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Old 12-14-2010, 02:19 PM   #1
etherangel
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Post Please Rate This Review: Sands of Destruction

Sands of Destruction Review

High: Battle music changing halfway through the game to a much more epic piece
Low: Certain bosses taking zero damage for no discernible reasons
WTF: A talking alligator with reading glasses and a vest. ‘Nuff said.

No Fun in the Sun

If you were to throw a rock at a display of DS video games, chances are you’d hit one of two types of games: an RPG of the Japanese variety or one of those absurd Imagine video games (in which case, throw harder). The DS is no stranger to the J-RPG genre, and there is sometimes little fanfare surrounding new releases. This was the case when I stumbled upon Sands of Destruction, developed by Imageepoch, in a rental store. I had never heard of the game before, which is rare for me because of my neurotic tendency to check every gaming website several times on a daily basis. As an RPG enthusiast, I couldn’t resist giving this mystery game a try.

The world of Sands is a dismal one. Humans are enslaved, eaten, and turned into plant fertilizer by Ferals, who are a sort of beast-human hybrid race. In the background of this dystopic society, the world is slowly turning into sand - even the “oceans” have become vast deserts. Morte, the story’s female lead, is a member of a group known as the World Annihilation Front, whose mission is to “save” the world by destroying it. Morte is instructed by the Front to find Kyrie, a young boy who possesses the ability to turn everything around him into sand. Morte eventually tracks down Kyrie, who is less than eager to assist Morte in her goals of destroying the world. Determined to complete her mission, Morte resolves to drag Kyrie across the land to show him how ugly the world really is.

Wait a minute: Lots of sand, humans as second-class citizens, religious allusions, and a potential love story. Sounds like…Xenogears. Indeed, Masato Kato was the script writer and scenario planner for both Sands of Destruction and Xenogears. The story of Sands is nowhere near as complex as that of Xenogears, but it is still quite good in its own right. The light-hearted way the narrative is delivered in the beginning belies the darker nature of the world and its inhabitants, and succeeded in surprising me at a few points. Another great aspect of the story is the diverse cast of characters you meet along the way. Their personalities, script, and quirks makes the cutscenes amusing to watch and listen to. Yes, characters are voiced in Sands, and the dub is actually pretty good, which is nice since there a majority of the cutscenes are voiced. On the downside, the cutscenes do suffer from a few bad design choices. Cutscenes can be a little sluggish thanks to awkwardly long pauses that occur from time to time after characters speak. Also, there are odd moments during some cutscenes in which the music will suddenly change to mirror a shift in tone in the given scene. While this sounds like a good idea, it is poorly executed and breaks the flow of the given scene, almost to the point of being comical when done. Finally, the game likes to zoom in whenever a character makes a dramatic statement. Again, it sounds like a good idea, but when it occurs several times in one cutscene, my excitement quickly turns into nausea as characters continually shrink and enlarge on the tiny DS screen.

Despite its competent story and likable cast of characters, the gameplay of Sands suffers from many flaws. Part of leveling up involves in Sands is earning Customization Points (CP) by fighting battles and spending them on abilities, such as aerial attacks, magic, and healing spells. Unfortunately, the actual “customization” aspect falls apart when you realize that flurry attacks do exponentially more damage than any other type of attack, and are the easiest way to build battle points during battle to unleash each characters’ ultimate attack. CP can also be spent to increase an ability’s attack or accuracy, but failing to balance the two stats means inflicting miserable amounts of damage or watching in frustration as enemies dance around your attacks. If you do manage to mismanage your CP, there are items that allow you to reallocate the CP you’ve earned, but there’s only four of these precious items until the final dungeon. This further discourages experimentation, and means most battles will consist of watching the same attacks over and over again, and trust me, you will be battling. Random battles occur at a startling high frequency. I don’t care if they are a “staple of the genre,” I should be able to walk more than four steps without one occurring. Top it off with dungeons containing puzzles that take more dumb luck than reasoning skills to complete (Oh look, another labyrinth. Joy), playing Sands can be a painful process.

