Salt and Sanctuary was originally released on the PS4 in May of 2016 with subsequent releases on the PS Vita, Steam, and most recently on the Nintendo Switch. The team behind Salt and Sanctuary are the husband and wife developers James and Michelle Silva of Ska Studios. I recall watching the announcement trailer from the 2015 E3 PlayStation presentation and thinking to myself how I could not wait to play a 2D side-scrolling Souls-like game! Needless to say, I’ve played Salt and Sanctuary on the PS4, PS Vita, and now the Switch; I cannot get enough of it.
Spiritual Content: Spirituality plays a major role in Salt and Sanctuary. To start, the game contains seven Creeds—covenants or guild groups—some of which are the Iron Ones, the Order of the Betrayers, and the Stone Roots. Each Creed fills a specific need. the Stone Roots, for example, specialize in poison. The Creed that identifies most with Christianity is called the Three. The imagery implies the Holy Trinity and their emblem closely resembles a cross. The Three is the major religion of the game world.
Other spiritual elements include idols, which you collect as you explore the sprawling levels. Once you return to your sanctuary, you are able to make an idol offering at the altar and a merchant of that type of idol appears to sell merchandise. Sanctuaries all contain altars and can be desecrated to change the player’s Creed.
Again, the game is dark physically, but also spiritually; the battle between light and darkness persists. As this is an RPG, both light and dark magic make an appearance. Salt and Sanctuary‘s levels are full of grotesque monster enemies, bosses resembling demons, and occasionally the protagonist will come across a crucified scarecrow.
Violence: Since Salt and Sanctuary is a Souls-like game, it can be assumed that it is violent. Enemies are decapitated regularly, blood splatters the walls and floors, and the protagonist will repeatedly die in combat. The world is filled with environmental traps that will crush, shoot, and slam into your character as well as your enemies. Throughout the world, the background art contains heads on pikes, bodies hung from trees, piles of lifeless bodies, and various characters chained to columns or floors in levels. If you have a low tolerance for graphic violence, this game is not for you.
Sexual Themes: The game is not overtly sexual, but the protagonist can remove his or her clothes. In various levels, there are genderless enemies who appear topless; other enemies may wear only masks and loincloths.
Positive Themes: Salt and Sanctuary, despite all the dark elements, has positivity to it. This game can show us what it means to “fight the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7) to endure, to suffer and ultimately to win the prize, a victory over darkness.
What better way of playing Salt and Sanctuary than on the Switch! Some of my greatest moments in gaming have come from Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Nioh. There is nothing better than the satisfaction of clearing out an area of enemies, discovering loot and lore, and finally beating a grueling boss after many attempts. Those of you who have played the Souls games and endured know this feeling of satisfaction. Salt and Sanctuary It is brutal, hard-nosed, and white-knuckled. There is rarely a moment when you can relax; everything is trying to kill you. However, the game is not unfair. If you die, this is due to an error on your part—do not blame the RNG.
Salt and Sanctuary begins as many RPGs do: with a character creation mode. Here, you can choose the gender, origin story, and character class. I am a sword-and-board type of player, focusing on strength and dexterity; I chose the knight. The story begins with the protagonist sailing on a ship and escorting a princess for an arranged marriage to bring peace to the land. Soon after launching, the ship is attacked and boarded by ruthless pirates and a Cthulhu-type monster who quickly dispatches you. After this first boss fight, you’ll find yourself washed ashore and greeted by an unnamed old man who starts you on your journey by offering you your choice of Creed and pointing you towards your first Sanctuary.
Similar to the Dark Souls series, much of the story and lore is learned through item descriptions and a detailed bestiary. During your gameplay, you’ll encounter a number of NPCs who will send you on quests if you choose to accept them. Several of them will reward you for your help and even brand you, giving the protagonist special perks such as the ability to pass through magic barriers, defy gravity, and jump off of walls. These brands will grant the player access to hidden areas, higher platforms, and certain events.
Gameplay is Salt and Sanctuary‘s key aspect. Again, it is a 2D Souls-like game. To advance to new locations, the player must journey through labyrinthine dungeons, forests, caves, swamps, villages, castles, and more. The player must also defeat strong enemies, solve environment puzzles, and conquer terrifying bosses. But there are safe places too—Sanctuaries function as a safe space where the player can level up their character, spend points in the skill tree, buy or sell, fast travel to other sanctuaries, and even recruit a sell-sword (co-op). For those players wanting a deeper challenge, Salt and Sanctuary also offers a New Game Plus mode.
Salt and Sanctuary has an amazing art style, audio cues, and soundtrack unique to Ska Studios. While the game is indeed dark, there are candelabras flickering in the background sending light into the darkest of spaces. Capturing the true Souls experience, the soundtrack for level exploration is mysterious while the soundtrack for boss battles is exhilarating. Finally, when the foe has been conquered, the word vanquished appears on the screen and the music slowly fades out to silence.
While I find Salt and Sanctuary to be a great experience, there are a couple areas where the game falls short. The port to the Switch looks amazing—the game runs at 60fps and performs well when docked. However, while playing the Switch version in handheld mode, there is occasionally a drop in frame rate. Even when the Switch’s brightness is turned to max, the game is too dark to see enemies and traps. On another note, the skill tree could have been done better. While impressive, it seems too big and lacks in explanation of mechanic. Lastly, since the game areas are so interconnected, there should be a map to reference. All of these are minor complaints; if you enjoy Souls-like games, you need to play Salt and Sanctuary. The art style, music, and level design are unique and a joy to experience.
Review code generously provided by Stride PR.
The Bottom Line
If you enjoy Souls-like games you need to play Salt and Sanctuary. The art style, music, and level design are unique and a joy to experience.