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Review: Black Sigil

Imagine, if you will, laying in bed one Saturday morning with your significant other, when you hear a slight giggling coming from outside your bedroom door. You're about to get up to investigate when the door opens up and your two children come in with the biggest, most happy smile you've ever witnessed on their faces. "We made you breakfast, mom and dad!" Instantly, they jump up on the bed with a plate of what appears to be decent looking food, but you're weary. When that first bite is shoved into your mouth by your daughter, you try not to recoil in agony. "What is this, dirt, flour, and water?" you want to say, but you keep it in. There's no way you're going to let your children think they did wrong. "It's delicious, honey. Let's watch some cartoons."

This is how I felt while playing Black Sigil. Yes, Black Sigil is the mush that looks like oatmeal, the mud pie that looks like a chocolate pie (err, sorta), the analogy part one that looks like analogy part two.

I've been excited about Black Sigil ever since I heard about it several months ago. I even managed to hook up an interview with the team behind the game, which got me even more excited about playing. Its release date got pushed back several times, but that was fine, because by all accounts, this game looked like it'd be worth the wait. It would harken back to my days playing Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy on the SNES. Then, it finally arrived, and I was crushed.

Before I rip into Black Sigil, I'd like to make perfectly clear that this game is not a bad game. A bad game, to me, means that it is entirely devoid of any entertainment value, of any purpose to exist. Black Sigil is an interesting case study into what makes art good, and why heart matters but smarts matter more. Surely, from a visual stand point, Black Sigil fits in perfectly with the games of the 16-bit era. The fact of the matter is that this game could have existed 15 years ago and nobody would have said anything one way or the other. It's a perfect replica of those games.

That is, until you actually start playing it. The reason that people to this day say that Chrono Trigger is one of the best RPGs is it's charm. All of the mechanics of CT just fit perfectly; the story, the battle system, the multiple endings, etc. It was made by a team of very skilled, and very experienced developers, including Hironobu Sakaguchi and Yuuji Hori (the creators of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, respectively). These guys knew what they were doing, and they knew what would work, and more importantly, what wouldn't. The team at Studio Archcraft just doesn't have the sort of knowledge that can only be acquired from many years making games like this and learning from them. No, instead, they had big hearts and knew what games they liked and wanted to copy.

The battle system's slow, the encounter rate is too high, the story's not all that great, the encounter rate is too high, the game doesn't take the time to teach you its unique concepts (free running, really), the encounter rate is too high, and the enemies deal too much damage. Did I mention that the encounter rate was too high? Because it is. There were times when I would literally take one step and get into another fight. If the battle system was faster, or if the enemies didn't deal so much damage, or if the game took the time to explain that your characters can't really attack if there's a corridor, then it might not be as much of an issue. All of these things combined, however, make for a bad experience. Beneath all of this, I can tell that they really wanted to make a great game, that they tried their hardest, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The only thing Black Sigil does right is the initial pitch, and it does a lot wrong, but even with that, it's not a bad game. Flawed, sure, but not bad. Of course, when Chrono Trigger is available on the system for about the same price, it's hard to suggest Black Sigil. Although, maybe I'm just having a hard time being angry at the game who brought me breakfast in bed, but the little scamp tried its hardest, and I give it credit for that.

Reviewer's Note: It has been brought to my attention that there is actually a way to run from battles. Unfortunately, this information was not relayed to me through the game, nor the instruction manual. In case you were wondering, you simply hold down the B button, and after a while, you'll escape. It takes a while, and the enemies will usually get a few (overpowered) hits in, but at least the ability is in there. Knowing this before hand, I don't know if my experience would have been different, all I know is that I played the game the way it told me to.

Players:1 player

Platform(s):Nintendo DS

Developer:Studio Archcraft

Publisher:Graffiti Entertainment