It’s good these days to be a Dark soul’s fan, what with the recent rerelease of Demon Soul’s, a game that was feared lost to the void of copyright law, and the ever so encouraging prospect of Bloodborne 2 being a possibility. It’s good that these types of difficult games are coming back into the limelight for those who crave a challenge.
However, there’s only so many From Software developers at one given time, so the dream of them pumping out souls’ game like McDonalds pumps out chicken McNuggets is sadly not part of our current reality.
That’s where indie games come in, with games like Salt and Sanctuary, a 2D platformer that has a solid core gaming loop, and a bit of a naming problem.
Also before I go further, I just wanted to explain that I’m trying to figure out a review style that works for me, so feel free to leave feedback to the Pro/ Con list idea.
Pro: Art style
One thing that grew on me over the course of the game was the bleak, grayish art style. While it is true that it isn’t conventionally beautiful, I do think it does a good job of setting the atmosphere. The game is set on an island in the middle of the ocean, so the art style looks very grayish, with a lot of the background areas covered in mist and fog. The overall look of the game is very bleak and muddy, and the character designs are… unique to say the least. The weapons and gear aren’t much to look at either, the but the color pallet overall does a good job of setting the atmosphere. While I’ll touch on the levels later, I will admit that the same look of castle after castle gets old quite quickly. Other than that though, I did enjoy the bleary, somewhat depressing atmosphere of the island
Ask any Dark Souls fan what makes a Souls game a Souls game and they’ll respond with three things: Difficulty, Atmosphere, and Story.
While the first two are in ample supply, the latter I find lacking in Sanctuary.
The main plot is that you’re trying to rescue a princess that was captured as it would mean the end of a long war if she were to be married, and your quest to rescue her. It starts off nice enough, a strong if generic, story hook. But it fails to develop from there for a number of reasons. The way a good story is told through these games is not through cutscenes and characters yammering on through them, but in the bits and pieces. In the first DS game, the story is started off with a. cutscene that explains the basics of the world, and from there it comes in through snippets of conversation, the level design, and through flavor text. Through item descriptions. That last one is the one I find lacking in a lot of games that attempt this type of style. Flavor text is vital because its A. adds depth to the world, B. allows the writer to stretch their creative wings and make reading descriptions of things cool, and C. give vital story information while not overwhelming the player. The reason we know I’d say about ¾ of the world of Lordran, Drangleic, or even Yharnam is through the flavor text on weapons, clothing, and items. It also allows the player to experience the story at their own pace, while not forcing them through a story they don’t want. Salt and Sanctuary lacks this, as they seem to offer a barebones item description, only telling the absolute essentials. For example, I played a beast hunter, because anyone who has read my Hellsign review(https://wordpress.com/post/shutyourcakeholegaming.com/112) would know my love for monster hunting games. When I delved into the description for the cloak he was wearing, it simply read, “Cloak of a beast hunter.”
Nice worldbuilding there Salt and Sanctuary. The item description for literal garbage in Dark Souls 3 has more words than the description of a starting class’s armor in Sanctuary. While some do have a bit more than others, for the most part it’s pretty lackluster. I also found the starting items annoying because you couldn’t read the description of them, so you had no clue what they did until you were in the game.
Sanctuary also attempts to give depth through these made-up Bible passage things in the skill tree which I stopped reading after the first few due to them being of little substance.
Overall disappointing but in the end, is made up for in other areas, such as the combat
Pro: Combat and Gameplay Loop
Overall, I’d say that Sanctuary is the best form of a 2D souls-like, even amongst others like Blasphemous and Hollow Knight. Despite the meandering story everything else tends to make up for it. The gameplay is no exception, as it apes the wide range of play styles of the soul’s games, and even adds a few new elements to the mix, however scant. It’s your standard fighting controls for the most part: light attack, heavy attack, roll, block etc. you can choose to two hand almost all weapons in the game, which is nice, but it also allows the use of charms for weapons, which give a variety of buffs from more damage, to a portable lantern, and other nice passive buffs. Other than that its basically souls combat in a 2D space. Which isn’t bad, in fact it is quite fun, although I will admit that the knockback/ immediate stunlock is frustrating, as are any enemies that stop the game to attack you with a long, drawn out attack animation, completely killing the pacing of an otherwise fun fight.
The gameplay loop of souls is here, which not a lot of other games do, and includes the mechanic of circling back to unlock a door that gives a quicker route to a boss from your sanctuary. Speaking of.
Con: Sanctuary mechanic/ Creeds
I wouldn’t stay that this is a hard negative, more like a wasted opportunity. Rather than bonfires you have Sanctuary’s which allow you to refill health potions, level up, and such. The difference is that you now have the ability to place vendors in the sanctuary. These range from merchants to blacksmiths, to guides that allow you to teleport to literally any unlocked sanctuary for no cost, which makes me wonder why not just cut out the middle man and let us teleport straight from the altar. There are also leaders to your specific faction, or Creed, that you can call that let you upgrade the merchants etc. etc. The problem is that once you put exactly one guide down, and all the merchants in one or two sanctuaries, it becomes more or less useless. Sad really, I feel if they expanded on that, like every merchant you put down you get a new piece of gear available from the store.
Creeds are also a massive pain; they tend to be worthless. They function as covenants but in this game also determine the types of equipment given to you. Top tip: if you play any melee build, get the iron ones, because they are the only ones geared towards it and all the others offer useless equipment. It could have been interesting, but the creed system tends to be fairly boring, only upgrading the shop once you grind for body parts, which is just the definition of fun aint it?
Overall, this games pretty great, with a solid core loop, and a decent amount of replayability especially if you want to try out both a melee and a magic class down the line.
It’d give it a solid recommendation for those wanting some Darksouls/ Castlevania action.