think back to the mid 90′s with wistful, romantic nostalgia.

It comes through plainly in the game, which seems to be a Frankenstein-esque fusion of Chrono Trigger‘s gameplay and Final Fantasy 6‘s general story progression. After all, if you take cues from the two best RPGs of the best RPG era ever, what could possibly go wrong? Right?

Unfortunately – and it pains me to say this – an awful lot can go wrong. Just like Victor Frankenstein created a monster when trying to create something wonderful, Black Sigil is an experiment that completely fell short of its big dreams to recreate what was likely looked at as a better time for the genre.

You play as Kairu, a man without the ability to use magic in the land of Bel Lenora – a land populated entirely by magicians. As a result, Kairu is looked upon with fear and resentment, as the last magicless resident of Bel Lenora, the general Vai, starts a bloody war. After taking adequate time to establish that nobody likes Kairu, he himself gets ‘exiled’ into some sort of magic cave. His sister Aurora follows him, and as they venture into the cave, they are somehow magically whisked away to a new land called Artania.

This is already a little weird, because it sort of negates the first few hours of the plot. After all that work in establishing the great fear that Kairu inspires in the residents of Bel Lenora, he is taken to a completely different land entirely, where people who have magic are the ones who are scary. In any case, Artania is currently in a state of upheaval, as the military nation of Sammarkand is slowly moving across Artania and subjugating all nations.

Are you beginning to see the parallels to Final Fantasy 6? You’re a character whose particular traits (or lack thereof) makes him an outcast. But, incidentally, Kairu will wind up being the hero who helps lead the rebellion against Sammarkand, an obvious nod to the Empire of Final Fantasy 6.

Black Sigil‘s characters and story stay very true to the source of its inspiration, there are many striking similarities. The problem is, it doesn’t capture what made Final Fantasy 6 a truly great narrative. The actual plot of FF6 was pretty bland and overdone, even for its time; it had been done in countless other films and novels. The ‘heroes rebelling against the evil empire’ shtick was old, even in 1994. FF6 was amazing the compelling characters and drama contained within, and Black Sigil has none of that magic.

"Actually, I was hoping you could restrict me from the entire game."

"Actually, I was hoping you could restrict me from the entire game."

Sure, there are some cool things; the dialogue can actually be pretty funny at times. In particular, Kairu and Aurora were one of the more entertaining duos I’ve seen in an RPG in a while. But other than that, the characters have pretty predictable motivations and backstories, which seem to be set in place simply because the developers deemed it so, and it feels very unnatural because of it. And, without the wonderful characters and drama, we’re left with a bland, overplayed story that’s even more disorganized than the usual rebel-against-the-empire plotline.

The similarities to Chrono Trigger pop up mostly in the gameplay. Black Sigil‘s combat is an active time battle system. Each character has a set of eight special techniques they learn, which make up a combination of physical attacks, as well as magic spells from a specific element. Also contained in combat are dual techniques; each character has a set of three abilities that require the use of another character.

Combat, however, is what truly makes Black Sigil a frustrating experience. How do I count the ways? First off, there are random encounters, and the rate at which these pop up is absolutely absurd. I’ve actually had situations where I’ve pressed a direction on the D-Pad and triggered a random battle, before it could even animate my character to take a step. The more common situation is to have random battles for every one second of movement, and that’s not even hyperbole.

This is exacerbated by how clunky and slow combat is in general. Black Sigil uses an ATB system, meaning that characters get to take an action when a gauge fills up. This gauge fills up incredibly slow for the entire game; It takes about six seconds at the end of the game, so at the start of the game, it’s can be even slower. Enemies have tons of HP, meaning you’ll need to hit them a ton of times with normal attacks to kill them… if you can even reach them, that is.

