Sands of Destruction
Developer: Image Epoch
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 01/13/2010
Sands of Destruction is the first handheld RPG of 2010. You would think this would be a big deal, but oddly enough its publisher, Sega, who is a large company in its own right has been decidedly mum on the title. This is pretty odd considering the localization of the anime series based on this games hits stores in two weeks. You would think some sort of marketing would go on here. The developer, Image Epoch, is best known for the Luminous Arc series, but considering how little known that series is to the average gamer, perhaps “best known” is, in fact, a misnomer.
So how was Sands of Destruction? Is it destined to be a forgotten classic where RPG fans will shake their fist at how Sega’s other January 2010 release, Bayonetta overshadowed it, or did Sega know this game wasn’t going to be a critical or financial success for them?
It’s Armageddon time baby! In a world ruled by evil demonic furries (called Ferals in the game), a group of human slaves known as the World Annihilation Front decide to rebel and decide the only way to make things better is to destroy the world. Now this might be a bit of an extreme decision, but at least it’s a fresh one as far as RPG’s go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really get past that bit.
Your main character is a young rural lad by the name of Kyrie. After leaflets fall from the sky proclaiming Kyrie is a member of the WAF, he is asked to report to the nearest Rex (The twelve beastlords that rule this world all have the title of Rex). Once Kyrie travels down that road that he must travel in the highway of the night, it is revealed the Ferals are going to arrest him and probably execute him without a trial. That’s how much they hate and fear the WAF. Kyrie panics and his body burns with a gemlike flame somewhere between the soul and soft machine. Then he disintegrates everything within a two town radius. Once he has found himself again (with the help of a mysterious voice calling him “destruct”), he is helped by a young (and utterly unlikeable) woman from the WAF known as Morte the Scarlet Plague whose answer for everything is wanton genocide. Yes, she’s your female lead.
From there Kyrie, Morte and friends like, Taupy the one eyed bad ass bounty hunter bear cub that they gather along their travels, you would think that the game would then be about destroying the world with your team, right? Well no. it actually ends up being little more than fetch quests, saving children from furries and killing a lot of the Beastlords. On rare occasions you’ll do something like defeat one of the four primal forces (One for each element), but then you don’t kill them. Instead they willingly share their power with you. In fact the game becomes a PAINFULLY generic JRPG, where you just have ramshackles of a plot that barely pin together one dungeon crawl filled with random battles and a boss to the next.
What’s sad is that if you know even the slightest bit of Greek, you know what the big “would be twist” of the game is going to be. Kyrie is a pretty important word in that language after all. Even if you don’t, the game basically rips off Chrono Trigger, which is the only spoiler I can really give you save from saying that partway through the game, you’ll have to take Kyrie and his broken wings and learn to fly again; learn to live so free. Of course in Kyrie’s case, the book of love won’t open up and let you in. Instead you’ll just become another angsty sword wielding generic JRPG protagonist. This was a big letdown. Partly because the story was so paint by numbers and/or ripped off from a bunch of other slightly less generic games, and partly because the opening plot seemed pretty unique and innovative only to have the ideas thrown away about an hour into the game in favour of an extremely cliched turn based plot thread.
There is so much story potential lost in this game. A huge part of it could have (and SHOULD HAVE) been whether Kyrie would have followed down his chosen road or whether the power of Destruct reaches into where he cannot hide, setting his feet upon the road because of it. Instead, the plot boils down to crazy Morte saying, “Kyrie elesion, where I’m going, will you follow?” and he just kind of does so blindly without any character development or reason d’etre. In fact none of the characters have any personality or progression at all. It’s all just swept along like a wind blowing hard against a mountain side.
The game’s not offensive or mind-numbingly bad. There’s occasionally a cute or silly moment storywise, but the vast majority of the game’s plot is paper thin and cribbed from what appears to be everything from Final Fantasy to Lunar: The Silver Star. Storywise the game bored the hell out of me and the characters were either simplistic, stupid, annoying, or sometimes outright unlikeable. Only Taupy had any degree of personality or character development, and for me to praise an anthromorph as the best character in a game, well that’s just sad.
Instead of being a highway in the light, Sands of Destruction was at best, inoffensive and trite, and at worst, flat out boring and dull.
Basically, if you want to find something more mentally stimulating than this game, try and count all the Mr. Mister references in this section of the review.
