45Why aren’t there more clones of Chrono Trigger?‚  If any game seems like it deserves a slew of clones, it would be one of the Top 10 role-playing games of all time, one that is so synonymous with quality that its Nintendo DS remake tops most of the user-rated lists around the Internet.

Unfortunately, the answer was constantly running through my head as I was playing Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled for the aforementioned DS.‚  Chrono Trigger set the bar so high that no other game really tried to emulate it. ‚ Even Chrono Cross, the PSX “sequel” of sorts, scrapped the combat system and takes place in an alternate, fractured timeline.

Publisher: Graffiti Entertainment
Developer: Studio Archcraft
June 9, 2009

A mediocre, original game is sometimes worth playing.‚  For example, I hated all the grunt work of the Super Nintendo’s Harvest Moon, and the Aerobiz series is painfully dense at times, but both concepts are original enough to be worth sticking with.‚  Black Sigil’s issue is that it feels like a warmed-over, plodding clone of a classic.‚  My constant thought while suffering through yet another boring battle was, “Why don’t I just play Chrono Trigger instead?”

The similarity to Chrono Trigger stems from the top-down perspective, three-person party and general atmosphere of both.‚  In some aspects, Black Sigil holds it own.‚  The dialogue is snappy, and while the plot of being thrust into a strange new world with feuding empires has been done a million times before, the spunky and sarcastic characters make it fun anyway.

The stoic, man of few words, Kairu, is the lead character, and since he doesn’t talk, it’s yet another comparison to Chrono Trigger.‚  But Aurora, Kairu’s sister, is the real star in most of the early scenes.‚  Her spunky and snarky replies to other characters’ comments, mostly about her sex appeal, differentiate her from a typical video game damsel.

However, the two titles skew wildly when it comes to battle system.‚  Black Sigil’s combat has two jarring features “" absolutely no transitioning and a high encounter rate.

By no transitioning, I don’t mean visible enemies like in Chrono Trigger.‚  I mean that you will be walking, and suddenly the game almost seems like it “freezes” and then you move to a combat screen.‚  There is no sound effect or music to signify that you’ve switched to combat, and if you’re near an exit, you don’t know if you’ve successfully made it to the next screen or entered yet another battle.

And the battles, good lord, there are a lot of them.‚  I may have fought more in my initial 10 hours of Black Sigil than through entire games.‚  It doesn’t help that some weapons have limited range, and there is no automatic “move” command.‚  For example, if an enemy is behind a rock outcrop, you either have to wait for Kairu’s turn (his movement is seemingly unlimited) or wait for the enemy to attack you, and thus move into your range.‚  You can also manually move character by using the L-trigger key, but this isn’t explained in the game, and it seems like something that all characters should do automatically if they chose to attack, not just Kairu.‚  As a result, a single battle can drag out for an extra 15 to 60 seconds because your characters apparently lack the intelligence to properly position themselves.

Also from the “stupid idea” department, your main character is randomly afflicted with status ailments.‚  A storyline reason is later given for this, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.‚  Beyond the Beyond, the very first PSX RPG from 1995, tried a similar thing with one of its main characters, and 14 years later it is still mind-numbingly frustrating.

Black Sigil doesn’t help itself with some muddy visuals and a general lack of refinement.‚  Exits, climbing areas and ladders can be hard to spot on various screens, meaning you have to “trace” your way around the borders of an area to find the proper way out.‚  The menu screens are generally OK, except that I sometimes forgot whether I had to pick the microscopic book or the microscopic armored guy to equip and use my skills.

The high encounter rate, movement issues and just poor planning really do detract from what is an otherwise solid game.‚  I understand the desire to create a more “traditional” RPG that relies on a bit of grinding, a la Dragon Warrior or the original Final Fantasy, but the extra time spent it takes to beat Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled feels artificial and based on poor programming. Unless you are desperate for a new game, you’ll get more enjoyment from hunting down the originals and remakes from those franchises.‚  Or, just play Chrono Trigger again.

Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled is available on the Nintendo DS for $29.99

About The Author

Stephen Greenwell combines the classic style of a 1950s robot with the dynamic flair of a 1970s street pimp. In his spare time, he plays video games, writes and thinks way too much about sports. E-mail him at [email protected] .

8 Responses

  1. RPG KiiNG

    “As a result, a single battle can drag out for an extra 15 to 60 seconds because your characters apparently lack the intelligence to properly position themselves.”

    Im pretty sure that you can move you character(s) at anytime during the battle by holding the L trigger thus making it easy and strategic to battle you enemies.

  2. Stephen Greenwell

    Hey King, thanks for pointing that out! I updated the review to reflect that. I wish I would have known that as I was playing, since the game doesn’t really make it clear, and I didn’t stumble upon it in my various button presses. Le sigh! It still doesn’t make up for the other flaws in the game though, IMO.

  3. Al

    I disagree, It sounds like you didn’t play it enough to even experiment with the controls. Been playing it for about 2 weeks off and on. Encounter rate is on par with other rpg’s. You can run through most encounters with out a major headache. I think all game reviews should disclaim how far or much they have played of the game. Unlike most games rpg’s are in fact for those willing to play all the way through.

  4. Tom

    Also, you can run away from the battles holding the B key. But in order to build your stats, you need to have a high encounter rate. That is what the old school RPG’s had.

  5. Stephen Greenwell

    Al and Tom, I do realize that you can run from encounters – I thankfully managed to find that on my own 😉 Heaven forbid that a game from 2009 have a decent tutorial or a “training room”, a la Final Fantasy 3/6. Or, better yet, just handle movement automatically while attacking like most every other RPG of its kind.

    I definitely don’t think the encounter rate is on par with other games. To cite a game from my review, the battles reminded me of PSX RPG Beyond the Beyond, in terms of tediousness, frequency and length. However, I can’t really prove this without putting a stopwatch to a variety of games between battles. Could be an interesting blog post at some point.

    I am quite familiar with old school RPGs, owning actual copies of DW1 through DW4, the original Final Fantasy and even PC stuff like Might and Magic 1 through 5, but comparing Black Sigil’s gameplay and encounter to them is a cop-out. The battles aren’t as tedious in those games because character skills are better balanced, gaining levels has more of an effect and basic actions (the attacking thing again) are easier to carry out.

    Competition also plays a role – In ye olde days of RPGing, if you couldn’t stomach the high encounter rate of Lufia 1, or the weird weapon requirements of Robotrek, or the aimlessness of Ultima, then you didn’t have as many alternatives. The DS / GBA has a slew of RPGs (original and remakes) I would recommend over Black Sigil: the Chrono Trigger, DQ4, Fire Emblem, FF4 and FF6 remakes, The World Ends With You, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, Retro Game Challenge (it has a fun RPG that’s essentially a copy of DQ2), or even Etrian Odyssey and The Dark Spire if you’re looking for something “old”.

    As far as playing an RPG all the way through, I can see your point; they are normally more complex and rely on story more. However, I enjoyed Sigil’s characters and plot, so it wouldn’t pick up any more points in that area from story revelations. And unfortunately, if the game magically gets better in hour XX, that didn’t prevent me from disliking the previous XX hours. At what point do you say as a reviewer, “Enough is enough,” and throw in the towel and write the negative review? My personal breaking point is normally around 10 hours, which if you’re playing in chunks of two hours a night, is about a week.

  6. boom

    chrono trigger sucks haha i played it for 6 mins and got so board i wanted to cut myself instead and the character looks like hes from dragon ball z


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