Earlier this year we had the pleasure of reviewing SanctuaryRPG by Black Shell Games, an old school ASCII-based RPG that won us over with its inspiring visual style, unforgettable chiptunes, and blistering quick turn-based battle system that got you hooked. This game was available for free, but now the developers are working towards something big for their flagship project. The version of the game that we praised is now dubbed as SanctuaryRPG: Classic, serving as a demo of the main course that is SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition. This enhanced edition of the retro RPG is currently in Steam Early Access Beta, and unlike its forebear you will have to pay for it. When the solid original can still be downloaded for free, the main question is whether there is an incentive to pay for Black Edition.
SanctuaryRPG: Classic impressed with the depth and thoroughness in its design and content, featuring stat heavy systems of hardcore RPGs from the early days of computer games. SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition unexpectedly makes its predecessor look barren by comparison, as it adds a boatload of new gameplay systems and content to make the adventure feel far more substantial than before. The amount of changes and additions make Black Edition feel like a true realization of the developer’s ambitions, almost like a true sequel rather than an expansion.
Right from the opening moments the improvements become apparent. Black Edition adds brand new classes to the selection, and it even allows you to design the appearance of your custom protagonist. Furthermore, you can now choose an allegiance– either The Brotherhood or The Resistance– with choices and quests during your journey allowing you to strengthen (or even weaken) your standing with your respective faction. The main hubworld also adds some new locations, such as an upgradeable campsite for you to customize your character with equipment and wardrobes. A number of other seemingly superficial places are also introduced for the first time in Black Edition, such as a temple. These may seem superficial at first, but they do a good job of making the game world feel more immersive, while also introducing some fun mini-games to muck around with.
Almost every aspect of this text-based RPG’s presentation has been improved significantly. The charming and creative ASCII art now looks more detailed and sophisticated with far better enemy designs than in the previous iteration. Black Edition also retains the original’s catchy chiptune soundtrack but features some new songs, while also noticeably improving the old tunes by adding more musical layers. The whimsical and almost nonsensical writing of SanctuaryRPG is now goofier than ever in Black Edition, with much of the new material poking fun at religion. Religion even becomes an important aspect of the plot and setting, as your views will determine whether you’re suited for The Resistance or The Brotherhood.
The turn-based battle system is still as deeply strategic and addictive as before, but this time the progression of boss battles is more dramatic and the enemy A.I in general is more interesting and reactive. Some notable changes to the game design are also apparent, such as the introduction of a day/night cycle which changes the enemies and allows you to engage in different activities and side quests. Speaking of which, Black Edition constantly presents you with amusing events and optional missions to keep things interesting at every turn, and not leave you with any instances where you feel like there’s nothing to do.
Much like the classic RPGs that were made to toughen gamers up, in SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition death really means death, and so upon tasting defeat it’s literally game over as all your progress is completely wiped out. This unforgiving element is what makes SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition such an engaging and vastly replayable RPG. While losing all your hard work isn’t a great feeling, the quick pace and rogue-like randomness makes you look forward to each new playthrough.
SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition is shaping up to be a huge improvement over SantuaryRPG: Classic. You can still download the prequel for free to get a taster, and if everything goes as planned then SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition will end up being a game worth paying for.