Black Shell Games’ SanctuaryRPG flew in under our radar back in April. It looks and sounds like a very old game, for the most part, though it has splashes of color that the games of yesteryear might not have been able to get away with. It’s not the only game with such an aesthetic, and though it hopefully won’t be the last, SanctuaryRPG distinguishes itself from seemingly similar games with a unique blend of turn-based RPG combat, exploration, humor, and modern game design choices that allow for the player to customize the game’s level of challenge to suit themselves.
The story in SanctuaryRPG is light; the player creates a blank, custom character at the beginning of the game and is sent off on a quest to save the world. There are cutscenes, which proceed automatically in the same full-ASCII glory as the still images the game uses to show off locations, monsters, NPCs, and equipment. A lot of the humor comes from surprising and silly events and NPC interactions, though some of it is randomly generated.
Where the game really shines in terms of gameplay is in promoting player choice in all things and making those choices matter. Battle is turn-based, but the player can try for longer combos of moves or play it safer and make the battles last longer. Bosses have interesting mechanics that up the ante. There’s an extensive crafting system in which the player must balance material durability with increasing progress towards completion and increasing quality. The blacksmith’s shop shows that items are for sale, but the player only gets one chance to look at and buy an item, adding a bit of uncertainty to the mix. Equipping a new piece of gear causes the old piece of gear to get turned into crafting materials. The list goes on and on.
The ASCII art that pervades everything is usually done in white, but important things are in color to make them stand out. Commands that can be issued, for example, are colored; in battle, certain enemy actions, status effects, and the like are in color; if there’s a secret area or chests or something in the current location that the player can interact with, the letter commands to type in will be in color. There isn’t a colorblind mode, unfortunately, but the game explains what letters can appear in the background to indicate secrets.
Everything is done via typed commands in a way that feels very old-school, but which doesn’t require memorizing anything. All of the commands that can be issued at any given time are plainly written on the screen. It’s clear that the user interface and user experience were a development priority, and the result is that the game is easy to play.
If you like RPGs or text adventures at all, you should give SanctuaryRPG a shot. It’s pay what you want for Windows, so the risk of trying it is very low. Its blend of modern game design and old-school aesthetic isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen so far. If you like it, consider voting for it on Steam Greenlight.