Dark Souls was one of the most successful franchises at the start of this generation. The series’ popularity really took off once it launched on Steam. There have been many games developed by From Software including 2 sequels to the Souls series and a brand new IP carrying the same aesthetics with Bloodborne on the PS4, however, there aren’t many games that have successfully tried to take this formula created by the Souls game and then attempt to make it their own.
I am usually critical of Souls clone, which are a lot these days. If done well, these games are fun, but it is still hard to overlook their similarity in design to the Souls series, and with Salt and Sanctuary, we now have a good idea of how a Souls game would look like if developed within the constraints of a side-scrolling action game that has a mix of platforming and metroidvania elements. Salt and Sanctuary, while not a new game since it launched back in 2016, has been finally ported to the Nintendo Switch bringing another solid indie game to its ever-growing library.
As you create your character in Salt and Sanctuary, you will notice that right from the beginning of the character creation process, there is an obvious inspiration taken from the Souls series. Some might take issue with it, calling it a blatant copy instead of original work, but I never felt this way. This is because once you start the game, the comparison to Souls is mostly seen in the design of some of the mechanics and the game plays out completely different.
The game begins with your character onboard a ship carrying a princess of an unnamed country to her engagement. You will learn soon that her wedding is a way to keep the peace between two opposing countries. This starts as an escort mission for the princess by your character, who acts as her official guard. On the way, the ship is suddenly attacked by a group of marauders who want to avoid the peacekeeping efforts between the two opposing countries. The real game begins once the ship gets wrecked by a mysterious beast and your character lands on a strange land and begins his quest to find the princess and rescue her.
The introduction serves the purpose of being a tutorial letting you learn some of the basics. As you start on the ship and make your way to the deck above, you will fight some of the marauders and soon end up with a boss fight that is incredibly difficult. The game intends you to lose here and then the real story continues from there. The main quest deals with the lead character on his journey to save the princess. This has resulted in a fourth wall breaking moment at one point during the game when one of the NPC references the famous quote of the princess being in another castle.
Gameplay wise, Salt and Sanctuary relies on a stamina meter. It has your basic RPG upgrades but they get tied to the level up system. You will need a set of pearls that are either acquired through leveling up your character or found rarely during exploration. Spending the pearls is necessary to unlock stats upgrades or a new type of class upgrades that let you wield the powerful or different type of weapons. The weapons will get classified across the incremental class upgrades and you start with class 0 and upgrade from there.
If you are a Souls veteran, you will immediately recognize the upgrade system which is only accessed through a safe haven limited to single stat upgrades or skill unlocks. The experience points are also similarly tied to the number of enemies that you defeat. and each of the kills will offer you a set amount of them, but it is also possible to lose them. This means that the more enemies or bosses you kill, the more souls you have in inventory until you die or get killed. If you face an accidental death, your remaining points will manifest in the form of an enemy that carries it until you recover by defeating them. If an enemy kills you, they get all your experience points until you successfully kill them the next time.
Weapons upgrades get done through the blacksmiths that are found at the save points. There is no bonfire mechanic for Salt and Sanctuary and instead, you will have to pray at an altar to mark it as a save point. You can find these scattered throughout the world. Some of them are full-fledged save points that will recharge your health items in inventory, while others act more as temporary checkpoints. If you die, you can revive there with the penalty of losing a little of your gold. Since gold gets used to upgrade or buy items, you will have to carefully plan your journey to end up with enough gold to keep surviving this nightmare.
I am usually not that good at games that let you freely roam around without giving a clear sense of direction and purpose, however with Salt and Sanctuary, there were moments when I was happy to find out the correct way after aimlessly wandering around. Part of the reason I think this game works for me is that it is also more forgiving. You get more checkpoints so you don’t have to drag yourself from a long section while fighting the same enemies. The combat is also easy to understand and you don’t have to worry about making a mistake with your character.
It is natural to think that the boss fights in this game are frustrating, and it is true to some extent, but it also encourages that you learn from your mistakes and recognize the pattern of attacks from the boss to exploit their weakness. The very first boss fight is at the top of a roof with a knight that is quick to attack and dodge and this is where you will learn the basics of the combat. It took me a few tries but I finally took it down and if you do the same, it is possible that you won’t have much issue with the rest of the game.
Salt and Sanctuary offers a good amount of replay value with its multitude of character classes. Each character class plays out differently so if you want to do another run through the game’s main story, or challenge yourself with a different class, the game has you covered in this aspect. That said, I am not a fan of the lore and story offered here, and one of the reasons why the Souls series is so well-regarded is because of their written lore, so at least Salt and Sanctuary is a major step back in this regard, even if it has nailed the gameplay experience of a Souls game.
Salt and Sanctuary Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D action role-playing video game developed and published by Ska Studios. The game was released on March 15, 2016 for the PlayStation 4, with later releases for Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Switch
It is not easy to mix and mash different genres and end up with a solid result. Salt and Sanctuary looks like a weird fusion of different games from the outside, but it actually manages to work perfectly fine and ends up creating its own sub-genre. It has a beautiful dose of side-scrolling combat mixed with metroidvania exploration and a robust character class system on top of it, offering an endless amount of fun.