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- Supported Platforms: PlayStation Vita PlayStation 4
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Much like Dark Souls the story in Salt and Sanctuary is intentionally vague. You begin on a ship, and once you get killed by the boss on board, you find yourself awakening on a mysterious island, ready to start your journey. While Salt and Sanctuary is pretty good about being influenced by Dark Souls from a gameplay standpoint... it's not quite as good narrative wise. The story is intentionally vague, but reading about the items and weapons you collect doesn't invoke the same kind of mystery as Dark Souls. The NPCs you run into are also not quite as well integrated into the world. Dark Souls had characters say a lot of cryptic things. It also began with a cutscene to set the tone and give you a sense of the world and the main point of the narrative. Salt and Sanctuary doesn't. It's doubtful that anyone playing is going to do so to dive into the game's lore or get any kind of narrative satisfaction. There are pieces to put together but unlike Dark Souls or Bloodborne, the game doesn't really give you any motivation to go for that. Luckily, this isn't really going to bother you so much.
Salt and Sanctuary isn't just influenced by Dark Souls, though. The game may be influenced from a gameplay standpoint, but the layout and design of its areas is much more akin to Metroid and Castlevania. Salt and Sanctuary owes just as much to Metroidvanias as it does to Dark Souls. Much like Metroid and Castlevania, you'll go roaming through the world and find road blocks that will be open to you once you find the correct abilities. This gives the player incentive to explore, but never to forget where they've been. The world of the game is big enough that you'll always feel like there's somewhere to go. The only downside to this design is that there is no map that you can pull up to track your progress. In a game like Dark Souls the level design is good enough that opening up a map doesn't seem like a big deal. The game is also in 3D. In 2D with as big as Salt and Sanctuary is, it's pretty easy to get lost. You will be able to eventually warp between the various sanctuaries (save points) once you summon a guide, but it's not quite as easy to find what you need. It's not a big let down so much as it would just make navigation easier. And unlike early Metroid games the corridors don't all look the same. The various areas of Salt and Sanctuary have very unique designs. You won't find yourself going down corridors that look exactly like other corridors.
While traversal owes much to Metroid and Castlevania, the combat is Dark Souls through and through, but in a 2D setting. Much like Dark Souls weapons have obvious wind up and cool down times. Likewise, the weapons all behave in different ways. There are such a huge variety that players will be able to choose one that suits them. There are 2 handed swords that have a long wind up but do great damage. There are daggers that attack quickly but have low damage output. There's a lot of actual depth to the system. For instance, players do have to watch their weight. So equipping various armor, weapons can add to a weight limit. The more you equip the heavier your character. This will effect how fast you move, how well you can dodge and in some cases even how fast your weapons attack. There are various kinds of armor as well. There are heavy, light and medium and it's possible to mix and match to get the kind of character you want.
There is also a skill tree which helps you out a great deal. The skill tree operates a lot like the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. Throughout your journey you'll collect pearls. Black pearls allow you to learn skills, while gray pearls allow for a refund on skills (you'll get the black pearl back). You can use the skill tree to help improve the damage output from weapon types or boost your stats. The skill tree not only operates in a way that allows for great customization of your character, but also allows you to operate beyond just grinding levels. It's a great system that allows for a lot of interesting play. It's remarkable how customizable your character can be. And if you go down a route you don't like, it's fairly easy to manipulate the stats in a different direction by finding grey pearls or dropping your levels into a different stat. Once you find your play style Salt and Sanctuary becomes a comforting experience.
You will die a lot in your journey and its death system is more or less exactly the same as Dark Souls. Throughout the game you'll collect salt, which operates as experience. Once you die you will drop all of your salt and have to recover it. Usually it is obtained by the enemy that killed you. If you fell from a great height your salt will regenerate as an enemy that must be slain. Grinding, however, is much simpler than most games which came before it. Throughout the game, the player can rest at sanctuaries that will restore health. You can also summon various guides that might sell you weapons and armor, let you warp or do other things. You have to be careful, however, because depending on whiich covenant you join will change things up. Unlike most games, the player must place the symbol of which covenant they've joined on an alter to create a save point. Upon doing so the members that you summon to that sanctuary will only talk to you and help you if you are a member of that covenant. You CAN change covenants at a sanctuary if you want, but that will pit you up against several enemies to do so (as they will defend their sanctuary). Overall it's a good system, but it can get maddening if you change between covenants a lot. I ran through much of the game with one covenant, but joined another only to find out that while I could save I could not use the services of any one covenant. The only downside to the covenant system is that there isn't a HUGE benefit to joining any covenant. Some may allow NPCs to interact with you and open up certain side quests, but aside from that there aren't always a ton of benefits.
The game is difficult, but not always unfairly so. Sanctuaries to recover are fairly close together. There are plenty of items that will heal you or give you stat boost and the rewards for defeating bosses or discovering hidden areas are usually worthwhile. The only time the game can be somewhat unfair is in some of the boss fights. The benefit to Dark Souls being in 3D is that the bosses can't really trap you in an arena. In Salt and Sanctuary being in 2D means its sometimes possible for bosses to corner you with no means of escaping from them. And one boss in particular has such a huge damage per second output it can feel like sheer luck to defeat it. These moments are few and far between, but usually if you're struggling just increasing your level will do well enough. In some cases it's not pattern recognition that matters quite as much as your damage output.
If anything, the only thing that feels underwhelming is that once you complete Salt and Sanctuary there isn't a brilliant sense of accomplishment for doing so. The ending is underwhelming and when it was all said and done, a New Game+ wasn't quite as appealing. This largely because the adventures feels longer than it needs to be. I don't say that in terms of length. Salt and Sanctuary may only take around 20 to complete. I say this in terms of how superfluous the adventure feels. There are a few places that don't feel like they add much to experience and that are drawn out for the sake of being drawn out. Salt and Sanctuary is a great game to play, it's pacing is just a little off. Some areas feel like they're dragging on for a little too long.
Visually the look of Salt and Sanctuary looks good. The areas have a great atmosphere. The game looks dark and cryptic and actually feels that way. The sound effects are also really well in tune. There isn't much music, however, and what music there is won't really have you humming tunes any time soon.
Salt and Sanctuary is a pretty good and rewarding game. It owes a lot to Dark Souls, Metroid and Castlevania, but it mixes all of it together so well that it becomes it's own thing. The game is a good game. It may not be much narratively, but it is rewarding gameplay wise. It's a fun, challenging experience that manages to emulate Dark Souls in a 2D space rather well. If you're a fan of Dark Souls it's worth a try. However, if you're not a fan of Dark Souls, or you're not up for a challenge, Salt and Sanctuary isn't for you.
After I finally got into the game, I was hooked. It definitely reminded me of Dark Souls and Bloodborne but did not feel like a clone. It felt more like they took some of the best aspects of the Soulsborne game, blended them with 2D platformers, and added in a few other elements.
The boss fights were challenging, but usually fair. There were a few times I was about to throw my controller at the screen. The Witch of the Lake one-shotted me on multiple occasions, and the Pitchwoods and Crypt of the Dead Gods levels have some insanely frustrating platforming.
The game also has a couch co-op multiplayer feature. In the era of online gaming, it is nice to have a game where you can play with someone sitting right next to you.
Overall a great game with a few minor flaws. This is one of those rare games that plays great on both the PS4 and the Vita.