Story Rating: Mediocre
I usually prefer 2-D graphics and sprites to modern 3-D visuals. However, this is a pretty unattractive game. To be perfectly blunt, there were numerous RPG’s for the Game Boy Advance that looked better than Sands of Destruction and that was last generation’s handheld of choice. Character designs are very blocky with very little detail to them. Even if they were a bit cleaned up, the actual art design of characters in the game just didn’t jibe with me. It also doesn’t help that Taupy’s eyepatch keeps flipping from eye to eye in the game and it’s not meant to…
The big visual selling point of the game was supposed to the bosses that are big enough to take up both screens. However, not only are bosses of this size rare, but they never really look all that impressive. This idea was already done by Magical Starshine three years ago, and the visuals were some of the most impressive I have seen on a DS RPG. To say that the Sands of Destruction graphics pale in comparison is a bit of an understatement.
Now that’s not to say that the entire game is visually underwhelming. I thought the backgrounds, towns and dungeon designs were rather nice, but nothing truly original. I was a bit disappointed towns were streamlined to the point where the only thing you could enter were plot based locales or stores. The sense of going into homes and rooting around their stuff while NPCs looked one was an odd cliche to leave out considering how many others this game used.
I wasn’t impressed at all by the graphics in Sands of Destruction. There are many RPGs for the DS that are better looking and offer better usage of the dual screens as well as more interesting character designs out there.
Graphics Rating: Below Average
On one hand, I thought the score for Sands of Destruction was decent, if forgettable, and the music fit the tone of the game nicely. It’s not a soundtrack I will be running out to buy any time soon, but it was a decent generic set of high fantasy classical music tracks that went well with a decent generic RPG.
Then there’s the voice acting. Now Sands of Destruction gives you a LOT of voice acting. It’s actually quite impressive how much of the game is voiced rather than just text on the screen. However, aside from the actor for Felix Rex and Taupy, everyone does a pretty lackluster job. The two worst are Morte and Rajiv, the latter of whom thankfully stopped showing up a few hours in the game on account of death. Still, the rest of the cast is pretty craptacular and you’ll find yourself wishing you could turn off the in-game audio. Sadly, one of the “gimmicks” of the game revolves heavily on the voice acting, as characters will bark out lines during combat that give them different abilities ranging from a free group healing spell to added damage or defense. This is a neat idea, but it is sadly saddled with a very bad selection of voice acting.
Again, like much of Sands of Destruction, we see the aural aspects of the game are rather underwhelming.
Sound Rating: Below Average
4. Control and Gameplay
Now bear with me, because the whole engine of Sands of Destruction is massively messed up to the point where you have to wonder if it was let out to the public half finished. Now it’s fun, mind you, but it is easily the most broken RPG engine I have ever encountered.
We’ve already covered the sound quips, but there is no rhyme or reason as to how they are triggered. The game lists requirements to trigger the quips, but these are not guarantees that they will actually trigger. This is especially true for quips that start or end combat.
Then there is the battle system. Although you have up to six characters you will collect throughout your progress, only three can fight on your team. As illogical as it is to picture your other teammates standing on the side of the battlefield watching you win or die horribly, it’s a standard RPG convention and I can’t fault the game for that. Like with most RPG’s, characters and opponents go in the order of speed, or in this case, the Agility stat. Each character starts off with one to four attacks per round based on their overall level and morale status. If the morale is neutral, they’ll be at two or three attacks. Having a positive morale arrow gives you an extra attack and a negative morale takes one away. You can earn up to a total of six attacks (through things like critical hits, combos of ten hits or more in a round by a character and so on), with the final attack being a special super powerful attack. However the funny thing is that in my entire time with the game, I never once triggered a special attack. Not once, and I bloody well beat it. That’s because the standard enemies and even the bosses are so laughably easy that it’s almost impossible to die in this game. I was one attack KO’ing most rank and file enemies and bosses like Rana Rex and Serpens Rex I beat in two rounds, using nothing but basic attacks. I was flabbergasted at the lack of challenge. However oddly enough, the game’s engine is broken in such a way that enemies will be able to trigger their special attacks far easier than you because they tend to only do one to eight points of damage per hit, and that’s with criticals! This lets them be able to do their super special attacks, sometimes twice in a row, which is the only time you take damage. Even then you might, MIGHT, have a character (usually Morte because she sucks) get KO’d, but even then it takes a few rounds of that.
There’s no rhyme or reason to the engine with enemies sometimes getting a dozen attacks (not hits for a combo, but attacks themselves) in before their turn in the round is up and you’ll be swearing at how broken the engine is in their favour only to laugh at the same time when a Primal Lord is doing one point of damage to you and your basic weak flurry attacks are doing hundreds of points of damage to him.
