“SanctuaryRPG is a good old nostalgic experience which proudly sticks the finger up to modern gaming and says with vigour that old-school sure as hell isn’t dead yet!“
SanctuaryRPG is an ASCII-based old-school RPG-style title from the minds at indie development group Black Shell Games. When I heard that these guys had dropped in a request for me to take a look at something, I was delighted to see just what it was they wanted me to play. Nostalgia is the first thing that hits before your download has even finished, and certainly anticipation does not take too long to follow. Lots of games are exciting to review, but not many make you audibly mutter “awesome” when you first look at them. The big question then is just how awesome is SanctuaryRPG? Does it truly capture that element of nostalgia which is its key selling point? Are the fans of classic RPG’s likely to love it or ridicule it? And how does it stand against modern titles in what is an increasingly competitive market of people trying to do something cool and different? Questions, questions questions, but let’s be honest, you just want to hear about the game, right? Then let’s get on!
What is SanctuaryRPG?
Good question! Well aside from what has already been said, SanctuaryRPG is an old-school format role-playing game for the PC. It attempts to take the very best of what made these classic titles classic in the first place, and consequently nail what nostalgic gamers might desire if such a game were to make a comeback. The game is a completely original idea built in what might be called an ancient style in the minds of modern gamers. Thankfully for fans of these old-school legends however, the game is packed full of all the detail, risk and quirkiness that there ever was in these titles, and that is what really sells it.
Imagine if you will the multitude of these types of games which were around when they first came about. Can you remember any of the names of them? You can probably remember elements of what you played; wizards and whales and puzzles and locked doors galore. SanctuaryRPG takes in the best elements, the most stand out memories of these games, and rolls them into a neat package for nostalgic gamers to drool over. Nonsensical it seems to be at the core or what the developers were going for, with skeletons and computers and murderous doctors all coming into play within the first hour of game time. In any other case, people might call this game a mess. In the case of SanctuaryRPG, all you seem to be able to do is laugh and reiterate to yourself that this is awesome.
The storyline behind SanctuaryRPG is loose at best. There is a general introduction to the game which gives a background to your character with some very, very off the wall information, and then you simply head on in and try to solve every problem in the world. It is basically a very good example of how even some modern RPG titles run; with every other individual in the world being seemingly incompetent, leaving you, the hero, to fix their collection, combat and message delivering tasks for them. The difference with SanctuaryRPG is that the game does this specifically to make fun of the idea. You go from one task to another which is totally unrelated, and ignore the central story altogether at times. The developers have cleverly made a classic RPG and at the same time mocked classic RPGs. What can be said is that this works!
There are a number of different ways to play SanctuaryRPG which are worth a mention before we delve into specific gameplay elements. The traditional style of gameplay which is recommended to you is, of course, permadeath. If you are not familiar with the term, it simply means that if you die you are dead. There are no checkpoints, there is no coming back; if your character is slain then the game is over. Of course, if you aren’t quite hardcore enough for this, there is a friendlier mode of play available with all the mod-cons of modern RPGs included. It is good of the developers to include this option, at it might just keep some of the more rage-filled players of the game playing it for longer if they don’t lose everything when they die. Fans of the classic RPGs which this game is made to mimic however will undoubtedly jump into the permadeath challenge, but should not be fooled into thinking it will be easy…
In game you have all of your standard RPG elements laid out in a textual format, just like in the good old days. If SanctuaryRPG does nothing else for you, it will show you just how much maths and detail goes on behind what you actually see in an RPG of the kind you might more often see today. To some, it will come as a welcome memory, seeing all of the detail laid out in such a way. Sadly, SanctuaryRPG’s one true downfall comes in the area of its layout. If old-school RPG’s had one major issue, it was that trying to look at everything happening on the screen at once was damn near impossible to do. In SanctuaryRPG, where the developers could have tried to fix this long term problem, the case is no different. In fights in particular, it is very difficult to see what is going on where, and harder still to take in all of what is happening at once. If the game falls short anywhere, it is probably in missing this trick.
When you get to grips a little with what is going on around the screen however, playing the game does come very naturally. Ignoring the fact that you can’t possibly see everything at once, over time it does at least become possible to know where to find what you are looking for. There are a very impressive number of RPG elements crammed into SanctuaryRPG as well. Given its style, the game manages to create a more detailed, personalised role-playing experience than many AAA titles even put on offer at the higher end of gaming today. From detailed character creation, to crafting, to shops, to combat techniques, to the simple ability to make decisions, SanctuaryRPG ticks all of the requirement boxes and further underlines them threefold in order to give you the fullest experience possible in this traditional style. Getting around all of these features is also pretty easy too, and while things are more complicated and require more calculation than what modern gamers might be used to, this only adds to the ability to actually play a role, rather than watch it almost play out for you. If you want to truly feel a part of and in control of your own role-playing experience, SanctuaryRPG is probably right up your street!
Graphics and Audio
The look of the game is obviously made up of letters, numbers and characters as is the ASCII-based game style. The way in which this has been produced however is very clear, understandable and even quite easy on the eye. There has been a good use of colours in creating the imagery and elements of the game, and a good combination of text and imagery on a simple black background which allows the game to be pleasant to look at rather than garish and harsh as some old-school titles of the past have been. Most crucially, you can see what things are and read the textual elements clearly and easily, so really there is nothing to be complained about. Other than the previously mentioned layout issues which are present, SanctuaryRPG is a model example of how to do the ASCII-based gaming format right.
In terms of the game’s audio, a dedicated soundtrack has been created to backup the old-school experience. Further reminiscent of similar games of the past, the audio of SanctuaryRPG really rounds of the experience. The low bit-rate music and sounds of the game make it a complete package, and are thankfully not irritating nor unpleasant to the ear. Part of me expected to get annoyed with the background music and have to turn it off after ten minutes, but in fact I found that it simply became a part of the action of what was going on, and that without it there almost seemed to be a piece of the puzzle missing.
SanctuaryRPG is a game which was created to bring back a genre, a piece of the past, and remind gamers of what once was. More than this, it was created to remind gamers just how wicked this piece of the past really was. SanctuaryRPG does just that. It takes a certain old-school style, a traditional and detailed style of play, and all of the best of what any good role-playing experience should offer, wraps it up and throws it with gusto at a busy gaming market. Its storyline may be a bit sporadic, and the organisation of what goes on around the screen is a little scrappy as these games ever were, but otherwise SanctuaryRPG is a good old nostalgic experience which proudly sticks the finger up to modern gaming and says with vigour that old-school sure as hell isn’t dead yet!
- A testament to what old-school means and the fact that it still lives on!
- A random gathering of more RPG character types than you can shake a stick at, with no shortage of laughter along the way as a result.
- A great look created through ASCII code elements, supported by great audio.
- More detail than many modern RPGs offer, with every element of a true, solid RPG being represented in the game.
- The main story line is loose, and it can be difficult to follow exactly what it is.
- Just as difficult as ever to see everything which is happening on the screen.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.