Underneath my yellow skin

Salt and Sanctuary: A Love Letter to Dark Souls, Part I

shivering shore sanctuary
Firelink Shrine, anyone?

Salt and Sanctuary is a game that wears its Dark Souls-inspiration on its sleeve. It’s a 2D, side-scrolling, platform, Metroidvania-like Souls game, and I wrote about my first impressions in another post. Now that I’m roughly twenty-seven hours into the game and ten bosses down, I feel I can make a more informed commentary on the game than I could earlier. Be forewarned that I will be hearkening the hallowed name of the Souls franchise frequently and unapologetically throughout this piece because there’s no way I can talk about S&S without mentioning DS.

First of all, let’s get the graphics out of the way. They’ve been divisive in the Souls community (and let’s face it, that’s mostly who’s playing this game), with half the people loving it and half the people hating it. I’m on the loving it side, but I can understand why people are put off by the cartoonish look to it. It’s mostly the characters that people hate as the environments are absolutely gorgeous. The characters almost look anime with their round eyes and wide mouths (not to mention spiky hair if you choose), and I think they’re adorable. I can see how it’d be jarring, though, to have a cute, cuddly character traipsing through a dark world, slaughtering all she sees. I mean, right in the beginning, you’re on this ship. You’re talking to an NPC, and he suddenly gets murdered right in front of you by a man dropping on him and shoving his sword down into him. To then see the cute turtle-like face of your character with her eyes moving back and forth, yeah, it takes some getting used to. I, however, love the art style, so let’s move on.

I want to note that I complained about the controls in the last post I wrote, and then I realized I probably could change them. I mean, it’d be stupid not to let me, right? I went into the settings, and lo and behold, I could, indeed, change the controls. Now, B is roll as it should be, and all is right in my world again. RB is light attack; RT is strong attack, and I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Side note: The B button on my old XBone controller is sticky, and I was telling my brother about it (as to why I bought a new one). He said he could fix it, but he also suggested I remap roll to another button. I reacted as if he said I should murder my first child*. That was unthinkable to me, which he found hilarious. A is not used very much in Souls games, so he said I should switch roll to A. OH HELL NO! Roll is B. It always has been, and it always will be. Amen.

Anyhoo, once I had the controls doctored the way I wanted them, I was set to go on. The game starts with an unbeatable boss, and I will not be naming bosses as to avoid those spoilers. The game has been out for over a year, made by a husband and wife team, ska studios, but I still have a knee-jerk reaction to spoiling bosses. That said, I’ll be spoiling areas, so if you plan on playing one day, and you don’t want to have any prior knowledge, turn away now.

Speaking of no prior knowledge, I prefer to go into these kinds of games without knowing much about them. I’d watched a few Let’s Look At  videos for this game, but I stayed away from walkthroughs/Let’s Plays, and am still avoiding anything other than videos showcasing the first area. Which I know like the back of my hand now. I don’t think there’s anything in the Shivering Shore (first area) and the Festering Banquet that I don’t know. I’ve started four characters, but really only progressed with three. My main, a Mage/Cleric, a Cleric, and a Paladin. I’ve beaten the first boss three times, and did it in one the second and third time. I think it took me three or four tries my first time. There are wikis, of course, but I’ve stayed away from them for the most part because I like to explore the game on my own. Yes, I’ll miss things that way, and yes, I’ll make stupid decisions, but it’ll be an organic experience rather than an artificial one.

I will say that since I saw a few Let’s Look Ats for this game, there were a few things I knew ahead of time. Like Devara’s Light, one of the three creeds you can choose in the beginning, is the creed for Mages and Clerics, so, of course, I chose it.

Side note: Watching a S&S video right after the release of the game, and you weren’t able to remap the buttons when the game was released for the PS4. Aegon of Astora** nails it by saying how the hell do you sell yourself as a Souls-like game and change the controls? Apparently, the devs wanted to distinguish themselves from the Souls game, but you can’t have it both ways. He got dinged for saying it, basically told to ‘git gud’, but he’s right. I don’t think I would have continued playing if I couldn’t rebind the controls because the game is exactly Souls, but in 2D. It’s been marketed as a Souls-like game, and almost everything about the game screams Souls. Besides, using the RT for roll  is just idiotic. I played for several hours with the original bindings, and I never could get used to it. Once I realized I could change it, I did it in a hot second and never looked  back. I still don’t like having use item on the LT, but it’s not a big deal.

Anyway, I love the environments of the game, but I can’t help but think, “This area is like ____ from the Souls series.” I’m going back and forth on whether this is a good thing or a bad one. I think overall, it’s good, but it can take me out of the experience if I’m thinking, “Hey, this is like Darkroot  Garden!” I currently finished an area that is the Blighttown of S&S, replete with water wheel elevators (HATE THEM SO MUCH) and poisoned swamps. It was not fun, and it’s capped by a boss that is a complete rip-off of a Dark Souls (original) boss.

