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Sanctuary Saga

Sanctuary Saga

Written by Elliot Hilderbrand on 3/21/2023 for PC  
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Sanctuary Saga takes chances, using elements of JRPGs and roguelikes to form something that feel a little like both genres, and neither at the same time. There’s a twist on leveling, using relationships and gear in place of the traditional character advancement. Sanctuary Saga is a challenge too, like most roguelikes. But it also falls short of the goal line in more than one place. Sacrificing one element for another, it ultimately falls short of becoming a classic.

It’s been six months since the last failed attempt to explore and tame the Untamed Wilds; who would have thought a place called "Untamed Wilds" would be so difficult? You get to lead that first crew of explorers to their doom as a small tutorial to the game. But the Untamed Wilds have so much for the taking, so of course, another expedition would be set up, one that is led by a group of people escaping a tyrannical government. A few other guilds decided to join, like a clan of dwarfs, and now it feels like the real deal instead of just some makeshift group trying to survive.

One of the good features in Sanctuary Saga is the old-school vibes of JRPGs of yesteryear. I feel like I’m booting up my SNES when I play Sanctuary Saga. The 16-bit art and movement of characters look like it could have been a game released in the heyday of the SNES. The social interactions in Sanctuary Saga are good too. Forming bonds and relationships with your party is a big part of Sanctuary Saga; it’s one of the two leveling systems used in the game. As your friendships progress, you unlock scenes set between your character and an NPC, this being the highlight of the story for me. Sadly a lot of the story that progresses the actual game happens without you present, only hearing about what is going down afterward like you’re a second thought.

The leveling system is good, taking the traditional formula and tilting it with a roguelite flair. Instead of gaining levels in the traditional fashion of JRPGs, you look for better gear. Gear is also tied to progressing the story; if you want to go further in Sanctuary Saga, you need to obtain better gear. Sanctuary Saga feels gated at times when trying to finish the story. I need to level up, which means I need better gear, but that feels hard to come by at times. I need to get lucky at times to find better gear. While I can see why a leveling system like this isn’t seen very often, I feel like the drawback of not having good enough gear to progress was a minor frustration. I applaud the developer for trying something different.

Bumping the difficulty up or down is quick and easy, something I enjoy. I have really started to enjoy roguelites. At first, the difficulty in gameplay would turn me off if I wasn’t doing great, but now I find the challenge a welcome one. But I know not everyone is in that boat. A lot of roguelites in recent years have started to add elements for players that feel that way. Whether it is a leveling system that allows you to level up even when you die, or in Sanctuary Saga’s case, changing the difficulty, which can be done anytime by talking to the caravan. I tried the harder difficulty. but found it to be a bit too much for me, and even the normal setting was harder than I would have liked.

Variation is something of a problem too. While biomes change, causing the scenery around you to look different, it does little else. Events feel very similar; even the randomness of Sanctuary Saga has a small limit before it feels like the same random events are playing out, just in a slightly different location. Those events are primarily bosses or quests, the latter meaning you need to go exploring some more, not much else. I also found myself going against the same bosses a few times.

While I think everything I’ve been saying is true of the game, I still found myself having a lot of fun with Sanctuary Saga. The combat of Sanctuary Saga is great. All of the fighting takes place in a turn-style fight, much like JRPGs you might be familiar with. The big addition are the rows. Each of your four characters gets a turn to make some type of move. If you attack, you move in one direction, closer to the enemy; if you defend, you move in another.

You also choose your placement of each character before combat begins; typically, I put my healer towards the back of the party, my brawler types to the front. Fighting with enemies can lead to your characters being pushed one way or another too. Combat was easily my favorite part of Sanctuary Saga, which is great when you’re playing a heavily inspired JRPG type of game. Adding the layer of rows to combat made it stand out from the typical turn-based games I’m used to, leading me to think outside the box at times.

It needs to be said that Sanctuary Saga takes chances. Chances are good and can lead to great things. Sanctuary Saga has good things, coming close to greatness but never really getting there. Icarus flew to close to the sun. Sanctuary Saga has fashioned the wax wings but doesn’t dare try them out, instead only teasing what could be. Having two types of leveling systems that both feel different and unique to roguelike games is super interesting, but Sanctuary Saga is a JRPG too, so you need a solid leveling system. JRPGs frequently have heavy story-driven elements, and Sanctuary Saga doesn’t have that. It wants the best of both genres but sacrifices essential elements of each one in order to get there. Sanctuary Saga has the blueprint to be great, it just falls short on too many features for that to be the case.

Sanctuary Saga strives for greatness, but just doesn’t quite get there. While there are a lot of good elements to Sanctuary Saga, they don’t feel like great or amazing ones. It feels like a SNES game from the early nineties in a lot of great ways, but also feels like it is trapped in that style, which is holding it back. I needed more variation in enemies, dungeons, and a bit more focus on story progression to fall in love with Sanctuary Saga. As it stands, I only have slight flirtatious feeling for the game.

Rating: 6.5 Below Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).

While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).

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