On a portable console filled with primitive-looking 3D RPGs, Sands of Destruction kicks it old school.

The Nintendo DS has a huge number of fantastic RPGs…the only problem is many of these games are presented in 3D while using the Nintendo DS’ meager hardware.  This gives gamers deep and entertaining games cursed with distractionary (is that even a word?) graphics that would make anyone cringe.  Enter Sands of Destruction.

In an alternate reality, humans are considered “animals” and, in some cases, even kept as slaves by the anthropomorphic Ferals that run the world.  A group known as the World Annihilation Front attempts a rebellion against the Ferals, with the intention of destroying the world in the process.  What role do the main characters have in all this?  You’ll have to play the game to find out…no spoilers here!  The story is a bit simplistic, but it does a good job of pulling you in.  Major and minor plot points are revealed in an organic way, with just enough of the story revealed at a time to entice you to eagerly bite the hook and find out what happens next.

Sands of Destruction is one of the few RPGs on the DS that uses sprites for the majority of the game (although the game world is still rendered in 3D.)  The characters look great, with a variety of animations and distinctive looks that really help set them apart from each other.  The animations for different combat moves and spells are especially well done…not that this is surprising; the development team had over 50 employees, including people who had worked on Xenogears, Grandia, and Etrian Odyssey.  This goulash of developers helps give Sands of Destruction a unique identity in an overcrowded market.

The turn-based combat system is interesting.  Some moves are single-shot heavy hits, while other moves are weak set-ups for more powerful, multiple-hit combos.  The top screen on the DS is used in combat for flying enemies, which, while keeping things interesting, doesn’t change the dynamic of combat too much.  There are different moves that you have to level and use for ground-based or air-based enemies, but air-based moves tend to deal out more damage, so you don’t need to pump them up nearly as high as the ground-based attacks.  There are a few fights where things get hairy, but you won’t be challenged by this title (especially by RPG standards.)  While a higher difficulty level would be welcomed, there are plenty of choices for the DS if you really want something brutal.

Although you can save your game nearly anywhere and anytime, Sands of Destruction suffers from extended conversations before and after major battles…conversations which you have to go through over and over should you wipe (or if you have to turn off your DS prior to the battle/conversation ending.  Luckily, you can just flip the top closed and suspend the system mid-conversation with no problem.)  Being forced to sit through long conversations with no way to save is a horrible design choice, as we’ve covered before.  Another problem is that the game seems to shift back and forth between requiring you to hit “A” to continue the conversation, and simply continuing the conversation at its own pace regardless of what you do.  A little too frequently, thinking the conversation had “paused” while the game waited for my input, I would look up at whatever DVD/stream from Netflix we were watching…only for me to look down and see the game had given me the middle finger and continued on.  If you’re aware of it, you can easily tell whether the game will continue without your input (you won’t see an icon pointing down next to the conversation box), so keep an eye out to ensure you don’t miss anything.  After all, Sands of Destruction’s strong point is its story!

Despite some minor annoyances, Sands of Destruction is a solid RPG for the Nintendo DS (or any system, for that matter.)  Clocking in at 20-30 hours, it’s a bit long for a portable game, but less than average for the genre.  If you have a DS, I highly recommend you pick it up…this is one RPG you will very likely play until the end.