Sands of Destruction
In Sands of Destruction, the medieval world is ruled by an anthropomorphic race of animals called "Ferals" who subjugate human beings as slaves
- Unique RPG elements and battle system, solid difficulty
- Cookie-cutter characters, lacklustre story made worse by terrible voice acting
A worthwhile RPG from the developers behind Xenogears, Sands of Destruction never really comes into its own, relying on too many genre conventions and hampered by a lacklustre story.
Where most Japanese role-playing games shoehorn you into the role of a naïve teenager on a salvation quest, Sands of Destruction does the polar opposite: it actually tasks you with the job of destroying the world, albeit it in a strangely heroic fashion. Unfortunately, that promising premise quickly becomes generic and it ruins the experience before this adventure ever has a chance to save itself.
In Sands of Destruction, the medieval world is ruled by an anthropomorphic race of animals called "Ferals" who subjugate human beings as slaves. As common-village-boy-turned-chosen-one Kyrie, you experience a mysterious sequence of events which lead you to join up with the "World Annihilation Front," a human resistance group whose mission is to destroy the world and bring an end to the Ferals' rule over mankind. As you progress through the game, fighting Feral beastlords and members of the World Salvation Committee along the way, Kyrie slowly unravels the secret behind why he holds the power to destroy the world. The setup, which is interesting, isn't the problem, however: it's the fact that getting to the end of the mystery is a cringe-worthy experience. An angle like that should carry dramatic weight, but it feels like Sands of Destruction crammed in way too many jokes and off-colour humour to appeal to a wide demographic, which made it hard to care about the most important parts of the plot.
Although it features a substantial amount of voice acting, Sands of Destruction would have actually been better off without it. Much of the dialogue (especially from leading femme fatale Morte) is punctuated by voice acting so bad, it made me flinch every time I heard it; the script is also painfully over-acted. It's especially grating whenever the game tries to introduce a new character, most of whom are copy/pasted clichés I've seen from plenty of other titles. Regardless, when the most intriguing character in your RPG is the mascot -- in this case, a gruff-voiced teddy bear named "Taupy" -- your main cast of heroes isn't really cutting it. Luckily, voice acting can be easily switched off, which gives more room for the satisfying yet ultimately forgettable musical score, composed by Yasunori Mitsuda. Apart from the annoying random battle music (which you hear through most of the game and almost every boss fight), Sands of Destruction benefits from a wide range of background melodies in most towns and the cleverly designed dungeons. However, unlike his other masterpieces from Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and Xenogears, Mitsuda's musical contributions merely carry the game's various set pieces, rather than establishing them. It's a solid effort, but nothing in the soundtrack is catchy enough to get stuck in your head.
However, Sands of Destruction does manage to distinguish itself with an interesting combat system, paired with a difficulty scale that keeps battles pretty competitive throughout the game. In combat, turns are regulated by Battle Points, which actually grant you several actions per turn rather than just a single command. Instead of just selecting a single attack or one item to use per turn, you can use both and more depending on your character's level. It's refreshing to finally play an RPG where I can heal my party and still attack without having to waste a move. Being able to attack, recover, and defend all at once becomes especially handy in the challenging boss battles, where any powerful string of attacks will often leave your party on the verge of death. Some elements of Xenogears are clearly present (as it should be, since Sands of Destruction housed some members of the development team), as much of the damage-building mechanic is based on chaining together long strings of combo hits. Additionally, a robust customisation feature that allows you to level up those attacks also provides a nice bit of character micro-management, but it takes a while to unlock any decent skills.
But even with a good combat system that echoes Xenogears and various (better) RPG titles, Sands of Destruction is positively lackluster everywhere else. It's not graphically stunning or distinctive, and if the terrible voice work doesn't ruin the story for you, I can't imagine the anticlimactic ending will be much of a reward for most players. Grind through this cheesy apocalypse story only if you're already a fan going into it.
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