Arguably the most broken thing in the game is the customization system. After a battle is through, you earn customization points in addition to experience points. CP are used to power up your moves. You can power up the damage of moves, which lowers the accuracy somewhat, or you can power up the accuracy which lowers the damage somewhat. This is interesting in theory, but poorly implemented as you can probably guess. Even worse is than ten hours into the game, or roughly before I faced off with Serpens Rex, I had Kyrie at level 35 and his skills WERE ALL MAXED OUT. He has maxed his skills up to level eight, which is the highest they could be at that point in the game, meaning he basically slaughtered everything without trying. How bad is that then ten hours into a game you have your character maxed out in every possible field, spell and attack, and at only level 35? Worse, I was then building a backlog of CP so when i was finally able to use levels nine and/or ten (at level 50), I had more than enough saved up to instantly get them. It became even more hilarious with Kyrie when something happens to him that we’ll just call a “class change” for the sake of not spoiling the game, and you are given all your CP back to re-spend. I was maxed out again instantly and the new SuperKyrie was even more unstoppable than before.
Now after hearing at how powerful my characters were and how we breezed through the entire game you might be thinking, “Well, yeah. What if you hadn’t grinded? Of course it’s easy if you just wander around leveling up for hours.” Well long time readers know I don’t grind. I hate grinding. If you have to grind to get past a part of a game than that means either you suck or the developers suck for not making a more balanced play experience or letting you EARN those levels through side quests instead of just wandering around. Of course, even if I had wanted to grind, there wouldn’t have been a need to. You see, this game is littered with random battles. Every two to six steps, you will have a random battle. There were times when i would go through a passage that would switch to another screen and when the new visuals pulled up, I was hit by a random battle. There was one time when I was hit by a random battle for each step my characters took for six straight steps. What the hell? Now considering this game doles out experience and CP like candy on Halloween and the enemies are like Cobra grunts going up against Snake Eyes, and it’s no wonder your characters become so dominant or high in level in such a short amount of time. It’s pathetic and sad really.
As I said, this engine is fundamentally broken in every way. The game’s combat system is so designed in favour of your enemies it is laughable, yet they still can’t do enough damage to knock one of your characters out unless it is a boss and you are exceptionally stupid when it comes to playing RPG’s. This is a game that should not have been released to the general public in the condition it is in. It’s so deeply flawed it makes you wonder if Image Epoch was trying to win a contest for either the worst RPG engine ever or a contest for designing an RPG even people with severe brain damage or possibly even fish could beat without taxing their mental energies.
I really wanted to like this game, but I have seen RPG’s made on a shoestring budget by some indie developer in his basement that performed better than this. Not only is the game a massive collection of role-playing cliches, but the engine is so broken there is nothing positive I can say about it. This my friends, is a poorly designed game in every way a game’s engine can be. Wait. I take that back. The game is playable and it doesn’t crash. It does suffer from the occasional graphical slowdown but at least i came up with two positive things to say about the engine.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Dreadful
Well, considering you have six playable characters and only three people on your team, you can feasibly go through this exceptional linear game more than once to try beating the game with a different team of characters. I primarily used Kyrie, Taupy and Ri’ ah, but if I truly enjoyed the game, I could try and do it the other characters. As well, you could try customizing your characters differently. Even though I maxed out the levels, I could have done it differently. Say, more emphasis on Accuracy than Power or vice versa, depending on the attack. One could also replay and wait to chain attacks at when stats are at level seven rather than level ten or vice versa depending on what you did before. The possibilities are there, even if they are limited.
If the story had been better, if the graphics had been cleaner, or if the engine hadn’t been a complete car wreck, I could see people picking this up. However, as it stands right now, Sands of Destruction is a one and done sort of game, best used as trade-in fodder after you beat it.
Replayability Rating: Poor
Well, we’ve already covered the fact that the game is arguably the MOST unbalanced RPG I have ever played. I mean, this is a game where your enemies can pull off repeatedly critical hit chain combos that do only a single point of damage to you per hit, only to have it be your turn and you kill them each with a single attack. How sad is that? Again, I never even got the chance to do a Special Attack in my time with the game because I generally had killed everyone before the gauge was full. This includes bosses.
The game also gives you way too many items. Almost every battle will drop something and you’ll never have to buy anything unless it’s a smithy item that can only be obtained in a particular store or if we are talking weapons and armour. I was constantly overflowing with money and items and at one point was chugging potions because I could rather than needing to.
So the game is broken in the fact that your characters are way too over powered for there to ever be a challenge, the game is broken in the fact that the combat system is geared to let your enemies have far more attacks then you (if they even get the chance to) but then they can’t do any damage so the battle system manages to be broken in every way possible. Bosses are just as weak and thus very anti-climatic and random battles are so frequent you might as well be playing the Japanese version of Thousand Arms. Basically the game is geared towards giving you the easiest RPG experience in quite possibly the history of RPG’s. Everything is so broken and the entire game could have used some severe fine tuning.
