Some love letters aren’t made up of elegantly written prose. Some love letters are smash mouth video games that pay homage to those that have come before then. That’s exactly what Salt and Sanctuary by Ska Studios is. A no holds barred platform RPG that seeks to frustrate and educate you in the ways of the Souls series of video games.
Ska Studios makes no attempt to hide the fact that Salt and Sanctuary is anything other than a “soulslike.” The character creation screen will immediately remind you of Dark Souls II. While the classes do not share the same names their archetypes and associated weapons are hauntingly familiar. Even creating the physical appearance of your character will be a suspiciously recognizable system.
Unlike the 3d Souls games Salt and Sanctuary is in 2d and reminds me of early platform adventure games such as Castlevania. The hand drawn graphics are dark and brooding and work well for this title. S&S also has a strong emphasis on exploration. After you beat the first boss you’ll be able to go off on different branching paths. Even though the game isn’t fully realized in a 3d world you aren’t left feeling like you are stuck in a hallway. It’s not just the world you’ll explore on a macro level either. You’ll also spend time exploring the castle and dungeon areas looking for short cuts and hidden passages that grant access to treasure chests you can see but not quite reach. Once you clear specific rooms you’ll also be able to double back and open up doors and gates allowing you to pass through the level faster to reclaim the salt you’ll drop when you die. And you will die.
As the title indicates two of the most important features of the game are salt, and sanctuaries. As you work your way through the world and kill enemies you will be rewarded with salt instead of the traditional experience points or souls. Once you’ve acquired a certain amount of salt, constantly increasing as you level up, you can visit a sanctuary and level you character. As you level you gain black pearls. You can also find these pearls while adventuring. These pearls can be used to purchase abilities and increase the strength of your character. Unlocking the capability to carry additional potions or equipping different types of armor and weapons. This grid map is very similar to the system that is found in Final Fantasy X.
You can also unlock different visitors at sanctuaries. You’ll find idols hidden throughout the world that you can take back to your sanctuary and offer as sacrifice to your god or gods. Depending on the idol different merchants will make their way to your sanctuary and offer you their goods. There are multiple sanctuaries spread throughout the game world and one merchant in particular, and certain items, will allow you to quickly travel between the sanctuaries that you have unlocked.
Your character has been tasked to escort a princess to her wedding to secure peace between two warring lands. On the way you are attacked at sea but a Cthulu looking monster. After you lose you’ll find yourself washed up on shore. It is here that you will find bottles that have also washed ashore. Some of these contain messages on how to control your character and serve as a tutorial. Others will tease how three is coming, a not so subtle reference to the impending Dark Souls III release in April. The character dialogue is also a humorous affair with characters ironically making fun of their own tropes. This light hearted humor serves as a nice contrast to the darkness of the rest of the game.
It would be easy to look at Salt and Sanctuary as a cheap rip off of the Souls series but if you did you’d be missing the point. It’s a solid game in its own right with bosses that are challenging. Salt and Sanctuary reinforces that you need to slow down. Patience is a virtue. You’ll find that after getting your butt handed to you a number of times once you finally learn the boss attack pattern and then the successive escalating patterns as it gets closer to dying when you do finally beat that monster it’s a very satisfying and rewarding experience.