Sega’s upcoming Nintendo DS exclusive RPG, Sands of Destruction is going to blow you away. With its superb production values, supremely beautiful visuals, and an amazing amount of voice acting for a DS game, this one’s a clear candidate for best handheld RPG when it finally reaches stores in early 2010. The Image Epoch-developed epic is in the process of being tweaked to improve game balance and a few other issues with the original Japanese version and based on my short time with a build at Sega’s press event last week, things are coming along very well indeed.
My brief hands-on time with the SOD consisted of watching the 5+ minute long, fantastic looking fully-voiced intro sequence and afterward, playing about 20 or so minutes of the main game in a few different areas. While the first thing that’s noticeable is how great the game looks, the voice acting is really what dropped my jaw. It’s not only clear as a bell coming from the tiny DS speakers, it’s about as good as it gets for a JRPG on the system. Yasunori Mitsuda’s dynamic score was equally stellar, pacing both the opening movie and gameplay with style. The overall impact of the aural assault makes it seem as if someone’s crammed a CD drive onto a DS cartridge.
After that few minutes of near anime-quality camera angles and a bit of plot intrigue, there was a quick battle to be fought that showed of the turn-based combat system and introduced two of the main characters. Let’s just say SOD does a solid job of pulling you into its game world by introducing the lead (Kyrie) who has the power to destroy the world and his enemy and soon to be party member (Morte) whose goal is world destruction. They’re initially on opposite sides of that particular fence, but we were assured that (in true JRPG fashion) things would get nice and twisty as the story continued.
The classic turn based combat is fast and both screens are used to display battlefields quite nicely. Flying monsters on the top screen can be hit with aerial or other attacks and from what I saw and played, some creatures can be pretty tough to take down. We also got to see a few later battles with more party members chatting it up but good during combat. Morte really enjoys her work as she takes out creatures, but it’s Taupy, the tiny, super-cute eye patch and bandanna wearing killer bear that steals the show with his one-liners that make him sound like a cross between Bruce Willis and Duke Nukem.
In towns, there’s a great map system on the top screen that makes it impossible to get lost unless you’ve a really poor sense of direction. The level of detail i everything from character and creatures to backgrounds clearly shows that 2D isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. More jaded players might not want to give this game the credit it deserves, but again, squeezing all this onto a DS cart (even an over-sized one with more memory space) just HAS to be commended.
The playable characters you’ll come across are quite an interesting mix, to say the least. Here are the official bios for each of them, along with some nice character art:
The protagonist of this story. Gentle and sometimes shy, Kyrie is genuine and honest with anyone and will always keep his promises no matter what lies in his path. He has never seen the world outside of his town of Barni.
Morte is a tomboy and a half. Always cheerful and up beat, she believes that life should be about having fun. She isn’t the romantic type, but once she realizes her own feelings she will run head-on towards her love. Childhood friends with Agan.
Agan is a childhood friend of Morte’s and is somehow whisked into traveling with her and Kyrie. Although he is kind and good-natured at heart, he hides behind a sometimes cynical demeanor to prevent from revealing too much of his real self.
Taupy always gets the job done, and is the best of his trade at treasure hunting. The gritty and hard-boiled little bear is the toughest of the team, joining Kyrie’s group instinctively – knowing it is the right choice for him. Teaches the pure-hearted and naïve Kyrie the importance of making his own choices.
As the last scion of the Dragon race, Rhi’a may look 15 but has actually lived for 300 years. Despite her girlish and bubbly features, her comments can be full of wisdom from her long life experiences. However, she tends to keep her comments short, which leads her to seem a little mysterious.
Naja is very much an intellectual and is committed to his ideal of “saving the world.” Sometimes obstinate, he tends to believe that his ideas are always correct. With a human mother and a feral father, he has grown under unfortunate prejudice from both the humans and the ferals.
We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Sands of Destruction as the game nears completion. With a wealth of RPGs on the handheld, this one is really looking quite memorable indeed and could be one of the best to date if everything falls into place.