Balance Rating: Worthless
As I mentioned earlier, I was rather intrigued by the “hook” or premise of Sands of Destruction. I really liked the idea of being a world destroyer and that the world was being destroyed in the name of good. Sadly that plot never truly materializes but the idea is solid. As disappointed as I was with SoD, I like the idea of the game so much that I’ll be getting the anime series since I’ve read that it uses the same hook but actually develops the characters as well as has the plot go in an entirely different direction. I’ll probably end up reviewing that DVD set here on Diehard GameFAN as well, so look for that eventual compare and contrast session in a few weeks.
There are several things the game does try to do that are different from the usual turn based RPG. You have the quip system, which I really enjoyed the concept of, and with better voice acting, it would have been awesome. The combat system is another thing that is great in theory and had Image Epoch balanced it out so that enemies had less attack but substantially more damage the game would have worked and worked really well. Instead you have a game where you just sit staring at the screen while the enemies attack repeatedly and for a way too long period of time while they desperately try to do damage to you. Still, even though there was a total lack of quality control, at least something new was tried with the battle system.
Although the majority of the game is pretty generic and cliche as far as JRPG’s go, there are a few twists and turns here that make Sands of Destruction stand out, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Now, after all the cruelty I’ve dispensed upon this game, you would think I hated this thing, right? Well, in truth the Sands of Destruction falls under the “so bad it’s good” category for me. Everything is so broken that I found the game hilarious instead of frustrating. I would laugh at how beastlords and Primal Forces alike would savagely attack me only to do one point of damage per hit and then for my team to turn around and do thousands of points of damage on my turn, knocking their health down by vast amounts without using my more powerful moves, chains or spells. I suppose it’s bad video game comedy like when you put a friend up against Geese Howard in a King of Fighters for the first time ever and then you crank the difficulty up to maximum. It’s so lop-sided, it is funny in a sad sort of way. This holds true for SoD too, but it’s definitely in your favour.
Although combat was too frequent and far too easy, the level designs of the game actually kept me quite interested in the journey, if not the eventual destination. I loved the complex mazes the game offered and the need to sometimes map out on paper what tunnel led to where since the maps on the top DS screen didn’t clarify things like that. This was the only degree of challenge and I loved trying to discover the pattern of a teleporting puzzle after your team is broken up and you must reunite them. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t even let you have the full challenge here as it gives away the solution in-game. This annoyed me, but it was keeping in line with the “way too easy” motif of the game. Still, the mazes and the optimistic, but futile, hope that the game’s story would reach its potential kept me playing up to the very anti-climatic final battle and ending sequence.
As long as you don’t care about challenge or story and are just looking for a time waster, Sands of Destruction can fill that void. However, there are dozens of better JRPG’s out for the DS currently and those will easy fulfill your gaming needs more than this will.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
9. Appeal Factor
Sands of Destruction is not a pretty game. It’s not a well balanced game. The story is flimsy at best and the voice acting is pretty awful. Yet JRPG fans are a pretty easy lot to please. As long as the game gives some degree of motivation to get from point A to point B and you can kill things, they’ll at least accept the game as a decent diversion if not an enjoyable one.
Personally I don’t see how anyone will be able to claim this is a good game or even a FUN one, but everyone’s opinion is valid. It’s a very dull and repetitive game, but it’s got angst, anime characters and it’s easy, so there will definitely be an audience willing to ignore the litany of sins this game commits.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
As much as I wanted to like Sands of Destruction, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed with this title. It failed to live up to nearly all of its potential and the game is so broken it’s hard to believe a major publisher like Sega would have let this through with the severe issues it suffers from.
Now this isn’t to say that Sands of Destruction is a horrible game. It’s bug free and it does what it needs to. It’s just an under-performing below average game adrift in a vast sea of better RPG’s for the Nintendo DS. Still, as I’ve said, i loved the core idea and I’m hoping the anime makes a better impression on me than the game did.
Miscellaneous Rating: Poor
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Sands of Destruction is an underwhelming game in nearly every way possible. The plot is paper-thin. The characters are two-dimensional at best. The graphics are unpolished. The voice acting is terrible. However, the one thing that stands out as the absolute worst piece of this game is the battle engine itself. The system is slanted to give enemies far more attacks than yourself, yet they struggle to do more than a single point of damage once you are a few hours into the game while your team is slaughtering everything you come across with a single attack. Bosses are equally pathetic and there is absolutely no challenge involved with this game. Random battles are extremely plentiful and thanks to the overabundance of experience points and customization points dropped, your character will be maxed out only a fraction into the game. As you can imagine, Sands of Destruction is a broken pitiful mess than offers no substance or challenge whatsoever. It’s not a horrible game, but it’s one that struggles to ascend to even mediocrity.