A couple years ago, a game simply called Project Exile for the GBA caught gamers' attention. After a console change and a new name, Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled is now about to be released for the Nintendo DS. I had the chance to visit Studio Archcraft and play its first RPG a few days ago.
"I found my experience to be very enjoyable, and Black Sigil promises to be fun."
Upon starting a new game, I was welcomed by a prologue accompanied by music and colorful 2D imagery for the background. Just a minute after being in control of the game, I was confronted by my first battle. Expecting a tutorial of some sort, I was a bit surprised to have to figure things out on the go. Luckily, most of the battle system is rather intuitive, but you might want to read the manual for specifics. Once the training was over, I was free to visit what seemed to be quite a large castle. The backgrounds and inhabitants were detailed and graphics in general looked pretty. After visiting the castle, I went outside to have a look at the world map. The map uses SNES-style Mode 7 graphics, which may be a little retro for some, but is included to improve the view when using the airship. After that, I hit the load option to experience the game a few hours into the plot, where I could dive into the battle system with three characters.
Encounters in Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled are random. Unlike older RPGs, it doesn't feature a flashy battle transition, but a simple fade to black, then a fade in to the battle screen. As soon as combat starts, I was confronted by a battlefield scene in which heroes and enemies are scattered around. With only one character it was easy, but with three of them, I felt I had to choose my actions wisely and fast. Rest assured, however, because you can select the Wait option in the menu, which stops time when you select a target. That way, you can assess the situation and act carefully, though this option might diminish the excitement of the battles.
Before any character can take action, his or her time gauge needs to fill completely. Then, buttons pop around the character, and you can choose between multiple actions like attacking, using an item or skill, and performing a combo with another party member. Another possibility is to run around the battlefield to avoid enemies or reposition the party. This is done by pressing and holding the L button and moving around using the pad. The battlefield is not grid-based, so you can freely move around. This option was very useful from a tactical point of view since some actions affect an area, which itself comes in various shapes such as the traditional ellipse, the square, the triangle and the simple line.
When I had two or three characters ready for action, I could rapidly switch between them with the R button, if, for example, I wanted to use a certain skill or item right away. When a character attacks an enemy, he needs to move next to the target. If he can't get to his prey in a certain period of time, he needs to recharge his time gauge in order to continue ahead. If the character can't reach the target at all, the attack is not possible and the enemy cannot be targeted. Battle strategies will vary according to the locations they are fought in. For example, fighting in a cave will require a different strategy than fighting on an open field, since the space is tighter in the cave and there are more obstacles.
Another particularity of the combat system is that consumable items need to be equipped in order to be used in battle. Each item can only be equipped and used by one character at a time, and regardless of how many items you have in the inventory, only a few can be brought into battle at once. After battle, the items are recharged, provided the inventory has stock left.
Although the game can be played with the touch screen, I found it was much easier with the buttons and directional pad, but the stylus can come in handy when you want to quickly select a target in battle. The few musical pieces I heard while playing were appropriate for the scenes in which they were used. I didn't get to try playing with headphones on, though, so it's really hard to judge.
All in all, I found my experience to be very enjoyable, and Black Sigil promises to be fun. If you feel like the graphical style of the game reminds you of the days of the Super Nintendo, don't feel bad. It is meant to be an homage to the RPGs that helped define the genre back in the '90s. According to the developers, play time should be between 30 to 40 hours for a first playthrough. Players should expect lots of locations to visit, hidden characters to meet, and rare equipment to find. Interested readers should keep an eye on this game as it should be released really, really soon.