December 18, 2009 – Since its inception back in late 2005, developer imageepoch has shown a lot of love to Nintendo’s hardware. The game makers are specialists in the realm of fantasy RPGs, and now they’re gearing up for an all-new adventure on DS. Sands of Destruction is perhaps the company’s most traditional offering to date, though here, too, they aren’t merely settling for the status quo.
The game takes place in a world where humans are kept in subjection to a sentient animal race known as Ferals. Desperate times eventually lead to desperate measures, and a group called the World Salvation Committee decides that the only way to bring about true freedom is through the destruction of the world itself.
From what we’ve experienced of the game so far, character interactions are in keeping with the style of traditional JRPGs, but we’re promised a few interesting twists as the story unfolds. The main character, Kyrie (which is the Greek name for God), is discovered to have great destructive powers, and he will ultimately become embroiled in a war between the game’s opposing factions.
Sands of Destruction is a fairly straightforward, turn-based RPG in most respects, but imageepoch has managed to sprinkle in some neat, little gameplay tidbits that make the adventure feel fresh. They’ve also spared no expense with respect to the game’s production values, and folks looking for more of a console-style experience on the go will want to keep their eye on this one.
You travel around towns and dungeons in real-time, yet there’s an overworld-selection map for fast travel across areas of great distance. Like RPGs of old, battles are random, and you won’t see monsters coming. Many folks still love the formula, but we’re hopeful the game doesn’t become a grind as the story progresses.
When it comes to the game’s battle system, Sands of Destruction seems to take inspiration from the likes of Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, requiring players to input attacks in real-time during their respective turns. Rather than simply selecting an attack command and sitting back as your characters do the work, you’ll execute combos using various button presses. Each type of attack uses up energy, and once it’s depleted, the turn for that particular character ends. Thus far, battles are fairly basic, not quite treading the same territory as the very combo-centric, fighting-style combat in Super Robot Taisen: OG Saga (DS).
Battles utilize both screens of the DS, which, of course, looks really good and adds a bit of excitement to gameplay. The developers have also implemented something called “quips” that will allow characters to randomly shout battle cries that fortify your party members. A small indicator on the bottom left of the touch screen keeps track of the order of turns in battle, making it easy for players to form strategies on the fly. A convenient and well-devised map is present on the top screen at all times during exploration, and players can move the camera freely with the system’s shoulder buttons. The interface, as a whole, seems thoroughly fleshed out.
The game’s environments are all polygonal, though character sprites are 2D. It’s a nice visual mix, especially during battles. Characters are less chibi and more akin to the sprites from The World Ends with You (DS). The art style isn’t a great departure from your typical JRPG, but buildings and objects are all beautifully rendered on DS. There are some particularly flashy moments in battle when characters let loose their special attacks, and SEGA (the game’s publisher) is boasting over 300 unique cutscenes, bringing tons of panache to the overall presentation.
Where the game really leaps off the tracks of the norm, however, is in its soundtrack. There’s quite a bit of voice work going into the package, and the music and sound effects exhibit an impressive attention to detail. A wonderful stereo mix makes the game sound more on par with console RPGs, though the actual melodies aren’t necessarily breaking any new ground.
With key designers from such series as Xenogears, Etrian Odyssey, and Grandia, Sands of Destruction is sure to offer a top-quality RPG experience on Nintendo’s popular handheld. In terms of gameplay, we don’t expect a great deal of innovation, though we’re still pretty excited by what we’ve seen of the game so far. SEGA is shooting for a mid-January release, and we’ll have our full review for you after the holiday break.