You see, during combat, your character has to actually walk up to the enemy and attack them. This sounds innocent enough; but, your characters can’t pass through other characters. So, if combat starts with your characters in a line in a narrow hallway, only one of them will be able to do regular attacks. Everyone else will have to use magic or sit around being completely useless. Even better, you can choose to attack someone with a character, and if something obstructs their path before they arrive, their turn is completely wasted.

Kairu, the guy with the dark blue hair, can not pass by Aurora, the girl with the red hair. So, he can only attack the monster right next to him without using abilities. Cool, huh?

Kairu, the guy with the sword, can not pass by Aurora, the girl with the red hair. So, he can only attack the monster right next to him without using abilities. Cool, huh?

So, you’ll use your magic spells a lot if you hope to make use of all three characters in a fight, which is bad news. Magic spells cost a ton of mana, and while you do regenerate MP at the start of each battle, it’s a very inconsequential amount – not nearly enough to cover the rate at which you’ll be using it.

You could run away, but even that is a slow process. It takes about 15-20 seconds to successfully escape, meaning that all enemies will get one, maybe even two turns each to wail on Kairu and co. as they attempt to flee. That still didn’t stop me from running away from over 3/4ths of all battles in the game.

After all, combat is slow, lengthy, frustrating, and you can expect to to about one second of movement on the map between battles on average. When I think about it, it sounds like some sort of ironic punishment I would read about in Dante’s Inferno or something.

It really breaks my heart to see a group of dedicated people work really hard and make a poor product, and I really sympathize for Studio Archcraft in that regard. In another regard, though, I think this kind of project demonstrates a very infuriating school of thought; games like Black Sigil communicate to me that there are people who really think that games aren’t getting better, and that our best days are behind us.

Not only do I disagree with this, but I think it’s the least true about RPGs compared to any other genre. RPGs are the genre of gaming that have resisted evolution the most, and have the biggest need for it. Surely, there were games worth remembering from the SNES era; but, that’s true of every era. Instead of looking backward, face forward; games aren’t over with, and there’s still plenty of time to make more games worth remembering, rather than tragically trying to relive an old, yellowed memory.

Rating Category
3.5 Presentation
The game's graphics and style reek of Chrono Trigger rip-off. The only problem is a lot of the maps and monster designs are kind of ugly.
How does our scoring system work?
1.5 Gameplay
There are some neat gameplay features, but every single one is executed in a way that will make you want to pull your hair out.
5.0 Sound
The score consists of very standard and repetitive music.
7.0 Longevity
The game will last you for a while, if nothing else. I beat it in 26 hours and did most of the sidequests. I've have heard that it took some gamers 40 hours, somehow...
2.5 Overall
Black Sigil is a game made to deliberately give an old school experience. However, that experience is mired in tedium, never-ending combat, a story which is both mediocre and convoluted, and several huge glitches. If that can't dissuade you from buying the game, then maybe you'll enjoy it. Maybe...

  1. I’m shocked that you actually finished this game, based on how painful the review makes it seem.

    • avatar John

      Yellow is my fatuvrioe =)I have a sort hate-love for Red. It used to be my fatuvrioe as kid, but not anymore. Red can be mastered but for inner levels it’s not that good since you often want to aim at 1 single enemy with all the power. One have to be a daredevil and position the plane very very close to the enemy, then most bullets will hit it. This works if you know the hitrate of bullets, and in what directions they’ll go but it is impossible later in the game since there is noway one can react in that bulletspeed.Never liked green I have always felt that Green ammo lvl 5 is better than lvl 6 .. but that can’t be so? or? maybe crappy coded Blue just looks cool

  2. Yeesh, I think this is the lowest score a Gamer Limit game has even gotten. That’s…sort of impressive.

    • avatar Marina

      Hi Jin, Many thanks for your fecebadk and great to hear that you enjoy Battle Squadron ONE so much You are probably one of the few newcomers , as most players have probably been from the Amiga time so extra nice to hear We would really to reach out to new players as well, so any ideas on how to do this would be most welcome. Also, thanks for you evaluation of the controls. Yes, touch is definitely the main mode of control (and we almost removed the two other). The D-pad is however useful for using fling . Your input in tilt may motivate us to improve this in a future upgrade Again, thanks for your input MartinP.S. We would truly appreciate if you would evaluate BS ONE on the App Store, if you did not already do so. Based on your input it seems even more important as a means to reach out