What is perhaps most unpleasant, however, is the game’s lack of transparency when it comes to its own battle system. Never before have I had to refer to a game’s instruction manual to figure out something as simple as building combo points, and I’m still confused by some of the game’s spells. For example, the game’s foes, and particularly bosses, have a nasty habit of using buffs with no indication of what they do. I have gone from doing damage, to not doing damage, and back to doing damage to a enemy for reasons that are still unknown to me. The biggest joke, though, has to be the turn indicator that’s suppose to tell you whose turn is coming up. Attempts at using the turn indicator to plan moves is rendered useless, however, when you realize that attacking the enemy will make their turn happen immediately...maybe. That’s right. Maybe. Whether or not the enemy decides to hack the system and go twice in a row is based on chance, meaning you’ll have to spend every turn preparing for a potential onslaught or face an untimely death. Oh, and there’s also a morale system the game never explains, but seeing how I managed to reach the final boss without understanding it, I won’t bother explaining it here either.

By a strange coincidence, I’m actually playing through Xenogears for the first time now, and I have a lot of the same feelings towards it as I do Sands: good story, but repetitive gameplay. Xenogears can be forgiven for being a classic and considerably older. Sands, I feel, cannot be afforded the same luxury. For every time a cutscene made me laugh or shocked me, there was a dull dungeon filled with boring battles waiting to ambush me and damper whatever positive feelings the game’s wonderfully created characters had left me with. Perhaps there’s something good to be said about a story that can push me through bad battle mechanics, but turning a blind eye to the frustration caused by the actual “game” part of the game feels wrong. Ten years ago, Sands could have been a competent clone and spiritual successor of one of the genre’s most beloved games. As it stands, however, it’s a flawed competitor that fails to rise above the brightly-colored bulwark composed of other good Japanese RPG’s that make their home on the Nintendo DS.

5/10

Disclosure: The game was obtained via game rental store and reviewed on the Nintendo DS. Approximately 18 hours was devoted to single player mode and completed once. There is no multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, the game contains violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language. These elements occur at low levels of frequencies and are fairly innocuous. There are some some religious themes in the game, and, at one point, the player must battle an enemy whose is similar to the Judeo-Christian concept of “God.” The similarity is small, however, and older children and teens will have no difficulty separating the two concepts, and the game does not actively challenge religious beliefs.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: While there is voice acting, all dialogue is presented in a text format. Characters do sometimes speak during battle without subtitles, but has no impact on gameplay. There are no auditory cues that must be heard to complete any of the games puzzles or conduct the games combat.

Last edited by etherangel; 12-17-2010 at 06:02 PM. Reason: V.3 of Review
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Old 12-15-2010, 10:32 AM   #2
RandomRob
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Re: Please Rate This Review: Sands of Destruction

I like your writing style, it comes off as relaxed and conversational. That's a big plus for me.

The stumble for me is the next to last paragraph. It's a little unfocused and comes off like a laundry list. Random suggestion: Maybe continuing to draw a comparison to Xenogears might help...?

I get the feeling that you wanted this title to be better. What would've made the difference?

That's all I've got.
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Old 12-15-2010, 04:09 PM   #3
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Re: Please Rate This Review: Sands of Destruction

Thanks for the feedback, Rob! I can see what your talking about with the last paragraph, and I had an issue with how it abruptly ended, too. I completely reworked it, I think the end product is less summary-like than the old ending paragraph. I edited the original post to include the change.

Ether
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Old 12-15-2010, 10:19 PM   #4
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Re: Please Rate This Review: Sands of Destruction

I have a suggestion for the next-to-last paragraph: I think it could be split into two paragraphs, one about the imbalance of the gameplay and the other about the lack of transparency of the game rules. All of your sentences support one of these two excellent points, so you wouldn't have to change much. Just a little restructuring and some transition sentences to smooth it out.
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Old 12-17-2010, 06:18 PM   #5
etherangel
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Re: Please Rate This Review: Sands of Destruction

Odof,

Thanks for your feedback. That paragraph was originally done that way, but I had combined them since they touched on similar topics. I took your suggestion, though, and added a little to both to beef 'em up. It put it slightly above the 1000 word suggestion, so hopefully it's not too long now!

Ether
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Old 12-17-2010, 07:13 PM   #6
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Re: Please Rate This Review: Sands of Destruction

I think this review is pretty tight.

I don't think you need to keep the comment about the morale system at this point, either. It just diverts from your comments about the battle meter, which are pretty serious.
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