SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition Review
SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition is a rather daring title in this day and age, something you sadly don’t see many companies taking a risk with anymore, but thankfully due to Steam and similar sites the opportunity for titles like this to even exist is a constant reality. Created by Black Shell Games, who have several retro-styled titles under their belts, SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition is essentially an upgrade from their earlier title SanctuaryRPG, with some additions. Now, having not played the original we’re only going on information presented on the site, but it seems the primary addition was a more robust, action-based battle system.
That being said, SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition is rather simple to explain. It’s an ASCII-designed text-based RPG, where the player’s operations are all controlled by inputting commands. Nothing complicated, so don’t worry if you didn’t learn your PC games in DOS as I did back in the day; commands are reduced to simply inputting a number or letter, which are all sufficiently explained on the various screens so you know what you’re doing. All dialog, animation, and story is presented in text, with ASCII designs for various creatures, movement, villages, bosses, and other things. You can create any number of characters as you would in any RPG, with a variety of alterations to make to your appearance; you can even select your place of origin for a variety of different bonuses. SanctuaryRPG is incredibly detailed in this regard, might I add, surprisingly so. In fact that’s what makes this game so stellar once you get past the appearance. Let’s learn further.
First the graphics. Now, for fans of retro titles, or anyone who’s ever experienced ASCII games, SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition is spot on, son. A lot of detail has been milked out of this primitive style, enough that even a modern gamer should find the look of it aesthetically pleasing after you get past the initial shock of seeing something so ancient. Now, personally, I was all about this once I saw it, but imagining I was younger and with a background in 3D, rotating, car-exploding, old-lady-punching video games, I had to place myself in that mindset where I expect everything to look as real as it does outside and forget reality as I take video games into life. So, considering that, it’s impressive that after playing SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition a few minutes, I appreciated the artistry. They’ve taken the usual strictly text-based approach of most games like this and given it a feel that’s retro, yet not, a modern take that successfully takes the ASCII style and does something new. Awesome. The amount of detail they pulled out of keyboard characters is stunning, at times.
Now, the next thing to consider is the sound. This is where Black Shell Games really, and I mean really in italics, played it smart. Actually, better to say genius. SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition looks great, sure, it has a retro feel where ASCII design is used artistically to create a modern RPG experience with an antiquated structure. However, the risk here was taking the sound along with it. Bad idea if it was done that way. That would have lead to PC-speaker bleeps and thuds that would have made the first three Eye of the Beholder games seem like they were in digital. Thankfully, the programmers of this one decided to opt for modern sound effects and music with a retro feel, much like the approach they made with the graphics. The difference is that they derive a lot more atmosphere and depth with the sound than you might expect, creating an awesome atmosphere that is yet technically superior to some standard RPGs or MMOs today. Combining this with the graphics was, simply put, ingenious.
So with the graphics and sound combined, SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition is easy to consume with intuitive gameplay. Interestingly, the design essentially forces you to actually read text, unlike some RPGs where you end up sliding on through dialog and checking an online walkthrough. The basic foundation of the design itself creates a desire in the player to actually pay attention, because there’s no other way to play. The retro feel almost turns on this part of our mind that requires further input, and if you’ve played games like this long ago, you’re hooked almost immediately. But hey, if you never did, it’s sure to create the semblance of times of old for you, and you might just find yourself interested in things that came before, which in fact have always shaped all things to come. It’s a step back and forward at the same time. With difficulty settings, tons of chances to develop your character, and a depth you sometimes don’t even see with standard RPG fare today, SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition really hits the mark and basically bridges generations separated by years of gaming experience. My only complaint is a lack of an auto-save feature, which would have been nice regardless of the difficulty setting — sometimes a powerful creature would put an end to you with no warning, and had you not saved, yeah, sorry…
+ Spectacular usage of ASCII design for artistry
+ Soundtrack built on retro sounds that sounds uniquely modern
+ Ease of play, tons of complexity
– May be unsettling to modern gamers, at first