Salt and Sanctuary
- Platforms: PlayStation 4. (Eventually PlayStation Vita and PC)
- Suggested Platform: PS4
- Developer: Ska Studios
- Genre: Action RPG, Metroidvania, Platformer.
- Release Date: 03/15/16
- Why Play It?: If you like either Dark Souls or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Tight combat, interesting areas and bosses, challenging yet rewarding. Plenty of replayability.
- Why Skip It?: It’s pretty glitchy as of right now, but it has practically just been released. The balancing is a little off right now too, as there are some weapons and spells you can just skate through the game with. Easy to get lost on your first playthrough.
When I first beat Dark Souls a few years ago, I loved it. I spent some time doing some research and eventually came across the title Salt and Sanctuary, claiming to be a 2D Souls game all its own. At the time, there were almost no details on the game, save for an early screenshot or two (I think). I was big on my PlayStation Vita at the time, and it was initially marketed to go on the Vita, so I was pretty excited for it. Eventually, I kind of forgot about Salt and Sanctuary, but retained my love for the Soulsborne games. In fact, recently, I’ve blown through Bloodborne a number of times. When I saw that, suddenly, this game that I’ve heard of seemingly so long ago was finally coming out, I was excited. I bought it right away and have since Platinumed the game, beating it twice so far.
Okay, so, what exactly is Salt and Sanctuary? From my New Player Guide/FAQ that I wrote for the Salt and Sanctuary subreddit (you’ll eventually see that guide posted here as well): Salt and Sanctuary is the love child of Dark Souls and Castlevania (the later Igavania/Metroidvania style ones). It’s a 2D sidescrolling action RPG focusing on combat, character building, exploration, and epic, challenging, and satisfying boss battles.
The story of Salt and Sanctuary is relatively simple at first: 8 kingdoms live in a more or less constant state of warring. In an effort to stop the wars, a princess will be transported across the sea from one kingdom to another in an arranged marriage that will surely bring about peace. You are one of the people on the ship and you’re welcome to make your own sort of back story as to why you are stowed aboard the ship. Maybe you’re one of the princess’s guards. Maybe you sneaked on to the ship to escape a nation. Maybe you’re just a lowly chef thrown into the thick of things. It’s completely up to you. After you’ve created your desired character, you’re thrust onto the ship and in the middle of the night, your ship is boarded by some Marauders and a giant Cthulu-esque creature. Whether you’re able to defeat the giant creature, the Unspeakable Deep, or not, it’s clear that the ship could not handle the damages and has been sunk. You awake on the Shivering Shores of a strange island with one goal in mind: You must find the princess. The story seems pretty straightforward and cliched at first, but once you get deep into the story of Salt and Sanctuary, you find that things are much more interesting than just another “save the princess” quest.
The game plays like a regular Soulsborne, albeit with one major caveat: It’s in 2D. You have the ability to block, two hand or one hand your weaponry and roll for a brief window of invincibility. You have a stamina bar governing your movement and attacking capabilities, and, like other Soulsborne, you must manage it carefully to prevent yourself from taking some heavy damage. Just like in Dark Souls, you can choose to take a careful and meticulous mindset, blocking frequently, setting up parries for the riposte/visceral attack or you can play a quicker style more similar to Bloodborne and concentrate on getting in, pulling off a quick combo, and getting out. The 2D platformer aspects play more like a Metroidvania game however, as there will be areas that you can not yet reach and you’ll need to come back to once you have the appropriate ability. The caveat in this department is that there is no map, making first-time playthrough potentially disorienting. You’ll earn wall jumps, dashes, and a few other interesting powers to truly explore and conquer all areas of Salt and Sanctuary.
One of the major mechanics in Salt and Sanctuary are the Creeds. When you first wash up on the Shivering Shores, you’ll be greeted by an old man who questions which faith you belong to. There are three starting Creeds and each one has its own benefits. Essentially, every Sanctuary you come to functions as a checkpoint. When you die, you’ll return to the last Sanctuary you rested at. Santuaries are also used for shopping, leveling up, healing, and restoring your limited supply of health potions, similar to the Estus Flask in Dark Souls. Most Sanctuaries are empty and you can claim it for your Creed, enabling you to summon up to 4 NPCs to offer you services like upgrading your weapons and teleporting from Sanctuary to Sanctuary. Once you get a bit farther in the game, you can work for Leaders of your Creed, enabling you to get more useful items from resting at a Sanctuary aligned with your Creed. Some Sanctuaries, however, have different Creeds and some NPCs will not do business with you if you are not the appropriate Creed. You can choose to take up an oath with the new Creed, making you unable to return to your old Creed (well, not without paying a costly fee, anyway). You can also use a special item to convert that Sanctuary to your Creed, or, you can desecrate a Sanctuary, making it hostile. You’ll have to kill any NPCs residing there as well as a few waves of tough, endgame level enemies. If you succeed, however, you can claim that Sanctuary for your own Creed. There are a total of 7 different Creeds, each with it’s own benefits and items, allowing for plenty of replayability.
When you level up in Salt and Sanctuary, unlike Dark Souls, where you are simply placing points on each individual stat, you are given a huge Tree of Skill to fill up. Each level gives you a Black Pearl with which to place a node on the Tree of Skill. This makes character builds a little less painless and more accessible to those unfamiliar with Soulsborne games, in my opinion. Instead of requiring 15 Strength to use a weapon, instead, you may simply need the Class 3 Sword ability on the Tree of Skill, which will also reward you with 3 additional points of Strength. If you accidentally pour a few Black Pearls into nodes on the Tree of Skill that you didn’t want, you can find Gray Pearls which will refund those points, allowing for a bit of respeccing.
The combat is fast, fluid, and full of unique combos for each weapon type (of which there are many), from launching your foes into the air before slamming them back down, to whipping your spear around like a crazed (and far more dangerous) flag-twirler. Magic is very viable and guns, bows, and crossbows come into play for some interesting and unique gameplay and combat decisions. The fluidity of combat truly makes each fight enjoyable, which is good, because it’s a large majority of what you’ll be doing.
Just like in other Soulsborne games, bosses will punish the greedy and unprepared, but the difficulty is certainly toned down in comparison to the Soulsborne genre. Perhaps it’s the lack of a third dimension that makes combat a bit easier, as you can dodge straight through enemies to arrive on the other side of them, often opening them up for an attack, or perhaps 2D games are simply easier than 3D ones of this nature.
While the music plays a back stage to the rest of the game, there is at least one really great tune I can think of. The rest of the presentation (which is hand drawn, by the way), on the other hand is great. The foggy atmosphere and unique areas will have you oooing and ahhing throughout the whole game. There are a number of really cool enemy and boss character models. The only gripe I have is that the human characters faces look kind of strange and malformed, but hey, this is a two person team we’re talking about at Ska. The amount of work that went into this game and came out as an $18 masterpiece is simply amazing. It puts AAA titles to shame.
Salt and Sanctuary was initially pegged as “2D Dark Souls“, but ended up being an amalgamation of Souls and Castlevania that kind of ends up not being either. Salt and Sanctuary can really stand on it’s own as it’s own game. If you like either Soulsborne or Castlevania, you’ll definitely enjoy Salt and Sanctuary. Salt and Sanctuary has taken great concepts of the two games and ends up being something in between, a mash-up that I never thought I’d need. Boy, was I wrong.