Tom Hooper aka Atomp
SanctuaryRPG is a text-based RPG focused around portraying modern and old school RPG concepts through a traditional ASCII style. In accordance with the current trend towards rogue-likes Sanctuary has roguelike elements, ensuring permanent character death is in place and the game difficulty is appropriately unforgiving. To see a game of this type is interesting, yet it also has a distinctly different feel to older text-based RPGs and roguelikes. This variation from the text-based tradition is not necessarily a bad thing and I’m all for more modern text-based games as the implementation time for features and the potential for depth is astonishing compared to manpower dependent 3D and 2D games, just look at Dwarf Fortress. This is a different kettle of fish to the other ASCII game that I have so far reviewed; CataclysmDDA, as not only do they have differing genres the manner in which they play feels radically different and possibly shows the difference between Sanctuary and older roguelikes. Whilst CataclysmDDA is a move away from the fantasy genre it does share a great deal with those that went before with a top-down representation of the world like Nethack, Sanctuary is probably closer to Knights of Pen and Paper in terms of how it plays although with a darker twist and higher difficulty. Travel is menu-based and the combat is a Final Fantasy like menu/sub-menu based affair. The pricing model for Sanctuary is interesting and worth note as the game is charged on a ‘name your price’ model with no minimum meaning you can try the full for nothing if in doubt and then give the developers a fair price after. This pricing model shows a degree of developer savvy and I really hope it works out well for them. This form of honour system payment recognises the nature of piracy; if someone doesn’t want to pay for the game then they’ll find a way to get it either way and there’s no point in punishing paying customers with DRM or unnecessary hoops to jump through.
Onto the game then, of which the combat is really the meat and potatoes. The Final Fantasy style menu type combat has been mixed up a little with the division of attacks into a variety of stages which can be combined into combos which then build up damage. Non-combo attacks are possible but nowhere near as effective and really it’s somewhat necessary to chain starters, linkers and finishers into a really nice combo. In addition to this combo system is the healing move which takes MP and will end combos unlike repositioning which is essentially a dodge that will move away from enemy charges, open up an enemy’s block and regenerate MP. The combat is something quite new and takes a little getting used to, I’m not well versed on menu driven combat anyway so it was a shock however after a bit of practice and switching to a softcore character (no permadeath) it became a lot of fun. Much of the game does seem to rely somewhat on grinding in an area in order to level for the move to something harder which isn’t unheard of in RPGs and to be completely honest; text-based grinding is quick and the combat remains fun so in essence it’s probably a strength more than it is a weakness. The enemies are varied and have a particular charm to them as along with the rest of the game there is a strange yet entertaining sense of humour permeating throughout. The enemies also have damage effects and modifiers that change how they must be fought, for example quick enemies will be hard to hit, molten enemies will do fire damage and so on. It is this variety of content and enemies that saves the combat from being too much of a chore, especially considering the lack of visuals available to pad out the experience.
Levelling, progression and questing is achieved along much the same lines as you’d expect from a fantasy RPG. There’s no weapon or gear inventory, upon getting a new weapon or gear you must choose whether to replace your current equipment or salvage for parts which makes introduces some interesting decisions to say the least. The parts can then be used to craft new items using an interesting little smithing mini-game. The game does play very similarly to Knights of Pen and Paper only with a single character: The combat and relative grind is similar, the approach to level restricted areas is much the same but without the visual map and the questing is much the same. These things are by no means bad aspects and Sanctuary combines these with a wacky sense of humour and the ASCII selling point to create something that’s still unique and fun.
Aesthetically the game is pure ASCII at an MSDOS resolution. There are no tile-sets or fancy characters here, it’s all low-colour ASCII art and menus and that couldn’t sit with me any better. The ASCII art itself is brilliantly done and gives the strange and creative mix of creatures a face and the landscapes some basis for the inevitably required imaginary continuation. The game knows the look that it’s going for, it knows how to get there and it works well. I understand that there are those that would be put off by the aesthetic from the very start and I would ask that such folk give it a chance and see the great RPG that lies beneath. The music is certainly of note here with a wide variety of 8-bit chiptunes that fit perfectly into the atmosphere of the game and the retro sensation that the ASCII graphics create.
In short; SanctuaryRPG appears to be something of a niche product but it in fact a very fun RPG with visual, audio and gameplay styles that take retro and actually applies it very well with a twist of modern mechanics. The game is available on Windows at the moment and will run through Wine on Linux, although the developers have promised that Linux native binaries are the in the works, which is fantastic to hear. The game is available to try at whatever price you please although I would suggest you throw some money their way if you enjoy it as further support and development can never be a bad thing in this case.