When I think of RPGs for the Nintendo DS, I think of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Or, I think of the Luminous Arcs and Chrono Trigger. Chances are most folks are the same. Sands of Destruction, on the other hand, is (apparently) a title not many have heard of. Truthfully, that’s neither a good or bad thing because Sands of Destruction isn’t anything special. Your life as a gamer won’t be enriched by playing it. Your life won’t be empty by not playing it. Granted, I’m glad that I played. It’s just that by avoiding it, you’d be able to play something that does other things better. (You’re also able to save your wallet from some sadness since the game’s price is through the roof as of this writing.)
For a DS game, Sands of Destruction looks wonderful. Instead of gross, blocky polygons, we have crisp, detailed, and colorful sprites that harken back to the days of games like Grandia or Xenogears. But wait there’s more: a rotatable camera lets you explore the scenery from every angle. A lot of the settings take place in deserts and/or oases. That doesn’t mean its any less gorgeous. The shifting sands, the rippling waters, and the swaying shrubbery really pop. There’s no denying that this is a game that nailed the presentation. The music is of equal quality. I’ve heard it get described as, “Mitsuda-esque” and I’m inclined to agree. The tracks won’t stick with you, but it won’t have you keeping the game on mute, either. During a good chunk of the story, there are moments of voice acting. It’s surprisingly of decent quality. It can cause certain moments to drag since it gets advanced automatically, but I appreciate the effort.
Sands of Destruction stars a young lad named Kyrie. Kyrie’s life is humdrum as it gets, but he doesn’t mind. He enjoys living the simple life in a small town, helping his neighbors and his Uncle Agni with odd jobs. He also enjoys cooking. Kyrie is about as average as one can get, but things change for him drastically after he returns from a nearby cave. Fliers with his face plastered on them rain from the sky, demanding that Kyrie be turned into the authorities. He turns himself into said authorities, but winds up unleashing a devastating power that gets the attention of Morte, a bloodthirsty lady that heads the World Annihilation Front. Morte wants to use Kyrie’s powers to, as the organization’s name implies, destroy the world.
Kyrie’s life changes drastically in a flash. Scenarios like this aren’t uncommon in RPGs, but in Sands of Destruction, the situation is unique due to Kyrie’s and Morte’s ambitions. They’re not trying to save the world – they’re trying to destroy it. Other allies join their cause despite knowing how ambitious their goals are. Speaking of, the cast in Sands of Destruction is solid. Taupy, the third character to join, looks like he’d be a comedic goofball. Looks can be deceiving; he ended up being my favorite character. The script is well-written and full of some interesting plot twists. The story really caught me by surprise for all the right reasons. And for those that don’t care about Kyrie’s mission, a simple push of the Start button will skip the story event so you can move on.
When you gain control of Kyrie and his crew, you’ll find that Sands of Destruction plays like a traditional RPG on a modern-ish scale. Most of the game is linear. You’re usually limited to one of the four major islands that make up Sand of Destruction’s world. Eventually, you’ll have the freedom to move about wherever you please. While exploring a town, you’ll be able to chat with the townsfolk, shop, upgrade your weapons at a blacksmith, rest at an inn, or extract raw materials from your unwanted gear. Along with the standard weapons and armor, your party can equip Quips – sayings that have a chance to activate midcombat and provide the speaker with a perk. It’s basic stuff. But in some way, its basicness is a blessing since things in non-town areas can get busy. The dungeon and/or monster infested field areas in Sand of Destruction are, usually, easy to navigate. Some involve a puzzle or two. During your time in these areas, you’ll be battling enemies and picking up treasures. Recovery spots are scattered throughout for free, full recovery.
So, you might be wondering if the other shoe is going to fall. All of the above still sounds like standard RPG stuff. Well, let’s break a few things down. First, some of the puzzles require more than a simple flip of a switch. Instead, they involve memory; lots of memory. Other times, the areas are so labyrinthine that it feels like you’re in an infinite time loop. This wouldn’t be bad if not for the encounter rate. It’s high. I remember taking five or six steps from one battle and immediately entering another over and over. The combination of the encounter rate and navigating a labyrinth can be a bit much.
I say that as someone who, for the most part, really enjoyed the game’s combat. Sands of Destruction gives a poor first impression of all its battle features. Kyrie and up to two others will partake in what appear to be classic, turn based battles. Your teammates are able to use Blow Attacks, Flurry Attacks, Skills (i.e. magic), defend or use items. They’re able to do any of these actions as long as they have Battle Points (BP) which are indicated by yellow circles near their character portraits. Certain gear can increase the number of BP they start with, but most of the time they’re limited to one, two or three when a battle starts. At first, combat doesn’t feel like anything special. Both sides exchange blows until the one side falls – which will be the enemy side since enemies put up little fight up to a certain point. Sometimes, you’ll land a critical hit which can grant an extra BP but otherwise it’s more of what you haven’t seen before if you’ve played an RPG.
That is, until you upgrade your abilities. Finishing a battle grants experience points, items, money and Customization Points (CP). After you pour enough CP into your abilities, you unlock new ones. Pour even more CP into your abilities, and they become part of a chain. When attacks chain together, your team turns into a three-person army (fittingly) of destruction. An attack that once did one or two hits will now do an upwards of 10 to 20 hits. You’ll gain additional BP for every 10 hits. See where we’re going with this? Enemies rarely, if ever, get a chance to act. Those that are able to withstand the onslaught of attacks will be hit by a screen-filling, over the top Special Attack. All of this makes random encounters go from a standard to trivial. Every character has access to a variety of stat boosting spells for those moments when you need to give your team extra oomph. This is important to remember for boss fights. Note that most bosses are able to chain the heck out of your team if given the chance. A couple near the end gave me a game over. However, with some party-swapping and extra CP farming, I was able to end most boss fights the same way I was able to end a regular fight – a few chain attacks and done. All told, Sands of Destruction’s combat has flaws and holes. The high encounter rate doesn’t help. But watching your party combo everything it comes across never loses its appeal even after seeing it for the hundredth time.
Even with the many encounters and the few retries/resets, Sands of Destruction is a short game. My final play time (after doing all of the side content) was only 25 hours. That might not seem like a lot to some, but for me it was the perfect length since by that point I had already found my favorite battle party and upgraded their skills to their maximums. The conclusion was satisfying. Everyone conquered any internal demons they were battling. Etc. Again, it’s the sort of thing you’ve seen before if you’ve played any RPG. Sands of Destruction’s world and features are unique, but it’s nothing memorable or noteworthy for an instant recommendation. It’s just another RPG on the Nintendo DS that got lost in the (…wait for it…) sands of time. Is that a bad thing? No. It’s just that gamers are going to be just fine without giving it a passing a glance.
Overall, 7/10: Another RPG on the Nintendo DS? Yep. Sands of Destruction can be fun but don’t stress if you never play it.