IGN Review of Sands of Destruction
Sands of Destruction is the newest RPG from imageepoch, a developer with serious pedigree. Its staff has worked on such hits as Xenogears, Grandia, and Drakengard. If you're a hardcore JRPG fan, those names surely mean Sands of Destruction deserves consideration. But does it harness the same magic as those famous JRPG hits?
You are Kyrie, a boy that possesses the power to destroy the world, although you have no idea how to unlock it. That power places you in the center of a battle between the beast-like Ferals that have enslaved humanity and the pro-human faction, World Annihilation Front. Judging by their name, the WAF does not believe in holding a sit-in to fight injustice at the claws of the Ferals. Instead, they want to use Kyrie to bring about the apocalypse and hope that mankind has a better run after things shake out. It's not a bad story and it's well told through both spoken dialogue and cutscenes, although I found Sands of Destruction way too front-heavy on exposition.
However, once you do press through the slow start and really get out into the world to crack some heads, Sands of Destruction's pacing improves. It helps that you use a world map to travel rather than tromping through a giant overworld. This cuts down on grinding, but don't get too excited yet. Sands of Destruction never met a random encounter it didn't like. Yes, this creaky mechanic is back and it makes exploring dungeons an occasional chore. I know many JRPG gamers will find my lack of patience with random encounters near blasphemy, but come on. Kyrie isn't blind. He can see ten feet front of his face. With the technical limitations that introduced random encounters now a thing of the past, these gotcha-battles feel like relics, especially in a game that tries to advance the ball with its complex but intriguing battle/upgrade system.
Sands of Destruction's battle system takes a while to crack, but once you get the basics of triggering moves and upgrading powers, you are practically unstoppable. Each hero has a set number of Battle Points (BP) to use when it is their turn, which you can split up amongst attacks of varying ferocity. Heavier attacks consume more BP, but they dish out a lot more damage. There are two direct attacks (Blow and Flurry) and two types of Skills (Blood and Life) to use. Blood Skills are powerful moves with occasional elemental attributes. But the deadliest attack is the Special, which is released by following button prompts on the upper screen. I really liked the dynamic nature of the battle system. It mixes up the I-go-you-go rhythm.
After defeating your enemies, you accrue experience points and level up, as expected. However, you also bank Customization Points (CP) that are traded in to upgrade current attacks and skills. As you upgrade, newer attacks and skills are unlocked. This system really lets you fashion your party's strengths, but to be sure, I found it extremely obtuse in the beginning of Sands of Destruction and wasted a lot of CP just to get a handle on how the whole system worked, especially the art of unlocking moves that can be chained together. Sure, I unlocked and powered-up some moves with that CP, but for the first few hours, the evolution of Kyrie and company lacked direction. Finally, as if there wasn't enough to manage, your heroes pick up Quips during the adventure. These self-referential words can be spoken during battles to add buffs to either the speaker or the party.
Sands of Destruction is largely a 3D game and I am not convinced it benefits from the art choice. The texture work looks all wiggly when scenes rotate or backdrops move at a faster clip. The characters are all 2D sprites that get really blocky when the camera zooms in for dramatic moments, thus robbing the drama. However, the attack animations are quite good (especially when fighting the massive bosses) and serve as a reminder of why no matter how adept folks get with 3D, there is an undeniable charm and handsomeness to 2D sprite work.
The story scenes in Sands of Destruction feature some pretty impressive voice work that would be the aural highlight if it wasn't for the superlative soundtrack. Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, who has created music for little-known games like Chrono Trigger and Xenogears, assembled an excellent score that will be loved by his legion of fans.
©2010-01-19, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved