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• Sands of Destruction

developed by imageepoch, published by SEGA
1 player/3 save slots/Nintendo DS/2010.01.12

Sands of Destruction looked like a great game, thanks in no small part to its list of supremely talented creators.  Masato Kato (the director), Kunihiko Tanaka (the character designer), and Yasunori Mitsuda (the music composer), all played key roles in the making of the classic PlayStation RPG Xenogears.  Their latest work looked to recapture some of the former’s magic, with 32-bit style presentation and combo-driven battles.  Unfortunately, something went horribly wrong during production and what could have been one of the better RPGs on the Nintendo DS went off the rails completely.

Story

Humanity suffers under the rule of the Ferals, a race of humanoid animals that control the world.  Naturally, resistance groups plan to oppose the often cruel mistreatment of their fellow humans.  Morte, a ruthless assassin belonging to the World Destruction Front, seeks to destroy the world and rebuild a new civilization.  To do so, she’ll need the help of Kyrie, a bland country bumpkin with no knowledge of the outside world or his inherently destructive powers.  Along the way they’ll team up with mostly generic characters, with one outstanding exception: Taupy.  He’s a tough little teddy bear with attitude, and arguably the game’s most inspired creation.

One of the more unfortunate choices during development was to tone down some of the game’s themes to suit a more kid-friendly rating.  The Ferals were originally supposed to feed on humans, but this is only hinted at once in the game.  Having lost its darker atmosphere, what’s left comes across as Saturday morning cartoon fare that falls flat.   However, most of the story sequences are at least presented with voice overs for every character, and the acting can be considered above average.  It’s just a shame that a creative like Masato Kato bowed to the pressure of the game’s publisher.

Challenge

Sands of Destruction is linear from start to finish.  You move directly from one location to the next, and there are no side quests until the very end of the game.  This in itself is not a major issue, but you can’t even enter unmarked buildings in town!  It feels unusually restrictive, or simply lazy, compared to most RPGs.

The different areas you’ll be exploring are almost always tedious labyrinths with a few insignificant puzzle elements thrown in.  They can be irritating to navigate since the map on the top screen isn’t always helpful, and you’ll be bombarded by repetitive random encounters that slow you down.  The mazes themselves are neither interesting nor difficult to solve, but will test your patience with punishing gimmicks like forcing you to enter rooms in a specific order or be forced to restart from scratch.

The bosses can be challenging at times, but only because they get to attack you two or three times for every turn.  It feels a bit unbalanced to the point of being unfair, and there are a couple of instances where players will to need to level grind if they want to progress.  Meanwhile, standard enemies are typically so weak that they don’t pose any threat whatsoever.

Presentation

Sands of Destruction’s presentation is probably its biggest asset, even if it disappoints in key areas.  It features 3D settings populated by 2D characters, echoing the style seen in classic 32-bit RPGs such as Xenogears or Grandia (though it never manages to reach those lofty peaks).  The music is the game’s highlight, composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, Shunsuke Tsuchiya, and Kazumi Mitome.  The opening theme, performed by the Czech Philharmonic, is sublime.

On the flip side, the monster designs are generic throwaways, recycled at an obscene rate using palette-swaps and minor design tweaks that really smacks of laziness.  Similarly, characters perform only one special move apiece, and the animations quickly overstay their welcome.  And there are some graphical glitches, like not showing the monsters during characters’ special moves, that make you wonder if the game was rushed to market before the developers could apply the finishing touches.

Final Comments

It has its charms, but with a laundry list of vastly superior RPGs on the Nintendo DS, I can’t recommend Sands of Destruction.  I’m very close to finishing its mercifully short 20 hour quest, but I can’t be bothered.  At some point I realized I was wasting my time, which is an incredibly rare sensation for me when it comes to these sorts of games.  Even at the budget price of $20, this is one to avoid.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Good music
  • Above average voice acting
  • Taupy!

CONs:

  • Bland story & characters
  • Annoying mazes
  • Repetitive random encounters & monster designs
  • Unbalanced boss battles
  • Inactive party members earn only 1/3 experience, no CP

One Sentence Review: An RPG with enough wasted potential and bad design choices that you’ll be hard pressed to finish it.
One Word Review: Disgraceful.

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