Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled Is the Best 16-Bit RPG You’ve Never Heard Of

10689656_542662225867416_6797366882066881583_nImagine you’ve been transported back to 1995. It’s just before New Years, and you’re 13 years old. It’s late at night, and your parents are sound asleep. The only sound you can hear is the rhythmic tapping of blizzard snow on your window above the sweet sound of Yasunori Mitsuda’s “To Far Away Times.” You’ve just finished Chrono Trigger, and like anyone in the throes of addiction, the back of your mind itches with the desire for more.

Fast-forward to 2014. A box of random Nintendo DS games arrives at your door. One is bad, two are mediocre at best, and one is shockingly, heart-breakingly good — and you’ve never heard of it before. This game is Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, the only title developed by now-defunct Canadian company Studio Archcraft.

From the moment the title screen comes up, you can tell it’s harkening back to the silver age of Japanese RPGs (like, well, Chrono Trigger). This comparison becomes more apt once you enter your first battle and realize that other than the addition of movement, the two games have identical battle mechanics. Right down to the exceptionally detailed sprites, the similarity quickly moves into homage territory.

And it’s pretty damn glorious.

10653416_542662232534082_6327698525673725973_nThe game is set in the kingdom of Bel Lenora, a land in which everyone but one person has always been able to use magic. That one person brought about a terrible series of deaths and was soon banished. Our hero also shares this freak inability to cast spells, and masters the sword to prove himself as powerful as his contemporaries.

It’s not Herman Melville, but it shows promise from the start and picks up quickly.

That’s not to say the game is without flaws. There are several glaring menu problems, and even a couple of game-breaking glitches that force the player to reload from an earlier save. This is an extreme tragedy, as without these obvious bugs the game would be everything I’ve wanted since that windy night in my adolescence.

Don’t let the bugs hold you back though; the nasty ones are easy to avoid if you put the text speed at the fastest setting (something I would have done anyway).

It’s nothing groundbreaking, and it’s far from perfect, but the atmosphere of nostalgia and the little touches and references to a bygone era are enough for it to deserve a spot in the collection of any lover of 16-bit era RPGs.

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