I had heard how good Salt and Sanctuary was when it released two years ago. The 2D action platformer is clearly inspired by the Souls series, and it is better because of it. Don’t let the hand-drawn art style dissuade you, this is exactly what From Software would do, except its 2D and equally as difficult.
Starting off with a character creator, you pick one of eight classes and immediately are stuck on a ship that is being overrun with pirates. Things aren’t easy, and things don’t go down after a swing or two of your weapon. Instead, one of two swipes and you’re done. Things are awfully familiar once you die, as you end up on the shore of an island and things feel familiar.
The story isn’t the focus here, as thing are left to ambiguity aside from the opening moments where you witness a princess being transported to another land to be married off to prevent a war. Pirates attack the ship you are on, killing the crew before a massive monster wrecks the ship and maroons you on an island. Most of the developments are found through items, enemies and the land you explore and works in favor of the gameplay.
Bosses and enemy design is great, each providing a substantial challenge to the player. The animation is good with enemies giving you hints with their animations when to strike, when to dodge and when to parry. Learning the patterns of bosses is satisfying and crucial to success, and when you overcome them, the satisfaction overwhelms you.
There is also a skill tree full where players can spend black and gray peals to acquire new abilities. The tree itself is reminiscent of the sphere grid of Final Fantasy X, and your character’s class decides where you start. The branches feature six categories – strength, endurance, dexterity, willpower, magic, and wisdom allowing you to build your own unique character.
Gameplay is reminiscent of the Souls series, and Ska Studios translated many of the facets of that combat system impeccably, adding in a good mix of platforming in addition to tough combat. Like any of the Souls games, focusing on timing strikes, dodging, parrying is crucial to surviving this mysterious island. Collecting Salt is like collecting souls and can be used at Sanctuaries (bonfires) where you can level up your character. Dying includes loss of all salt and items, but luckily you can return to where you were defeated and pick up your gear.
What I really enjoyed was the way the Sanctuaries work in Salt and Sanctuary. Finding these locations allows for you to recruit NPCs within and you can find blacksmiths, clerics, merchants and more. I’d love to see something like this applied to other series, as it allows you more options when you’re working on getting through a world without having to worry about weapons or healing. What I didn’t enjoy was the tedious backtracking that plagued my journey. Finding shortcuts eventually helped alleviate that concern but there is enough of it that it was a nuisance. However, further in, things really got creative as with the Jester’s Medley.
Salt and Sanctuary captivates from the start and borrows the best of the Souls series in wonderful fashion. Don’t let the graphics fool you, this game is worth its salt (ha!) and then some, as it respects the player who hones their patience and will to survive an island out to get you at every turn. This game is a crowning achievement for Ska Studios, who managed to create a captivating and engaging world.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]