Helping changelings and cursing your neighbors may not be part of your average to-do list, but it’s all in a day’s work for a koldun like Vasilisa. Black Book is a unique RPG with roguelike card battles that help you wield dark forces as a young sorceress, all while teaching you about Slavic folklore along the way.
The concept alone is enough to make me want to know more, but does the mix of genres work to the game’s advantage, or are you better off getting your roguelike-slash-RPG-slash-card battler fix elsewhere?
Table of contents:
BLACK BOOK VISUALS
Perfectly in tune with the game’s haunting theme, Black Book is all about the mysterious and the macabre steeped in local flavor. Scenes and landscapes offer a dreary yet intriguing world bathed in shadows and untapped magic, complemented by the dark premise of the narrative. In essence, the protagonist Vasilisa is on a quest to raise the dead – she basically sells her soul to the devil to bring her beloved back to life.
In particular, Vasilisa offers her services to the dark forces by embarking on a journey to break the seven seals of the Black Book. Succeeding should grant her wish, but there will be unspeakable costs along the way. The low-poly visuals of the rural landscape add to the game’s dark charm, along with the illustrated characters and the horrific demons you face during turn-based card battles.
THE GAMEPLAY OF BLACK BOOK
Combat is a card-battling affair, where you venture across branching nodes to either encounter friends or dive into battle with demons. You can build a deck and unleash your spells upon foes, with each spell (and each demon) growing stronger as you progress.
Outside of combat, you can explore the world around you via point-and-click-esque gameplay. You can also fulfill requests from the townsfolk (hence the aforementioned cursing of neighbours) or send out the demons who are haunting you to haunt other people. You have the ultimate choice to turn blameless or just plain evil, as every action you make (most of which have gray areas) affects your level of Sins.
On top of all these, you can build your knowledge via an encyclopedia where you can learn all about the different creatures and traditions from Slavic mythology. You’ll often need this wisdom to answer questions from NPCs, gain experience, and even collect gold.
WHAT’S THE APPEAL?
While Black Book does have all the makings of something as epic as, say, The Witcher games, I feel like it’s trying too hard to do too many things at the same time. The mix of genres might not be for everyone, and this kind of approach, I feel, isn’t too optimized for mobile, especially since it’s way too complicated to learn and dive into on the go. It’s not something I would pick up if I only had a few minutes to spare, nor is it particularly appealing when I’m looking for a timewaster on the daily commute.
The auto-save isn’t precise too – add that to the fact that I had such a hard time playing the game thanks to its dark shades and small text, and it’s clear the game’s mobile port isn’t entirely optimized for a mobile device . I had to squint a lot of times just to see everything properly, and sometimes, my thumbs would have trouble tapping on the right target because the elements were squished together. The eye strain was pretty bad too every time I logged off – although that might just be me and my terrible eyesight.
That said, the touch controls are great when it comes to tapping on items and directing Vasilisa during the exploration mode, as well as during combat. The voice acting is top-notch and the music is just breathtaking – but there’s no doubt that the highlight of the game is its rich (and super cool) lore, and thankfully, it’s enough to help me power through the sometimes-off pacing.
Plus, the game does have an Endless Battles mode where you can just play the roguelike card battles to your heart’s content. This functions as your typical roguelike game. If combat is your main priority and you’re not really interested in the lore, this mode might just be your cup of tea – and best of all is that this mode is absolutely free to play.