Role-playing games are kind of like the books of my childhood (not including the actual books in my childhood). I loved diving into an epic tale within an explorable world, learning about different characters, monsters, and lore. I still love that kind of simple gameplay that allows developers and players to focus on the progression of a story or multiple stories. These days, RPGs are a bit different, having mixed with other genres, but we won’t go into that right now. All I know is that the game SanctuaryRPG, developed by indie game company Black Shell Games, reminds me of those older, classic games.
SanctuaryRPG is a strange and interesting combination of a roguelike role-playing game mixed with simple DOS-based gameplay, and retro-ASCII graphics. As might be expected of a DOS game, the mouse is not used to play at all. The entire game is played with the keyboard, typing in numbers to choose an option in the menu or an action in the game.
By using contemporary technology and programming, Black Shell Games created a game with the retro look and feel, but with the pacing, features, and broadness we hope to see in games today. The presentation of this game is, admittedly, unexpectedly polished and deep. I wasn’t expecting the amount of effort and depth within the game, and how much personality it would have right from the beginning.
The combat system for random encounters is faster than I expected. It mixes together many elements from turn-based and action roguelikes, with the many powers and choices normally associated with RPGs. Players fight just like they do everything else, by typing in a number to choose an attack. Each attack can then be strung to another in order to perform combos over a number of turns, which can then increase a rage meter that allows for an ultimate attack. There’s also the option to use a class-specific power, move around to try and flank or disorient the monster, or to heal. Many of the monsters that players face have special abilities, and powerful attacks, such as charging or locking on and launching a damaging attack. These attacks can be avoided, but players are forced to pay attention to the cues that are associated with those powerful attacks.
SanctuaryRPG allows players to choose from six different classes to create their character: Berserker, paladin, assassin, druid, wizard, and ranger. The story of the game is a bit quirky, so the descriptions for the different classes might not be what you expect. The same goes for the race and convoluted background story that is randomly generated at the beginning of the story. Players can level up after earning enough experience and use their earned stat points to empower and customize their characters in several different ways. There’s also a long list of available weaponry, armor, and charms that a character can equip for a boost.
The story focuses on the main character as they push forward on a journey that leads them to the Matron, a dangerous, powerful woman who brings fear to the land. At one point held in check by a powerful wizard, something happened that released her into the world and caused the wizard to disappear without a trace. The people of the land are bogged down by their fear of the Matron, as well as the many monsters and rogues that run rampant. Even with this serious plot though, the story has several quirky and wacky characters, monsters, or dialogue come up. The combination of these elements work well as the story keeps driving the player forward, but also tries to keep them entertained and surprised.
Then there’s the soundtrack, one of the best features brought to this game. Composed by Rafael Langoni Smith, SanctuaryRPG has 50 tracks of music in it, made up of mostly chiptunes that fit with the look of the game. Many of the tracks reminded me of older Final Fantasy tracks in their diversity. Some tracks took a while to feel repetitive because they had a decent length, and there were several others that came up just as often during gameplay. It’s a soundtrack that I highly recommend for chiptune fans.
The main game itself is decently long, but there’s over a hundred hours of gameplay available with the different class options, and a few little achievements that players can do for fun over several playthroughs.
For me, the game was immensely fun. I got a lot of what I enjoy in an RPG mixed with a gameplay mechanic that was unexpectedly entertaining and somewhat challenging. Just choosing attacks can easily speed up the pace of battle, but you never know when you might miss the clue for an incoming attack. I died a few times dealing with that and with the permadeath mode on instead of the casual option. The amount of variety in equipment, powers, and features really surprised me, and shows how much effort went into the game. It’s all well implemented, and makes for a memorable experience. It also stands apart from many other game companies that are trying to constantly improve their graphics and sacrifice other elements of the game to that end.
SanctuaryRPG is available for PC and is offered on the official website. Black Shell Games is offering the game using a “name your price” system, where people can pick how much they want to pay. Nothing stops people from playing the game for free at first, and then coming back later to pay for the game. The soundtrack is also available using the same payment system. All in all, SanctuaryRPG is a well-crafted game that will probably surprise most players with its quality and features.