Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled proves that the old saying doesn't always apply . Published by Graffiti Entertainment and developed by small Montreal-based developer Studio Archcraft, Black Sigil was originally created under the title "Project Exile" during its early development days on the Game Boy Advance. With the DS making its introduction to North America in 2004, the team's platform of choice shifted, and with it hopes to get old fans of games like Chrono Trigger interested with its all too similar look and storytelling.
In fact, it looks a lot like Chrono Trigger. Sprite-size, running animations, and even the main character's sister Aurora's shocked face will draw parallels in player's minds with Chrono Trigger's Marle. Even the gameplay is quite similar. Players in battle are scattered at random on a field where party movement is on a constant shift. But creating a 2009 game in the fashion of a classic from the 90's isn't easy, and even the most prominent ROM hacks or tributes can have fault. Black Sigil is no different in some ways.
...it really feels like a poor man's Chrono Trigger
You assume the role of Kairu, a young knight-in-training in the world of Bel Leonora, who unlike every other inhabitant in this world, is unable to conjure up magic. Outcasted and despised, his adoptive father runs Kairu through various trials, regardless of how cruel, to see if he can muster up even the slightest spark of magic. Desperate, he shoves his son in a forbidden cave. If anything, the story is actually quite interesting. Characters join the party quickly enough, with each one becoming a colorful new companion, and you never grow tired of what they have to offer in terms of plot development or second-rate humor.
Yet there are many minor quirks that can make even the most patient or experienced of RPG player turn the DS off. Menus in the game tend to be confusing and cumbersome, attacks can't always be executed based on terrain (forcing certain players to wait and take damage), and the encounter rate is absurdly high. So high, it makes me wonder if games like the Shin Megami Tensei series were ever that bad. Worse, crashes or freezes which can occur on even the cleanest of retail builds.
At the end of the day, it really feels like a poor man's Chrono Trigger. It's a constant effort to trek through hordes of issues, despite appreciating what Studio Archcraft has tried to accomplish. A full playthrough can run the everyday RPGer up to 30 to 45 hours, but when you consider that much of it is backtracking, crashes and the encounter rate making something as short and painless as crossing a chasm take up to two hours, the excitement to play Black Sigil slowly wanes. It's in no way a failure, but it is marred by its technical troubles. Were this but a simple ROM hack, these kind of faults would easily be ignored, but for a retail game, Black Sigil is a game best left exiled from town for as long as humanly possible.