Back in November, our very own Maxime Viventi was able to give us some early impressions of Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled when he visited with Studio Archcraft. Now, Black Sigil has gone gold and is currently set to release on April 14, just a short delay from the initial release date of March 17. Now that I've gotten my hands on the game, I can share a few more details, about the beginning of the game at least.
"...if someone is looking for a traditional Japanese-style RPG experience, Black Sigil is a good fix, even though the developers are not Japanese at all, they are Canadian."
My adventure began with the main character Kairu going through his daily training exercises. The older soldiers-in-training were picking on Kairu for his lack of magic, an unusual oddity in the land of Bel Lenora. The last person to be born into the world without magic was the traitorous general Vai the Magic-less. Vai and his army the Curse-Bringers drained the spirits of the people of the world and left many dead in their wake. Vai was eventually beaten by the great Duke Averay, Kairu's adopted father. After that brief intro, I was tossed into a battle against another student, though the student was commanded to withhold using magic against me. I was able to take him down without any trouble. Right after that match ended, Averay showed up and called for a rematch, but this time the student could use magic. I thought I was doing well, but then the student unleashed fire upon me and more than wiped out all of my HP. Averay stated that I had fought well, but still needed to become stronger to overcome my lack of magical skills and then class was dismissed.
After that battle, I was free to roam around the large mansion. There were lots of rooms to visit, hidden items to find, and NPCs to talk to, so I took my time exploring the whole place. It was then that I got my first flashback of nostalgia from the SNES days of RPGaming. I felt like I was playing Final Fantasy IV all over again, from the graphical style to the soundtrack to the exploration; it all felt retro and I loved it. The 2D graphics are much sharper in towns and dungeons than the screenshots reveal, though the overworld is about the same as Final Fantasy IV as it lacks the Mode 7 rotation. The artwork was very solid as well. The sound quality of the music leaves a little to be desired, but I was highly impressed by what I was able to hear of Jan Morgenstern's soundtrack. The tracks are very memorable and stayed with me after turning the game off, something fewer and fewer DS RPGs have done over the last little while. The DS just doesn't do it justice.
Next, I was able to leave the mansion on a mission to the Spirit Temple, as the Duke hoped that those there would be able to awaken magic within me. Along the way, I noticed that there were quite a few random encounters. They were all manageable without too much trouble. Fights play out similarly to Chrono Trigger as players will have from one to three party members at a time, though the game does go into a transition mode unlike Chrono. Each character has normal attack, special attacks, and combo attacks, plus they can move around on the field of battle on their turn. Depending on the area you're doing battle in, there could be obstacles in the way of you and your enemies, so that adds a little extra twist.
The first few battles Kairu must fight alone are not difficult, but take a little time to complete. Thankfully, after Kairu completes his trip to the Spirit Temple, he is sent on another more important mission to help protect a neighboring town. On his way there, he is stopped by Aurora, the Duke's daughter and Kairu's semi-sister. Aurora is a whip-wielding mage capable of casting healing and fire spells. Once she joins the party, battle become a lot faster making the frequent random encounters a lot more manageable.
From the early part of the story, there is a lot of uneasiness in the land, as people fear Kairu's lack of magic. Many people will snear at or hate on him for no other reason than the fact that he lacks magic. There is also some drama going on between Duke Averay and the King of Bel Lenora, as the King keeps asking for soldiers from the Duke's mansion while never sparing any of his own. The people of Bel Lenora also think that it is odd that the tiny little continent that they live on is the only place in the entire world. Needless to say, there is a lot of story. The dialogue is fairly well written and offers a good bit of humor as well.
Hopefully this will give readers a little better impression of the game. I can say that if someone is looking for a traditional Japanese-style RPG experience, Black Sigil is a good fix, even though the developers are not Japanese at all, they are Canadian. Considering that this is a lower budget game from first-time developer Studio Archcraft, the wannabe game developer inside of me (and likely inside a lot of you) cries out in joy that they were able to make this dream of theirs come true. While I can't give a fully detailed breakdown of the game's greatness, I can say that what I've seen is impressive enough for me to want to keep going. Though a word of caution, the experience is very, very retro.