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Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled DS Review

28/07/2010 Thinking Story Gamer Review
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Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled DS

Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled



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Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled DS is a staggeringly dull and cliched fantasy RPG not even remotely enlivened by oddly flippant dialogue and characterisation.

Black Sigil is an original game for the DS, developed in Montreal, Canada, which desperately wants to be a cheap asian import that's been given a quickie localisation for English language markets.

I don't know why anyone would deliberately make a game that looks like its merits have been lost in translation between Asia and the west, but they have: Black Sigil's random battles reek of a hardcore JRPG, as does the spiky haired protagonist and his emo plotline, while the witlessly joky dialogue reads like the work of a very bored, rushed localisation team.

Lead character Kairu is the adopted son of a Duke, feared and hated for being magic-free in a land where everyone else can do magic. I'm not sure whether the fact that Kairu's special power is that he has no special powers is so-dumb-it's-clever, or just incredibly dumb. Being the adopted son of a Duke (effectively a king, as he seems to be the biggest player in the land), and one who has a distinct combat disadvantage compared to literally everyone else, Kairu is of course sent out on his own on various missions against monsters.

So, I wander out on to the world map, and hit a random battle within a few paces. In the random battle, Kairu fights three or four monsters for coins and XP, then goes back to the main map. I walk another few paces, and hit a random battle. After that I walk a few paces and...

As with the twin questions of 'How was Kairu adopted?' and 'What has all this got to do with the only other magic-less character mentioned, a notorious villain?', you can probably see where this is all going.

The plot is just bog standard fantasy tropes, and the characters are off-the-peg fantasy cliches.

Black Sigil has a small world map, but by the dark blade of whatever, does it make you work for every inch you crawl across. Random battles are constant, the monsters banal (walking plants, wolf things), the routine... well, routine. Pick an attack, watch it happen, take some damage as power bar recharges, strike again, be hit again, use blue herb to recharge lost health, keep cycling through those options until it's over and you can take another couple of steps to your destination.

I found this very dull. There's no energy to the combat, no sense of importance. The plot is just bog standard fantasy tropes, and the characters are off-the-peg fantasy cliches. The game doesn't have thee and thou stock fantasy dialogue, but instead has weirdly modern conversations that suggest the creators of the game were aiming for something more playful and self-referential than the dull parade of boredom they ended up with.

It's not really Story Gamer's remit to get too technical, but sometimes a combination of game design and bug can be fatal: in the case of Black Sigil, the save system only allows quicksaves between sparse save points, with each quicksave erased at the point of continuation: in short, once you've restarted you can only revert to a savepoint save, which may be hours of play ago.

This means that the game cannot, absolutely cannot, have any bugs that crash the DS.

Black Sigil broke my spirit to the point where exploring further just wasn't an option.

When a crash bug froze the DS, wiping out more than two hours of iteratively quicksaved progress, I knew Black Sigil and I were finished for good. No way was I replaying a couple of hours of monster grinding busywork: the environments and characters I'd met were no fun the first time around, I had no desire to revisit them.

It is almost certainly true that I didn't get a good taste of Black Sigil's core story: considering the glacial pacing, I can easily believe I got less than 1 per cent through the storyline as a whole before the crash caused me to give up for good.

On this, Story Gamer admits defeat: Black Sigil broke my spirit to the point where exploring further just wasn't an option. There may be wonders buried in this game, incredible plot twists as you build up your party (the box shows several characters I never encountered) and dig deeper into the world.

Story Gamer admits defeat.

It many not seem fair for me to give the game a negative review without getting far enough into the game to even build up my party.

To which I say: tough. If Black Sigil has merits, it should have put some of them in the first five hours of gameplay. As it is, my time with the game felt wasted, and everything I saw - characters, story, the lot - was deeply tiresome, and I don't see why I should invest any further time in exploring a game this unrewarding.

Written by Mark Clapham

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Mark Clapham writes the Story Gamer column.

"I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."

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