Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This game kicks ASCII - SanctuaryRPG

NOTICE: This review is based on the free version of Sanctuary RPG, and does not account for content added in the Black Edition, which was not available at the time this review was written.

As I've said before, one of the reasons I started this blog was to steer people towards interesting games that have flown under the radar, and when it comes to being both interesting and under the radar. a retro text based rpg that's not on steam would be a hard thing to top.

SanctuaryRPG is very much a weird game, a text based RPG that plays with a keyboard only. You'd think it was a VERY old game from the early 80s or even the late 70s, but it was actually made in 2010. It's not quite a roguelike thought it takes some inspiration from them. The closest comparison I can think of is old BBS door games if you've ever played any of those: text only, turn based, and based mostly around menus.
I wasn't kidding about the text. This is the entire title screen
As an RPG, the game gives you a surprising amount of options upon starting a new game. On top of choosing a race or class, of which there's plenty of both, you also get to choose what kind of game to play. You can choose if you want permadeath or not, or to play a survival mode which has you keep fighting battles until you die. Your choice has some minor effect on the game outside of difficulty. playing without permadeath gives you a slight penalty to item drops, and you can't unlock augments, which are small bonuses you can pick on starting a new character.

The gameplay is based heavily around navigating menus. You're given a list of the actions you can take at any point, and go from there. Want to visit the blacksmith? Chose the blacksmith option to bring up the menu for it. Crafting? You've got an option for that. Need to check your stats? Character menu. Since the game is purely keyboard based, it helps keep the controls nice and simple. There's not really any commands to remember, just look at the menu, tell the game what you want, and off you go.
you'll be seeing a lot of menus like this in game.
Combat in the game is also menu based, and it's surprisingly good. Combat is based off chains of attacks and focuses on managing resources. Many attacks cost mana, so you need to avoid running out, though you can readily recharge it by choosing to reposition instead of attacking, at the same time, you might need to reposition to break an opponent's guard or use a turn to break free of a bind. There's also special options like focus or grapple that can show up under certain circumstances. This keeps combat interesting; you have to consider your options fairly carefully, as if you just spam attacks you could get penalized for missing a grapple opportunity, or find yourself unable to reposition when an enemy is charging you.

The game also has some other options outside of normal combat, you can run a tavern to gain gold and experience, there's an area that occasionally creates random dungeons, basically a string of harder than normal fights in return for a prize, and there's a crafting system. As you play, you'll gain various materials you can use in a crafting minigame, the result of which decide how powerful the resulting item is, though the item is unfortunately still somewhat random. You can choose the base type, like a weapon or armor, but not exactly what kind of stats it'll have. you even have a crafting skill that levels up independently of your main level, there's more than enough here to do outside of the usual fighting.
The crafting minigame lets you make new items, though the results are somewhat random
Graphically... well, technically the game has no graphics as it's all text based. That said the game uses a lot of ASCII art and colored text and despite how primitive it is, it's very nice looking. The game manages to throw in some little animated sequences for some things, and many screens have some sort of art to accompany them. Even when the screen is mostly a menu, the game includes various boarders and windows to organize things so it's not just a wall of text to read. The end result is a game that's not half bad looking despite how primitive the graphics are.

The game also has a pretty nice soundtrack, it's all chiptune music that goes along with the retro text aesthetic nicely. The music makes heavy uses of square waves and is just a little scratchy so it sounds like it's from an older game. The battle themes, which you'll likely be hearing most often, are all very catchy and fun to listen to. The Game's sound is very minimal, but is a lot like the music, most of it is small jingles that play for certain events, but what few sounds are actually there are somewhat scratchy and low quality, overall the game really nails the look and feel of older games.
Enemies can have random modifiers, that change how they fight.
The game also fortunately runs very well. I didn't encounter any real bugs and since the game is text based, there's virtually no system requirements. The main problem I have with the game is there's no inventory for equipment, when you find new equipment, you have to equip or salvage it for crafting materials right then and there. Also there's no mouse support. I realize that's likely going against the game's retro ideology, and to be honest the game works just fine keyboard only. It doesn't NEED mouse support, but as the game is all menus it'd be nice if I could simply click through them. Call me lazy I guess.

In recommending this game, I have to admit that it leans somewhat on it's gimmick. This is a game that sells itself on using ASCII art and chiptunes in an age of 3D graphics. To it's credit however, it's not purely reliant on it. Underneath all that text and keyboard-only interface is a surprisingly good RPG that manages to accomplish quite a bit within the limitations the Devs put forward. Plus, as of this writing the game can be downloaded free off their homepage and is pretty cheap everywhere else so by all means, give this thing a spin and if you like it? Go buy it, it only costs a dollar or two.

Sanctuary RPG was developed and published by Black Shell Games. It is available on Desura and directly from the developer. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. it's homepage is available here.

An upgraded version of SanctuaryRPG, called SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition, is available on Steam.

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