Review: SanctuaryRPG is a fun ASCII experience
A specific type of game player will enjoy SanctuaryRPG. Naturally, if you're fascinated by retro dungeon crawlers, text adventures, DOS games, and ASCII graphics, this lovely project from Black Shell Games will instantly pique your interest and deliver a worthwhile quest. If not, you may be apprehensive at first — but considering the fact that SanctuaryRPG is a free (and complete) downloadable game, you should still give it a chance, even if that means getting out of your comfort zone. Whatever the case may be, you're bound to come away from this game pleasantly surprised.
Who Needs 3D Graphics Anyway?
At first glance, only the most curious of indie and retro enthusiasts are likely to be captivated by the look of SanctuaryRPG. If you're just looking at screenshots, you may not really get the point. If you take the time to play it, however, you'll find that this game utilizes the old school ASCII look quite spectacularly. It genuinely looks and feels as if you're playing an '80s gem. Letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation marks fill the screen to create wizards, dragons, swords, and castles. It's a look so unique and so bold that it's actually really impressive.
A DOS Text Adventure for the Modern Age
SanctuaryRPG isn't just about peculiar graphics, though. Beneath the quaint, vintage look is a game that combines a couple of different mechanics to create an adventure that's frequently difficult, consistently rewarding, and always exciting. It's a mix of roguelike, turn-based RPG, dungeon crawler, and text adventure. All of these elements come together to create an experience that's rife with wonder, action, and even a few laughs. Yes, SanctuaryRPG doesn't take itself seriously at all, which is great because it makes for some genuinely funny moments in what would seem like an otherwise brooding, morbid quest.
As was customary for DOS games years ago, you only use the keyboard to perform actions in SanctuaryRPG. Throughout your journey you come across scenarios where you must choose from several options. Pressing a key selects an action and results in a specific consequence. Do you enter a dark dungeon to help a character out or continue on your way? Do you poison the woman running the local tavern or warn her about impending danger? Do you stomp on what appears to be a landmine or ignore it altogether? These are just some of the situations you're put in, each with varying risk-versus-reward results.
Throw in Some RPG Action and Dungeon Crawling Exploration
Battles are among the toughest parts in SanctuaryRPG. Along the way you encounter your fair share of skeletal grunts and dangerous venomous creatures. It's the bosses that get really nasty, though, making for battles that are truly difficult and require actual strategy rather than just randomized attacks on your part. Defeating enemies earns you gold and experience, and after you level up you can assign skill points to different parameters such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, and so on. As in most RPGs, what you focus on has a direct impact on your attack strength, health, and ability to dodge enemy offense.
If you're playing Softcore mode, dying means you lose gold and experience after you've reached level five (you're not penalized for dying if you're below that level). In Classic mode, however, death is permanent, which means perishing in battle forces you back to the start of the game. It's a niche option, no doubt, but the fact that you can choose between the two modes is great for players who'd rather get to the end in one go.
There are six character classes to choose from in SanctuaryRPG. You can go with an assassin, berserker, druid, paladin, ranger, or wizard. Each class has its own perks, and as you play, you can customize your character further to give him or her a more personal touch. You can focus on different types of damage to deal such as magic or physical. You can make your character a powerhouse with a specific type of weapon. You can even boost certain attributes at the cost of lowering others.
You Know, RPGs Don't Always Have to Be so Grim
Aside from letting you select from two massively different difficulty options, SanctuaryRPG separates itself from other dungeon crawlers by providing a lot of comical dialogue. It's not exactly self-aware or brimming with jokes at every turn, but the moments when the game mentions groin shots or how your tongue tastes like chicken make for a few hearty chuckles. And in case you're wondering, yes, groin shots do indeed cause damage to your character, so beware those enemy cheap shots.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging SanctuaryRPG:
The stellar blend of roguelike, RPG, dungeon crawler, and text adventure makes for a quest that's overflowing with variety and practically nonstop entertainment. Throw in a few side quests and the inclusion of six character classes, and you've got a diverse retro-themed quest that's a sheer blast all the way through.
The comedic bits aren't overbearing or forced — they're just right and give you a few worthwhile laughs when you least expect. Seriously, watch your groin.
Retro charm: 9/10
SanctuaryRPG looks like something you would've played on a computer in the '80s. It's not exactly pretty, but it's not trying to be. Everything from the neat ASCII graphics to the enjoyable chiptune soundtrack to the actual way you play is taken from a bygone era. That may put a few folks off, but for those with a more open mind, it's a deliciously stylistic thematic direction.
It's not the most challenging dungeon crawler, but don't be surprised if you're caught off guard by a fiendish boss. If you're playing Softcore mode, death won't pose too much of a problem. If you dare delve into Classic mode territory, though, prepare for a bit of frustration.
Overall score: 8/10
There's no denying that SanctuaryRPG isn't for everyone. It's a decidedly retro game that will appeal mostly to a niche crowd. That doesn't mean it isn't a great game, though. In fact, it's so good and so different from much of what's out there that you should check it out even if you think it's not quite your thing. It's free anyway, so you've got nothing to lose. Of course, if you really like it, you can give Black Shell Games a few bucks for this lovely project. Quite frankly, SanctuaryRPG is so entertaining that it's worth paying for.
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