Impressions: Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled

RPGs are tricky subject matter. If you can’t get together an intriguing cast of characters, solid gameplay that rewards your grinding, and a great storyline that should keep you playing, then they become throwaways that are little more than copies of games that came before them (and usually did better jobs). In the case of Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, the game seems to fail at all it accomplishes. What looks as if it should be a venerable attempt at reviving the traditional RPG in the style of Chrono Trigger is really a dull, lifeless exercise in drudgery that belongs in the bargain bin. Don’t let the artwork or the price tag fool you – this game does nothing of what it seems to promise!

All parts of Black Sigil are admittedly lackluster, at least that I have found. The plot (important for RPGs, you know) treads in shallow, lukewarm waters. You’ll follow the story of orphaned Kairu, a resident of the mythical kingdom of Bel Lenora. Everyone living within the kingdom has been born with magic as an innate ability…except for Kairu. Because of this he is shunned and treated as an outsider by fellow soldiers and even those he knows as teachers. Long ago, however, there was a knight named Vai who was also devoid of the magical gift. In his lifetime he committed a great travesty that earned him exile from the magical kingdom, and for this the current residents of Bel Lenora fear and shun Kairu – he might bring about another catastrophe, or so they think. This could be an interesting storyline if it didn’t feel so dull and as if something we have experienced numerous times before. It’s obvious from the setup that Kairu will somehow be “special,” so why bother trying to hide it?

Black Sigil pretty much plays out like any RPG you’ve played before, but it seems to want to imitate Chrono Trigger in its approach to everything from battling, character design, dialogue boxes, and even the landscape. You’ll even encounter techs in battle much like the multi-party member techs in that ‘other’ game. As familiar as this will seem to fans, the gameplay will be even more reminiscent. This is a classic RPG, through and through. However, with the way Black Sigil approaches this mentality, that’s not necessarily a good thing. You’ll travel from town to town in order to advance the story, and each town stocks the same sorts of items in their stores – how very typical. While all of these aspects are placed well and paced properly, there are a few hindrances that may seem minor at first glance but are in reality glaring flaws.

Traveling from place to place in any RPG is a staple of the gameplay. The overworld is an excruciating exercise, as you cannot run any faster than a walking speed. Since the areas between each town and landmark on the map are quite expansive, this means you’ll be spending way too much time getting from point A to point B. While you may run in towns and dungeons, but there’s no way to go any faster than a crippling walking speed. This wouldn’t be so bad and would only be a minor test of patience if it weren’t for the astronomical amount of random enemy encounters you’ll face while making journeys here and there. While its possible to run from battle in order to save yourself the headache, there is NO WAY that a battle literally every two steps is anywhere near necessary. Grinding in any RPG is practically required, but being forced to engage the enemy every few seconds is way too excessive.

Even if you didn’t mind battling, the fights themselves never feel very satisfying. You’ll rely on an ATB gauge in order to fulfill attacks, though you must be in range in order to attack your enemy of choice. You’ll have to take note of your positioning on screen, as well as where your party members are, because the game is quite finicky when it comes to locations on the battlefield. Because it’s clunky to position your character or other party members in the correct locations, I very quickly lost interest in fights. You don’t even get any interesting special effect that accompanies fading into a battle – just a black screen. Even the game knows it’s dull. When you take out the battling and grinding, all you’re left with is a travel simulator, and I say this because you must spend so long walking and wasting time on the world map that it might as well be like walking in real life.

I enjoy my RPGs immensely, and am no stranger to grinding until I’m the proper level to face my foes, but nothing about Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled made me want to stick it out through the monotony except forcing myself to play for the sake of this impression.  Its lackluster gameplay and derivative plot feels more assembled than inspired, and if you’re looking for a handheld RPG you have so many far better choices – heck, get the DS version of Chrono Trigger and devour it instead of this ho-hum excursion. You’ll be glad you did.

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