  3. Props for finishing the game. I think I’d rather get a prostate exam from Andre the Giant than play this one.

  4. avatar Darko

    After reading this review yesterday, I couldn’t resist. I’m one of “those” people who really cherish the old school RPG experience. I’m not saying that the SNES lineup of RPGs were ever perfect (although FF6 and Chrono Trigger are two of my all time favorite games on any system). I love most of the SMT games because of the random battles and turn-based battle systems. That being said, this game is horrible. You’d be better off watching 26 hours of of C-Span. Boring battles, boring story (so far), and what appears to be lazy programming (there is not even any type of sound indicating you’ve gone into a random battle…just a simple fade to white followed by some very mundane enemies). It’s really sad that in 2009 we can’t even get a throw-back to 1990 right.

    • avatar Saiigex

      pretty much. i thought this would never come in ueulsfl however my xbox scrached cod 4 so i borrowed my friends cod 4 disc and installed to hardrive now my crappy disc works like newdfetzner23 says:check out my levels on 360, custom map search author name shaggy101585CimAandKibO says:console controlers cant aim for shitPhillamon10 says:U can see The console version has some serious Analog Aiming issuesjimmayjimmayjj says:PC Graphics are Usually better than console games with the right hardware, Too bad Console weenies wouldn’t know what they we’re doing if they opened up a PC case.eclipse245 says:PC has nicer graphics lol. I played it for Xbox 360 at friend’s house and I was like WTF WOW..what a waste of money. My PC version owns itpeterox14 says:yea its amazingKaiserBecks says:Does the xbox version really look that good?101ZOOYORK101 says:i hate it when people do that XDMaseNetwork says:is this game any good? im thinkin of buyin advice pleez!dirtracer705 says:cod 5 is the worst game ever made its story sucks too many glitchs in verses its just an all around bad gameKGandrew5 says:good game but i like cod 5 the bestElnino678 says:The one on PS3 is a lot different to that oneGBBEST1654 says:so instead of a pistol you can have a grenade launcher?GBBEST1654 says:yeh it ses press y to use the turret on the boatdowloadgamesfast says:Anyone that wants to download gamesfor your pc go to my page and clickon my link to my games you love right to yourcomputer.

  5. Well you know, it’s not like I don’t think the old SNES greats were, well, great. It’s just a rule that I live by – I don’t live in the past, thinking “man, where oh where did all the good games go?” They’re not coming back, you know what I mean? :P

    Actually, the random battle transition isn’t the worst I’ve seen. The original Suikoden didn’t even fade; it just abruptly went to a black screen, then immediately into the battle map.

    What I’d say is the laziest programming are the battle conditions (i.e “Surrounded”, “Preemptive Attack”, etc). Those don’t actually seem to indicate anything. I’ve gotten a “Surrounded” where I clearly wasn’t surrounded, and Preemptive attacks where either the enemies got first strike, the heroes got first strike, both got first strike, or NEITHER got first strike. That was the funniest part of the whole game to me, and what’s actually supposed to happen is not covered anywhere in the instruction manual.

  6. avatar Kartick

    Ok, no lives left at 4.x million, with red weoapn level 3 i entered the upper level only to realize that the bulletspeed now is sick, and the only level left before the 3rd visit of the boss was that damn green inner level with those f****rs coming up from behind. The green buildings is firing like 16 bullets at the same. How how do one beat those towers??? So anyway, i spent 20 minutes on gaining at least one extra life, prayed to god, entered the level, and got killed. Yepp. As expected. But while i was on my killingspree for a new life, i reached 5.7mill at least whey!

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