SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition

Oh, hello there! Don't mind me I was just playing SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition. You're not interrupting me counting or anything important like that!

1, 2, 3, 3. 1, 2, 3, 3...

Hm? So you're wondering exactly what I'm doing? Combat, of course! What does it look like?  I'm just over here, beating up some skeletons, like you do in RPG. Knockin' 'em down cuz they're just skeletons. Take that, losers!

But...that's how most of the enemies in this game are fought. 1, 2, 3, 3. 1, 2, 3, 3. I imagine that it is hard to make a throwback game. There's a great amount of difficulty in figuring out how deep to go and when to accept that perhaps the old mechanics don't carry over to today. I've never played a text-based RPG aside from this, so it's hard to compare the this game from its ancestors, but as it stands SanctuaryRPG doesn't do much to modernize the once popular genre.

The game, however, is most definitely charming in spots! As soon as I fired up the game and watched the ASCII-based intro cinematic, I smiled in disbelief because yeah, Black Shell Games totally went for it! An all-ASCII game with nothing but keyboard inputs and a text-based interface. It's something else, and bless the modern gaming landscape for that it exists in any way! As I got further into it I was completely shocked at the amount of detail with combat. The number of enemy variants, status effects, and a mature understanding of stances and distances. You can get wounded, exposed, and grappled, know how to min/max a character to play its class, and even pay attention to opportunities to charge an enemy. 

Yet...

1, 2, 3, 3.

Combat actually starts out sounding super unique and I thought the concept was cool. It brings in combos, linkers, and finishers to offer a directed flow to combat and choice in how you play. Do you risk dying this turn to up your combo instead of healing? Your enemy is close, should you reposition your stance to get away? With all these choices, though, it all came down to keyboard inputs.

I played a ranger, so my experience went like this: 1 starts your attack, 2 links, 3 links that, then the last 3 is the finisher. But don't worry, your combo continues after you hit the finisher. So as you attack through, the descriptions of what you'll get from your attacks change. Combos might reward higher damage attacks, restore magic, and even health. These bonuses are kind of cool, and feels like you're going through a real combo and building momentum, but then makes it so you don't reaaaallly have to hit 4 (heal) that often, you just have to keep going through that same combo.

1, 2, 3, 3. 1, 2, 3, 3. 1, 2, 3, 3. 1, 2, 3, 3. Victory screen.

Turn-based combat like this is definitely some of the most difficult because most RPGs that use this style of combat have you navigate a menu and direct party movement. The dice rolls in the background, you get told what happens. It's all very clearly rooted in the D&D system, which is where SanctuaryRPG failed for me. The writing is good (though it sometimes tries a bit hard) and the novelty of the ASCII visuals holds but the game is based around combat which is mind numbingly simple.

Sure, I died a few times (and in the standard difficulty we're talking permadeath), but that because I under leveled or the previous enemy had died before my "healing" blow, leaving me weak for the next encounter. For the most part, though, the game constantly had that feeling of classic RPGs where you go back to previous dungeons after leveling and steamrolling creatures that previously caused serious grief.

And yet, it's not exactly gripping. Especially because I found it pretty easy to over level, so soon you're plowing through an area's random encounters, looking for the random event you've been searching for or just moving onto the next place that opened. After initially being enthused about the ideas in the combat, overwhelmed by the amount of info it throws at you, I eventually found myself just uninterested. The writing doesn't really save the fact that you spend most of this game just hitting the same buttons in order until victory. I guess sometimes that's all you want, but if that's the case, why not just play something like Cookie Clicker instead?