|Title: Sands of Destruction
Release Date: January 12, 2010
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Age Rating: Teen
When I first discovered the wonders of watching anime on Netflix, one of the first series that caught my eye was Sands of Destruction. The heroes want to destroy the world? And it’s produced by SEGA?! I was intrigued, since I’d already enjoyed some Square Enix-published animes (Soul Eater and Fullmetal Alchemist). Once I was finished, I did a little research, hoping to find more of SEGA’s work, and discovered that Sands of Destruction was actually adapted from a Nintendo DS game of the same name. And thus, my journey with this RPG began.
Let me begin by saying that, while I don’t mean to factor the anime much into this review, I do want to note that the two are vastly different. It’s more than just a matter of translation, a difference that I picked up on right away. Every single character is portrayed very differently, which in every case makes for a plus on the side of the game’s story. In fact, the twist that came up near the end of the anime was actually the premise of the game: Kyrie, the protagonist, unknowingly has the power to destroy the world.
This is pretty much what the entire plot of the game hinges on. Early on you’ll meet Morte, who wants to get Kyrie using his ability as quickly as possible. The rest of the well-rounded playable cast pretty much just come along for the ride, but they’ll get wrapped up in the adventure quickly enough. Sands of Destruction can be entertaining, funny, and, on occasion, rather moving, but you won’t get a whole lot of the characters’ backstories until almost the end of the game. In addition, about half of the cutscenes feature full voice acting, although the developers’ choices of which scenes to include in that leave me scratching my head at times. There are a few twists in the story—a couple of great ones, even—but, for the most part, the main characters will just be too busy dealing with the ethics of, ya know, turning the entire planet into a giant pile of sand.
You’ll spend the first half of the game running around the world in an extremely linear fashion—in fact, quite often you won’t even be able to go back to previous areas. This phase is primarily spent nonchalantly killing most of the Beastlords who rule the world, kings among the ferals that oppress mankind. After you’ve committed regicide about five or six times, actual world-destroying business will get underway, and you’ll have quite a bit more room to explore and search for sidequests.
Battles in this game are turn-based, giving you a set number of actions per turn that can be increased either by managing critical hits or by scoring big combos. Seem a little impractical? Well, this game is actually pretty heavily bent toward the combos in the first place. The characters’ basic attacks, which vary for ground and flying targets, are instantly accessed by pressing the X and Y buttons, while the A button brings you to more specialized menus. Upgrading your characters’ attacks with points will allow you to unlock more attacks which follow after the basic ones, and eventually you can chain several of them together to use them in one action.
This can make your flurry attacks ridiculously powerful as, depending on your character’s attack set, you grab up to 17 hits on a single action—which, of course, racks up more actions. When you hit six action points for your turn, you’ll be able to use your character’s devastating special attack—which makes the flurry chain tactic even more obscenely cheap. It’s easy to just sit back and let these long attack combos do all the work for you, and in some cases it’s the only strategy that works. On more than one occasion I’ve caught myself simply pressing the Y button repeatedly while paying attention to something else—a big hit against the game. There are a few tougher battles where this won’t work as well, but those remain few and far between right up until the last few areas. At that point, you’ll find that to win you’re going to need buffs that you might not have used even once before.
There are a few other little aspects to getting your characters all ready for battle. The weapons and armor tend to be oriented towards different choices rather than simply having each one be inherently better than the last, and you can go to smithies to modify their extra effects. The characters can also learn “quips” that can activate at certain times for small effects. For example, Taupy’s “I’m a professional” quip gives him a small chance of saying that line at the end of battle, netting the group an experience bonus. Unfortunately, all this just serves to highlight the fact that the characters don’t fall into any roles–each one can do just about everything, but ultimately I found myself using the party with the best flurry combos.
It does take a little bit of experimenting to figure out all of these details. Sands of Destruction makes a point to hand you the basics in a quick tutorial bubble, but then leaves you to work out what your attacks are for and how your choices actually affect the flow of battle. There are still some features that I don’t have a clue about even after having finished the game, such as the effect of the hearts that appear on some equipment depending on its wearer, not to mention some of the abilities that are attached to them.
That challenge, however, pales in comparison to the dungeons of the game. I rarely resort to using guides, but with this game I can definitely forgive myself for looking up a few maps. The vast majority of these areas are mazes that employ either weaving between floors, using portals, or some other means of keeping the player confused. Occasionally there are actually some clever puzzles, but for the most part the actual thought you’ll put into the game is relegated to finding the right path through the area, which in some cases seems to be completely random. In fact, I take that back about putting thought to it—for the most part the only way to get through is with trial and error. It’s a frustrating process, and constantly running into the repetitive battles just adds to the annoyance. Even when the game does offer you clues, they make less and less sense as the game goes on. Once again, these won’t get better until you’re on the verge of finishing the game.
By now you’re probably starting to see the pattern in my statements. I can say this about virtually every aspect of the game, in fact: Sands of Destruction starts well, drags horribly through the middle, and then finishes strong. This is particularly true of the story, the battle system, and the exploration. Other aspects, such as the sound and graphics, are par for the course as far as DS games go—not terribly memorable. Overall, the game’s 20-25 hour arc was worth finishing, but I really doubt that I’ll pick it up again.
Review copy supplied by author.