ReviewsReview: Black Book

Review: Black Book

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We’ve all heard the saying too many cooks spoil the broth! Rarely does this apply to a game, but when it does, the experience can be overwhelming, uncomfortable, and confusing. Black Book is guilty of this as it attempts to mix many elements in its fantasy story.

Developed by Morteshka and published by HypeTrain Digital, this is an RPG blended with multiple genres. You’ll get a taste of deck building, visual novel, detective questioning, resource management, and open-world adventure. It offers an awful lot in one small package, which makes for an interesting but busy title.

Black Book transports you to a magical demon inspired world. 

Though the core concepts of Black Book are overwhelming, I admired the developer’s enthusiasm. I also loved the setting, and how the story evolved based on the many choices on offer. It quickly became clear why so many elements were combined, yet this didn’t detract from the confusion that ensued.

The game is set in the 19th century in rural Russia and takes inspiration from Russian Folklore. You control a heartbroken girl called Vasilisa who refuses her fate of becoming a witch. Her resolve is, however, broken when her boyfriend dies and is destined to stay for eternity in hell. The only way she can save his damned soul is to accept her dark role and break the seven seals of the Black book. To do this, she must overcome the demons that live on Earth and command them to follow her, come what may.

Take your pick and impact the plot.

A new and bizarre language to comprehend. 

The plot is relatively simple to follow and unfolds by using visual novel elements. This was a wonderful experience and gives the player the feeling they are the principal character in a fairy tale. However, though the story is straightforward, the language used is not. Black Book has its own vocabulary that is as confusing as it is great. You are not a witch, but a “Knower”. Spells are “Zagovors”, demons are “Leshys, Banyans, and Chorts”, and so forth. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and you’ll use the “hint” button repeatedly until you get used to it.

Once you get over the oddities of the text, you’ll enjoy a free-flowing story. The main portion of Black Book revolves around quests and helping villagers. As you begin each day, a map with multiple routes appears. Here, you select nodes that offer random events from battles, encounters with demons and vendors, and more. Most of this is narrated using the aforementioned visual novel mechanics and detective-style questions. It was intriguing, unusual, and you soon become invested in the tale.

Consequences, battles, and resource management.

What makes Black Book’s story tantalising is that every action has consequences. Whether it’s helping a stranger, stealing items, or completing a quest, everything impacts the surrounding world. Your decisions may lead to people becoming cursed, or demons running amuck. This was fantastic and added such variety to the genre heavy gameplay.

Alongside this, the deck-building combat adds an interesting layer to the mainly text-based narrative. You will battle solo or with a companion in a turn-based fashion. Each attack you select from an array of cards that forms a spell to attack, defend, or use abilities. This was fantastic as it added a complex strategy element that will enthral fans of the genre. New spells are added to your deck by completing quests or purchasing them from vendors. This was great, as you can build a collection that matches your game style. 

Your day isn’t complete without a bit of open-world adventuring and resource management. You must manage your army of demons to do demon-like tasks! They will curse villagers, break items, and cause mischief. If you leave them at home, they’ll harm your stats. So choose between the villager’s misery, or yours, so sorry townsfolk, look out for some bad luck coming your way. The open-world section is basic and asks you to search small areas for clues and herbs. It won’t test your resolve, but it reflects the theme perfectly.

The map and its many nodes.

Black Book uses simple visuals that are rough around the edges.

Morteshka has done a great job with their simple visuals, especially as there are so many things going on at once. The combination of dark tones and pastel colours emphasised the sombre nature of the plot. This also enhanced the early 19th-century rural landscape that you explored. Sadly, though, the open world was rough around the edges and appeared dated. Alongside this, Black Book is also guilty of using stereotypical images for their Chorts, which you may consider a poor choice. However, this was forgiven as it complimented the developer’s desires to stay faithful to Russian Folklore.

The rural and magical themes were also complemented by the folksy and whimsical soundtrack. The music changed pace and tone to represent moments of intrigue or danger, and we’re fantastic to listen to. The narration is brilliantly acted and the conversations between characters are genuinely interesting to listen to. The range of emotion and depth the acting brings to the story is captivating, and I loved hearing the many backstories and how your actions impact people’s lives. Your angelic side will feel for those affected, but the devil inside of you will giggle. I, of course, giggled a lot!

Form a spell and attack that snake.

Surprisingly easy to play.

With so much going on, you may be worried that this was horrendous to play. Surprisingly, it was easy to understand the fundamentals, and I worried little about the controls thanks to the well thought out tutorials. Each section is explained thoroughly, and an encyclopaedia is ever-present to clear up any misunderstandings. The UI was sadly a little cluttered, but it was still straightforward to navigate, and this helped to make the game accessible.

Thanks to its multiple routes and many outcomes from each conversation, there are plenty of reasons to return and play this again. Black Book oozes replay value, but you will have to tackle the shortcomings and many layers every time. The large achievement list demands a lot of attention and multiple playthroughs, so completionists will have a tough time.

Black Book delivers a great story, but sometimes less is more!

Morteshka knows how to write a fantastic story, and the setting and atmosphere were wonderfully created. However, much that makes Black Book great is lost behind the layers of gameplay. The final product has a diluted feel to it and I can’t help but think that less is more. I’m going to recommend you buy it, but be aware it’s extremely busy. If you want a copy, you can purchase one here! Follow the path that fate has set for you and save your dead boyfriend from eternity as a damned soul.

SUMMARY

Black Book is a magical RPG where demons run wild in 19th century rural Russia. Defeat them in battle and command them to do your bidding. Open the seven seals and save your boyfriend from an eternity in hell.

+ Rough but atmospheric graphics.
+ Well-thought-out audio.
+ Easy to understand controls.
+ Lots of replay value.
+ An interesting story with multiple endings.
+ Faithful to Russian folklore.
- Too many elements make it overwhelming.

(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
Daniel Waite
My gaming career started on an Amiga and spans many consoles! Currently, I game using an MSI laptop and Xbox Series X. A fan of every genre, I love to give anything a go. Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I'm loving my new home here at Movies Games and Tech. I can be contacted for gaming reviews on the following email: Daniel@moviesgamesandtech.com

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Review: Black BookBlack Book is a magical RPG where demons run wild in 19th century rural Russia. Defeat them in battle and command them to do your bidding. Open the seven seals and save your boyfriend from an eternity in hell.<br/> <br/> + Rough but atmospheric graphics.<br/> + Well-thought-out audio.<br/> + Easy to understand controls.<br/> + Lots of replay value.<br/> + An interesting story with multiple endings.<br/> + Faithful to Russian folklore.<br/> - Too many elements make it overwhelming.<br/> <br/> (Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation.)<br/>