Over the past couple of years, the classic Japanese-style RPG has seemed like somewhat of a dying breed. Previous generations of consoles always managed to provide a home for the never-ending wave of incredible tales. Everywhere you looked, another new game was climbing out of the woodwork, and for a time, it felt like each new title was even better than the last. Sadly, ever since entering the current generation of consoles, such games have been few and far between as Western RPG’s are making a major comeback. While I enjoy the likes of Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age: Origins, I have been feeling like something is missing, and upon re-entering the handheld scene after so long, I realized I had been wrong this whole time. JRPG’s didn’t die at all; they simply moved. And best of all, they are just as fun as ever, and that is why I am excited about this Sands of Destruction review.
Created by an all-star team of JRPG developers, Sands of Destruction is a handheld adventure of grand scale that is sure to make many fans of the genre feel right at home. It doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, but it still has a lot to effort and it certainly deserves credit for its efforts. As the game loads, we are treated with an amazing FMV cutscene that really caught me by surprise. This sort of delivery is expected these days and has become somewhat of a standard, but I have never seen anything quote so detailed on a handheld console. Maybe this is only because I joined the bandwagon a bit late, but I honestly had no idea my little DSi could handle something like this. Although a cutscene can never truly be an accurate representation of the game itself, it was a beautiful piece of eye candy that had me hooked right away.
Upon starting the game, I was treated with another surprise: voice acting. And good voice acting at that. It is no surprise that the DS has the audio capacity for handling this, but it was quite pleasing to play a handheld game with genuinely good voice acting. It isn’t the best I have ever heard, but it is better than what I have heard in many of the new console games I have played lately. Even better, however, is the music. Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda—composer for classic titles such as Chrono Trigger, Shadow Hearts, and Xenogears—the score is fantastic and easily some of his best work. For being on a handheld device, that’s quite an impressive feat, and it is something I would love to see (or hear) more of in future handheld games.
Like many games, Sands of Destruction isn’t deserving of only praise; it has its faults as well. While the FMV sequences are awe-inspiring at times, it should be noted that some people have complained about low-quality videos full of artifacting. I don’t know what might be different, but my version did not have this problem in the slightest, so try to keep that in mind before you start calling me a liar if the game you bought has compression issues. Oddly enough, while some of those same people felt that the in-game graphics were smooth and crisp by comparison, I found them to be the low point of the game.
The 2D character sprites look great, but the environments often seemed choppy and unrefined. And when allowed rotation of the camera, this becomes even more apparent as all of the edges shift and lines become misaligned. It doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way, but it was slightly disappointing after such a big start. Thankfully, all of the 2D graphics for the characters, battle animations, and emoticons look very good. This serves as further proof that sometimes, 2D sprites are just better. No matter how advanced game graphics become over the years, there is still a place in our hearts. And they’re cost-effective too; they will work for dirt cheap and they rarely demand benefits.
The story in Sands of Destruction is just okay. It certainly isn’t bad by any means, but it isn’t terribly compelling or unique either. The characters also aren’t anything too special. The game does at least have an interesting premise, however. In a nutshell, you are in control of a young man named Kyrie who somehow possesses the power to destroy the world, which draws the interest of the World Annihilation Front who, believe it or not, wish to destroy the world. While that comes as no surprise, what is interesting is that these are the protagonists. The humans of this sand-covered world have been enslaved and it is their hope that, with Kyrie’s help, they will be able to destroy the world and start over with a clean slate. But first, they have to figure out just how to tap into Kyrie’s powers before the nefarious World Salvation Committee can intervene.
It’s a great idea that unfortunately doesn’t get fleshed out very well and sometimes suffers from mediocre storytelling; and when it comes to story-driven games like this, good storytelling is everything. Another disappointment is that while nice to look at, many of the characters aren’t as interesting as they should be. When you spend a decent amount of time traveling with someone who looks like a pirate teddy bear, you develop certain expectations. Unfortunately, there simply wasn’t enough character development there, often making it difficult to relate to most of them. A lot of these may be localization issues, but even so, that wouldn’t a valid excuse. Still, despite all of that, it isn’t likely to get in the way of your enjoyment of the game.
One aspect that aspect that significantly helps Sands of Destruction redeem itself is the great battle system, which is complex but rewarding. Each character is given a set of Battle Points (essentially the same as Action Points) that can be used to execute a set of attacks, whether they be direct attacks, Skills, or Specials. As you might expect, some attacks require more Battle Points than others, but they are usually more powerful as well. The key here is to find the right balance of attacks for each character and come up with a strategy to spend Battle Points in the most efficient way possible. Also available are Quips, which add buffs and stat boosts to your characters. After each battle, you are rewarded with the standard money and experience as well as Customization Points that can be redeemed for upgrades to your current attacks and skills.
This complex battle system may be frustrating at first, but if you take the time to fully explore it and learn the ins and outs, the pay-off is well worth it. While not completely necessary, mastering the battle and upgrade systems can mean the difference between your party struggling and dominating. It is a great way to handle the game’s difficulty. Basically, you can avoid the complexities and just deal with the beatings, or you can put a significant amount of time into it and be rewarded with a world full of enemies that are far more manageable. It is all decided based on how much you are willing to put into the game, which is a great method and it provides motivation for character improvement. This seems to borrow greatly from Western RPG battle systems and it could perhaps be an attempt at bridging the gap somewhat.
While Sands of Destruction doesn’t quite hit the mark it is going for, it’s really not too far off. The developers have done a fantastic job of creating a handheld experience that is very easy to jump into and enjoy. Although it doesn’t have much replay value, it is a game that you are likely to remember for quite some time. Sure, it has issues like any other game, but it makes a valiant effort to make up for its faults by providing an in-depth battle system and charming visuals that are surprisingly good at times. Sands of Destruction isn’t a game for everyone, but it is a great addition to any JRPG fan’s collection and it provides a story that strays somewhat from the norm. If you have been on the fence about whether or not you should get this, I say you should do yourself a favor and go for it.
Sands of Destruction was developed by Imageepoch and published by Sega. It was released on the Nintendo DS in North America on January 12, 2010