Black Sigil was released in 2009 by a California-based company, but it easily could have come from Japan in the early ’90s. The super-retro 2D RPG is sure to thrill fans that grew up on its ilk, but anyone else will be easily frustrated by its arbitrary, bland mechanics.
The story follows the young knight Kairu, the only person in his homeland unable to use magic. Since the last person with this disability waged terrible war across the nation, Kairu faces fear and prejudice that forces him to leave home and go adventuring.
The gameplay will be familiar to fans of Final Fantasy. Turns are based on timed action bars for each character in your party, which can be sped up to avoid long waiting periods. Your mêlée characters can normally move and fight monsters even when a fair bit of space separates them, but sometimes the game won’t let you make anything but ranged attacks. Running out of spell points or expendable thrown weapons can force one or more characters into inaction. The result is often slow, grueling combats only distinguishable by whether the bad guys prefer poisoning you or putting your party to sleep.
Running out of resources is particularly easy given the game’s love of random encounters. This is especially hard to deal with in dungeons, where the path is often a puzzle. Wandering around trying to find secret passages and hidden stairways would be a lot more fun if you didn’t get attacked every few steps. (You can flee from battles by holding down the B button, though that mechanic isn't detailed in the game's manual.) You often start at a disadvantage due to status effects and slow spell-point regeneration. There’s a tight limit on the items you can carry, and the wide gaps between save points makes exploration a true test of endurance. But if you survive, you’ll be rewarded with a rich, detailed plot.
Beyond the game: Black Sigil received the “Most Wanted RPG of 2009” Editor’s Choice Award from RPGamer.com.
Worth playing for: The characters all feel like individuals rather than stereotypes, and their dialogue ranges from hilarious to touching.
Frustration sets in when: A random encounter causes your game to freeze, forcing you to backtrack through pages of dialogue.
Final judgment: A title for the hardcore and masochistic, Black Sigil is most likely to discourage casual players.