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Sands of Destruction Review

Josh_Laddin By:
DEVELOPER Image Epoch 
T Contains Fantasy Violence, Mild Language

What do these ratings mean?

This world ain't big enough for the two of us. So let's blow it up!

The game info for Sands of Destruction on Sega's website lists an “unconventional storyline” as one of the game's impressive features. So I'm kicking off this review by laying down the premise of this oh-so-groundbreaking plot and letting you, the reader, decide how unconventional it really is:

click to enlargeOrphaned teenage boy lives in rural village, oblivious to ways of outside world. Boy goes on errand which leads to series of events forcing him to leave village. Boy learns he has power to save destroy world. Boy meets girl who wants to help him save destroy world. They embark on epic journey to... wait for it... save destroy world.

That's right — apparently replacing a word with its antonym changes everything! In the spirit of this literary breakthrough, then, I declare this game to be mediocre awesome!

All sarcasm aside, though, I really find it quite astounding that such a formulaic game would be marketed this way. The very fact that the story is so ho-hum at all is a surprise, considering that it was written by Masato Kato, whose illustrious writing credits include the Chrono series. But when I pull back even farther to view SoD (did it just get more British-y in here or is it just me?), everything about it is a series of contradictions just like this one.

Take the battle system, for instance. It's got some exciting elements, like a combo counter for each character's turn (calling a series of moves a combo is always more exciting) and the number of actions per turn increases dynamically depending on how many combo hits or criticals you build up. But this is inexplicably tempered by lengthy special move animations that can't be skipped (and you'll be seeing them a lot), and unnecessarily sluggish enemy turns. Why does a boss have to cast “Battle Boost II” three times in a row when the move doesn't even seem to do anything? (And there isn't a “Battle Boost I” to be found anywhere.) Any fun you might have with the battles is silenced when you have to sit and wait for a boss to take up to a minute to do a couple of attacks.

The battles are also terribly unbalanced. Most of the time, depending on how you spend your customization points, you will either do barely any damage (get used to seeing lots of '1s') or you will totally one-shot your target. The same goes for enemies too, depending on your gear and buffs. There's just no middle ground between being a sniveling weakling or insanely overpowered.

click to enlargeEven more contradictions pop up in the graphics and sound. Every once in a while you'll see something flashy, like a special move animation, that looks fairly impressive, but a lot of the graphics could be done on the GBA — and I swear some of the sprites look like they're lifted right out of Golden Sun. The musical score by Yasunori Mitsuda (also of Chrono fame, among many other great works) is a joy to listen to, but the hammed-up voice acting and sound effects may have you turning the volume on your DS all the way down.

The voice acting for one particular character, however, is just perfect and gives me a good segue to bring up one of SoD's saving graces: Taupy, who's not only one of the strongest party members but quite possibly my favorite new character of the past decade. It's hard to describe Taupy adequately in a sentence, but I'll do my best: He's an ass-kicking, eyepatch-wearing, bounty-hunting, martial-arts master teddy bear. And when you see his cute stuffed animal face for the first time, expecting him to sound like a sugar-coated carebear, out comes the deepest, gruffest, don't-fuck-with-me voice this side of Solid Snake. Taupy alone boosts this game's grade up a level in my book.

But back to those damn contradictions — the wretched dungeon design. I don't automatically hate maze-y, backtracking dungeons; they can be enjoyable if done right. I'm also not staunchly opposed to random battles like a lot of folks these days. Where I do draw the line, however, is at mixing both of these elements into the same game: Maze-y Dungeons + Random Battles = Endless Frustration! Nearly every dungeon will evoke groans. The last dungeon takes the cake, forcing you to backtrack three times to the same annoying room just to pick up crap that you couldn't see before for some reason.

Sands of Destruction was released in Japan over a year ago, and somehow garnered a large enough fan base to justify an animé and manga based off it, not to mention Sega bringing it Stateside. For the life of me, I can't seem to figure out why. Nothing about it stands out (except Taupy, of course), and the story and character motives hardly make any sense. Leave it to the Japanese to start inexplicable crazes, I guess. As for us, um.... less colorful gamers, SoD is a hard product to recommend. At best, I would say this is a game that you can thoroughly enjoy tolerate.
C- Revolution report card
  • Very nice soundtrack
  • Not so nice VA/effects
  • A few cool graphical moments
  • ...but too many bland ones
  • Story is groundbreaking formulaic
  • Dungeon design is beyond annoying
  • Taupy!!!
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