If there's one thing the DS isn't short of, it's role-playing games. Developers are churning them out with a vigour that shows no sign of slowing down.
Those with an insatiable hunger for fairytales and epic battle sequences have been spoiled by a selection of remakes such as Chrono Trigger and various Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. Is a new addition to the RPG family - Black Sigil from Canadian Studio Archcraft - a case of too many cooks trying to level up?
With a subtitle such as Blade of the Exiled, you'd naturally expect a fair amount of swordplay and unjustified treatment of the glorified hero. Well, exhale a much relieved breath because there are copious amounts of both, and a whole lot more.
Central character Kairu is an orphan (d'aaaw) of pretty sounding locale Bel Lenora. He stands out from his peers thanks to his inability to conjure magical spells, rendering him a shamed outcast. Think of it as a less perverted version of those schoolboy shower room power scenarios. (Not that I'd know about that.)
In any case, delving into the shady past of this picturesque kingdom sheds some light on why poor Kairu is bullied mercilessly, and gets the plot moving.
As befits a game that's clearly been designed for the hardcore, Black Sigil throws you in at the deep end - albeit with the benefit of simplistic yet attractive 16-bit 2D graphics to calm the nerves.
Still, the tutorial... Oh. Wait. The tutorial is decidedly absent.
If you haven't passed out with disbelief at such a revelation, you have two options: wing it, if you're good; or take the decidedly 'big girls blouse' option and retrieve the manual.
Accepting the fact I am a girl, and happen to like blouses, I opted for the latter option and skimmed through the booklet, which admittedly did do me the world of good. Thus armed, you can try not to be scared off by the bars, gauges and other weird and wonderful statistics that litter the screen.
When it comes down to it, Blade of the Exiled has all the ingredients of any tried and tested RPG game. These include 40 to 50 hours of gameplay, tons of side quests, a three person party chosen from eight characters, hundreds of different physical and magical skills, hundreds of different weapons, and over 200 pieces of armour.
Some elements let you down. For example, the battle system's mix of tactical and turn-based gameplay frustrates more than favours the player. Also, the controls involve use of the D-pad to assign your preferred battle move, which can be confusing as you have to hold down the designated direction for a period of time.
But other elements shine. Your spirits will be lifted by the promise of a good story. And, let's face it: a good clean tale is always welcome. It might take you some time to get settled into the feel of things, but patience is a virtue, and one that you'll need, as the starting pace is fairly slow.
Once you get the hang of navigation and controls, you're finally free to enjoy the charming graphics, which wouldn't look out of place on a Super Nintendo cartridge.
The soundtrack is dipped in retro nostalgia. Despite the pleasing melodies, there's no real signature tune worth keeping your ears peeled for, but overall the tracks mesh in well with the atmosphere.
Of course, the main question remains: just how enjoyable is the game?
This is where opinions touch both sides of the spectrum. Black Sigil generates the sort of love-hate relationship only Marmite or Mika can conjure.
It's a proudly retro game in terms of graphics, plot, random battles and levelling up and this makes for a charming adventure, but these elements, especially the random battles, are often irritating.
If you're willing to compromise a few creature comforts for the sake of a genuine retro-fuelled experience, then you won't find much to complain about. For those with an insatiable hunger for on-the-ball excitement, however, there's little gratification to be had from Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled.