By – Steven Smith

Sanctuary RPG

SanctuaryRPG by Black Shell Games is an old school, menu driven, turn based RPG.  With it’s ASCII graphics and chiptune soundtrack this game feels like it was released sometime between Zork and Ultima. Don’t let its’ appearance fool you though, there is a lot of complexity hidden beneath the simple design.  Like most RPGs you start by creating a character. SanctuaryRPG gives you a choice between several races, homelands and some standard fantasy classes of Barbarian Paladin, Assassin, Wizard, Druid and Ranger.  Each of these options offer stat heavy differences rather than minor or cosmetic changes.  This means you need to read and really think about what character you want to make. Even a normally simple choice, such as homeland, can greatly impact how you play.  A Human Wizard from the northern region will have a different set of strengths and weaknesses than one from the western region.

You are then given the chance to spend various character points. There are your typical RPG Attributes of Vitality, Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity and Wisdom.  Then you have traits such as attack power, defense and health. Next is weapon proficiency. There are six weapon types in the game and you choose which to specialize in.  You don’t need points in a particular weapon to use it, so don’t worry about finding a weapon that cannot be equipped. You are then given a chance to apply an Augment to your new character.

At first you won’t have any to choose from, but as you play there is a small chance to find Augments in the game.  From that point on, you have the ability to add a single augment to all new characters.  These give them a nice starting bonus without being overpowered.  Finally you choose a game mode, there is Classic, Softcore and Survival.  Classic features the greatest rewards, for example Augments are only found in Classic mode, but death is permanent. Softcore mode allows you to respawn but starting at level 5 it costs you gold and XP each time. Survival mode is just an endless sequence of fights where you see how long you can survive.

Sanctuary RPG

Once finished you are given a brief history of your character. This seems to be more a random mix of unimportant one liner jokes than actual information.  For example I was told that my Ranger character was “born without a gall bladder. You use the restroom more than most.” and my Paladin’s history included the line “Despite all your rage you are still just a rat of a page.” Most of the history are zany, and a few are a bit crude, but none of it has any impact on your character or how you play. This same type of humor is found throughout the game, and while I did appreciate many of the jokes, it felt a little out of place at times.

Your first experience with the actual gameplay is a tutorial battle, and combat is where SanctuaryRPG really shines.  When fighting, your interface shows your health and energy plus your opponents health.  There is also a list of numbered commands, most of which are attacks.  Simply type in the number for your selected action and press enter, the results are then displayed.  There is a lot of important information on this screen so you need to take some time to study it. Health, your enemies’ and your own, is represented by both a number and a health bar.  In certain fights the numerical value of your opponents health is hidden leaving you to rely solely on their health bar, which is not quite as helpful by itself. There is also a numerical value for your energy, which is represented by MP for Mana Points.  Almost all actions, from casting spells to attacking with your weapon, use MP.  You gain a small amount of MP and health after each round of combat. Although there are some actions that actually restore MP when used.

The list of given options provides a lot of data, which at first feels a bit overwhelming.  For offensive moves there are three sets of details. First there is the name of the attack, such as Cleave, Bash or Piercing Strike.  The list of attacks is dependant on your equipped weapon, you are not going to chop your enemy with a bow nor can you deliver an armor piercing blow with a club.  As you level up you unlock more attacks. The next bit of information is the type of strike as it relates to attack combos.  These are labeled as either Starter, Linker or Finisher.  A typical combo would start with a fairly weak Starter attack, followed by two stronger Linkers and then a powerful Finisher. Successfully linking a series of attacks into a combo becomes a key strategy when fighting tougher enemies.  Finally there is a brief description of the attack attributes.  This includes details such as MP cost, any bonus damage or a better critical chance.

Sanctuary RPG

Defensive options are not quite as detailed. You can choose to Heal or Run Away.  Healing will restore large amounts of health, but it also ends your sequence of combo attacks reverting your choices back to Starter moves. The Run Away choice has a percentage which tells you how likely you are to actually get away.  In some cases there is a Break Free option, this is used when you are physically grabbed or otherwise restrained by your opponent. This replaces Run Away when appropriate. There is also the option to Reposition yourself.

A normal round of combat consists of choosing an attack, then the game tells you if you were successful and how much damage you did followed by the result of your enemies attack.  Sometimes, in lieu of an attack your opponent may line themselves up for a devastating charging attack.  Like your combo attack the charge takes multiple rounds to complete. When you see that the enemy is charging, use the Reposition option to move out of their way, this will disrupt their attack. Your opponent may sometimes take a defensive position, you will then see their status as Guarding.  You can use Reposition to break their Guard. Repositioning also restores some MP, so it can be useful when running low on energy.

One more item found here is your Rage Meter. Successful attack combos add to your Rage Meter, which then allows you to perform very powerful Rage Attacks.  Any unused Rage at the end of a battle carries over to your next encounter.  This means you can save up Rage from one opponent to the next, which is helpful when preparing for a boss fight.  A completely filled Rage Meter it unlocks your Rage Ultimate attack. This is the most powerful attack you have and it can be devastating.

Sanctuary RPG

Once a battle is over you gain gold and experience. If you have taken a lot of damage in a battle you can heal yourself afterwards.  When healing yourself in combat you use MP which must then recharge.  Outside of combat you are limited to only three heals.  These will completely restore you to full HP, so it is more useful when you are closer to death.  It is a tactical decision of when to heal, not only because there is a limit but you also gain bonus gold and experience for each consecutive battle you win without using a non combat heal.  If you do use one or more of your three heals they are replenished when you level up.

Sometimes you get an Item Drop. Items can be weapons, armor artifacts or on rare occasions a character augment.  You don’t really have much of an inventory, just money, your weapon, armor, an amulet and crafting supplies. When presented with a new item your choices are to either equip it or break it down into a crafting item.  If you already have a like item, such as a weapon, and equip the new one your current weapon would be broken down into parts.  These parts can be taken to a town and forged into a new item.

The crafting system requires you to work a forge while monitoring Heat, Quality and Durability.  Again you have a menu based system where you choose how hard or lightly you want to work your materials. As you are crafting there is a Quality number that counts up, a Durability number that counts down, a Heat indicator that fluctuates and a meter at the top of the screen shows your progress.  You have four options to choose from, Light, Medium, Strong and Wait. Each option will have an effect on the item, for example Light will decrease the Durability by a small amount and raise Quality slightly.  By contrast Hard raises Quality much faster but also reduces Durability at a greater rate and increases the Heat. The higher the Quality number when the item is finished the better it is.  However, if either the Durability reaches zero or the heat gets too high before the progress meter fill up, your crafting attempt fails.


In addition to crafting, when in a town you can visit the Shop, Blacksmith, Tavern or Coliseum.  In the Shop you can buy crafting materials and silver keys.  Keys are used to open treasure chests that are randomly found throughout the game. You also need keys to enter the Coliseum.  The Blacksmith sells weapons, however his selection is limited and if you look at an item but don’t purchase it the blacksmith will take it away and destroy it.  The Coliseum is a series of fights where you can gain gold XP and win prizes.

The Tavern is an interesting option as at first it seemed to serve no real purpose.  There are options to buy beer, snacks or make small talk. I was told the tavern is out of beer, the snacks are no longer any good and all conversations end in wacky one line jokes. Eventually I was able to become owner of the Tavern where I can make money by buying and selling beer.  There is even an experience bar which causes the Tavern itself to level up simply by selling beer to your patrons. I can also store items in the tavern and make another character who can pick them up.  I thought that this was a nice feature and really encouraged making different character types and trying them out.

The graphics are about as good as you can possibly get with ASCII alone.  Each monster you fight or person you talk to has their own graphic.  Some people, such as the Tavern owner, get some rudimentary animation.  There is even an opening cinematic that gives you text of the story while showing off some wonderfully detailed ASCII art.  The music perfectly recreates the old 8-bit music of early PC games.  If it weren’t for the off the wall humor and cultural references I would not have guessed this to be a brand new game.


Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Time?

We usually end our reviews by asking ourselves if the experience gained from the game is worth your money.  In the case of SanctuaryRPG, there is no cost as the game is free.  When I say “free”, I mean that as in truly free.  No additional downloads, DLC or paywall nonsense.  However, I would highly encourage anyone who enjoys their time with SanctuaryRPG to throw Black Shell Games some cash.  SanctuaryRPG offers a highly polished, brand new take on the old school experience with deep tactical combat and a crafting system.  If you don’t mind trading pretty graphics for a lot of reading, then I recommend giving it a try.

SanctuaryRPG Technical Summary:


  • Time Played – 4 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – No
  • Resolution Played – 1296×636
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • DRM – None
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard
  • DRM: Steam, DRM Free
  • System Specs – Intel i7 870 @ 2.93GHz, 4GB RAM, GeForce 9800GT
  • Game Acquisition Method – Free Download
  • Availability – Official Site
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