Tales of the Sanctuary: Chapter One, the multiplatform mobile mystery from Jarbull, had me excited before I’d even installed it onto my tablet. I don’t know whether it was the unknown mystery stretching in front of me, or the elements of horror that I felt creeping through the narrative of this point-and-click experience, but I was eager. Unfortunately, I lost this feeling almost as soon as I lost the overarching plotline.
Tales of the Sanctuary begins with an almost flawlessly mysterious cutscene, in the style of a comic-book strip. You play as John, the unlucky protagonist whom happens to be driving home when a woman in red steps in front of his car. He veers off the road, and is dragged from the wreckage by this woman – whom in my mind is Kathy Bates from Misery – before waking up in a unknown room. That’s where the mystery begins.
After looking at ‘how-to-play’, showing that I could look at, pick up and combine objects with one another to progress through the game, I was into my first puzzle. The room I had woken up in was dark, boarded up, and water leaked through the roof rhythmically, with the most important phrase there being boarded up; I couldn’t get out. Using the items found, which included such things as a torch, batteries, a stick and a hook, I had to figure out a way to break off the boards, unlock the door, and get out of the room.
This concept is nothing new. Finding and combining items together is the glue that holds most point-and-click mysteries together, and even before I found a torch with no batteries, and batteries with no torch, I thought this would be the case in Tales of the Sanctuary. However, what I didn’t realise is that the expanse of a room’s scenery would not entirely fit onto one screen. This meant that I searched every part of the first room over and over, unable to find anything else, before realising that if I just scrolled down I could get a better look at the ground beneath my feet, where more solutions were waiting.
The time I had spent in this room did allow me to truly appreciate the sound and music of the game, though. Little details, for example, such as the aforementioned dripping of the roof, clocks ticking, and even the few bouts of voice-acting when interacting with certain items, telling me that I “needed a key to unlock that door”, subtly added to the overall experience in. Furthermore, Sanctuary flaunts a soundtrack of haunting music, changing based on the atmosphere of your current situation, and sounding eerily similar to the theme from Halloween.
Despite a dark, gritty atmosphere that truly did immerse me into what I expected to be a cryptic mystery, I found that the narrative itself is what let the game down, mostly. For me, it just didn’t make sense. The journey to find the truth led from houses to parks to abandoned theme parks, and finally to a surprisingly macabre setting, but I never understood how I ended up there. At which point in the last puzzle had I picked up clues that lead me down this path? I must have blinked, because I often missed the logic.
Also, whilst speaking of logic, I found that this went out the window during a few puzzles, as the levels were sometimes too dark or cluttered to actually see which objects I was able to interact with. Even when I knew the general area to explore, I couldn’t always tap the object accurately enough for it to be looked at. There’s only so many things that a person can do before they try tapping mindlessly across the screen in order to stumble across a key item, but the implementation of a ‘hint’ button – with a cooldown period – offset this to some extent. Well, until it came to a point where I needed to find a key to unlock a door, and the hint button directed me back to the door. At that moment, I used my own personal ‘ask a friend’ approach.
Breaking up the pace from the usual pattern of entering a room, finding items within that room, and leaving the room, Sanctuary includes another type of gameplay mechanic. Think of it as the point-and-click mystery version of a wordsearch, in which you are presented with a cluttered room of objects and must find specific items. These sections, at first, broke up the pacing nicely and added some variety to the game. However, they often left me feeling a bit confused in terms of logical progression. I collected such things as a lighter, a paint brush, a corkscrew and other seemingly random items, only to return to a room with a ladder. For a mystery game that should have gamers thinking logically about how to solve things, I couldn’t see the logic in this at all.
In addition, these sections soon became a tedious chore, as I was expected to search a number of rooms in a row, focusing intently on finding lists of miniscule items for long periods of time. This is likely to give certain gamers headaches as they strain to see items on the smaller screens of their phones, so I would certainly recommend the larger screen of a tablet, if possible. Such item-search sections could be improved by having a smaller list of objects to find, and for these searches to take place less often, or at least not in tandem.
While Tales of the Sanctuary has a involving atmosphere, with music and sound effects to immerse the gamer further into what should be a chilling mystery, I spent a large amount of time feeling as if the pieces of some puzzle, whether it be in the narrative or gameplay, just weren’t quite fitting together. There’s some potential in this game and its mystery, for sure, as I was genuinely interested in the progression of the plot, and especially interested – if somewhat puzzled – by the game’s cliffhanger.
Until Chapter Two is released, I can’t be sure as to whether the plot will make more sense after future revelations, but for now, it’s a little hard to follow. If you like point-and-click mysteries with a horror essence, you might enjoy the puzzles of Chapter One for a small price of $0.99, but make sure you keep some paracetamol nearby for those object-searches, just in case.