Let’s talk about bosses, the elephant in the room. The bosses are the highlight of the Souls series, and any Souls player can fondly (hahahhha) recall a boss that nearly broke her, but gave an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment when finally beaten. For me, Ornstein and Smough was the pinnacle of my accomplishments as a gamer. They brought me to the brink of despair, and just when I was ready to walk away forever, I finally, FINALLY, beat them whilst listening to my Dark Souls fight song, The Pina Colada Song. Beating ::spoilers:: the final boss, Slave Knight Gael solo on NG++ in DS III, The Ringed City (DLC) as a melee player, was a very close second, but nothing will replicate beating the infamous O&S for the first time. Getting to a boss is usually an epic feeling, DS II, notwithstanding,*** and I don’t have the same feeling in S&S.

Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure I’m way over-leveled for where I am. I have 8 Estus Flask (Water of Blessing. Each creed has its own healing items with different benefits, which I like) and 8 Ashen Estus Flask (Cloth of Blessing, refilling stamina/mana. They’re bound together, even if they’re not exactly the same. More on that later), plus two Orange Phials which I thought would regen both health and stamina, but I was wrong. I also have several healing prayers, so I never have to worry about running out of heals. I have rarely thought, “I need to get to a bonfire, er, sanctuary/shrine**** so I can replenish my potions.”

I’ve killed ten bosses so far, and I’ve beaten three of them on the first try. This should not be possible in a Souls-like game. The only bosses I’ve beaten on the first try in a Souls game are Covetous Demon, and Prowling Magus and Congregation. Both are bosses in DSII, which I mentioned had some of the weaker bosses in the series. I don’t think I’ve taken more than five tries to kill a boss so far in S&S, and my guess is because magic is fucking OP against bosses. So are miracles and spells. People like to say that magic is OP in Souls games, and I never agreed with that. In S&S, though, HELLS YEAH!  I’m using a Raider Axe V as my melee weapon, and it’s just like coming home again. The pyromancer in Dark Souls starts with a Hand Axe, and I prefer axes to swords in Souls games. My Raider Axe V is adequate, but I can tell my magic (fire and lightning spells) is so much stronger.

mire of stench really stinks
Helloooooo, Blighttown!

I don’t feel accomplished when I beat a boss, not in the same way I do in Souls games. They haven’t been much of a challenge so far, and I’m hoping that changes in the second half of the game. Most of my deaths are environmental, and that’s one of my complaints about the game. The jumping isn’t as precise as it should be in a platformer, and it’s hard to gauge sometimes when you should jump in order to grab a ledge above you. In addition, the devs are fond of breaking platforms, which I am not, especially when the jumping is imprecise. It might be that I have to just git gud, but this doesn’t have the tightness of, say, Super Meat Boy. There are traps that are hard to see, especially with my aging eyes. Also, enemies can stunlock me and then knock me off a platform while I just helplessly watch, which is so much fun.

I like the NPCs for the most part, especially the one who reminds me of the Onion Knight. She stands around and moans about all the difficulties that you’re about to encounter and how she’s not sure she can ever do it. She gives you a heads up on what you’re supposed to be doing, and I’m hoping that we’ll get to fight together sometime. I learned her name is The Masterless Knight and she’s supposedly a he, but she looks like a woman, and why the hell not? I call her Siegmeyer after the original Onion Knight, but I should call her Sieglinde, his daughter. Just as in Souls, it’s a relief to come across a friend in a hostile world. It’s especially cool when they have a new skill to give you, like the Brands. This is one new idea in S&S that I absolutely love. You meet NPCs who give you brands which unlock new skills, and the first one is the Vertigo Brand, which allows you to use previously inactive obelisks (Eminent Obelisks) so you can walk on the ceiling. The second is the Shadowflip Brand that allows you to climb walls. The third one I have is the Hardlight Brand, which, when I use my torch, makes some intangible material harden into tangible objects like ledges. The Brands are by far my favorite innovative idea in S&S, and I know there are at least two more that I have to find.

On the downside, I hate the Tree of Skills, which is , as you might guess, the skill tree. I don’t like having to level up individual weapons and armor sets, not to mention different classes. You have the ability to remove skills with Gray Pearls (which will turn a Gray Pearl into a Black Pearl, which is what you use to level up skills), but it’s still a pain in the ass. I like general leveling that applies across the board, not such skill-specific leveling. Some will argue that in Souls, you have to level up to a specific weapon or magic or whatever, but it feels more generous in that the levels you put towards, say, the Greataxe, will also go towards the requirements for the Uchigatana.

I have a lot more to say about this game, but this post is already long, so I’ll leave it on an up note and return to it later. Exploration in this game is fantastic, and I spend a lot of time just wandering around with no specific goal in mind. The fact that it’s a two-person team who developed this game is mind-blowing, and my hat is completely off to ska studios for their accomplishment. Hell of a job, madam and sir!

 

 

 

 

*I don’t have children, but still. You get my point.

**Even in the comments of the video, people are saying it’s stupid of him to complain because it’s not a Souls game. It is. Another YouTuber I just watched playing the first part gave up on the controls and remapped after twenty minutes to Souls controls. You. Cannot. Have. It. Both. Ways.

***DSII had a shit-ton of bosses. They seemed to confuse quantity for quality.

****Shrines only replenish your healing potions; you can’t do anything else at them, like leveling up.

 

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