Sand Land Review


The Sand Land series has seen a lot of love recently. In just the past year, it’s gone from being a small and fairly niche piece of Akira Toriyama’s catalogue thanks to a film, anime series and now a video game adaptation. As I mentioned back when I previewed the game, I was initially worried that due to the original manga only consisting of one volume that there wouldn’t be enough content to warrant making a game out of the series. But my worries were quickly pushed aside after actually jumping in. Sand Land the game doesn’t just adapt the original story created back in 2000. It massively expands upon it, creating an experience that is faithful to the source material but also introduces so many new locales, concepts, characters and creatures that flesh out this already interesting world and takes it from being a fairly narrow concept into a story worthy of making an RPG title out of.

Sand Land Preview Sand Land Review

For those that have never checked out Sand Land, the plot follows the journey of the Fiend Prince Beelzebub, Thief and Rao as they try to adventure across the desert landscape of Sand Land to locate the Legendary Spring rumoured to be located somewhere in the desert, in an effort to restore water to the people of Sand Land who are currently forced to pay the King’s exorbitant prices as he currently has a monopoly on the supply of water to the people.

But even if you are familiar with the original manga or the animated film, there’s still a ton of new content here that makes it worth checking out. The game goes far beyond the scope of the source material, which takes up roughly half of the main gameplay time here. As revealed in the pre-release trailers, following the completion of the Sand Land portion of the story, Beelzebub and crew make their way to the new region of Forrest Land for a completely new adventure that involves a new slew of characters, political factions and zones to explore that are a feast for the eyes after looking at sandy deserts for so long. I loved that the game was able to expand upon the source material so well and did it in a way where it felt like a natural progression of the story, largely due to the clever decision to start seeding some of the new additions during the parts of the Sand Land portion of the game. Some things were slightly changed with the original story to help make room for those additions and provide opportunities to get hand’s on gameplay wise. But don’t fear, the story overall does still remain very true to what you’ve read in the manga.

Sand Land Preview Sand Land Review

One of the strengths of Sand Land is its varied gameplay mechanics that consistently try to keep things really fresh and engaging. The game tries to offer it all. Open world adventuring, melee combat, vehicular travel and combat, puzzle solving dungeons, elimination missions, fetch quests, stealth sections, boss battles. It’s all here. This does assist in making the gameplay experience interesting and unpredictable, which I thoroughly appreciated. It also is one of the areas the game falls down in. By offering so many types of things to engage in, it becomes easier to spot the weaker parts of the game. The vehicular combat, puzzle solving/platforming and the boss battles are super fun and had me on the edge of my seat thoroughly engaged. But did find that the stealth missions for example and many of the side missions involving fetch quests that were bookended by extensive conversations to be much less appealing. Especially after the first few times of already doing a similar mission. There’s only so many instant fail stealth missions I can take back-to-back before it starts to take a toll on the overall pacing of the game.

Outside of the main quests, there’s also plenty to explore and find in the game’s open world. Traversing the world gives you plenty of opportunity to find items hidden in caves, naturally come across people in need that will present you side quests to complete and also tough boss and enemy encounters to discover. You’re also encouraged to utilise the various mechs you’ll come to posses to be able to reach and see everything the game has to offer. There are sections across bodies of water that will require use of the hovercraft, and points of interest on high cliffs that require the use of the jump-bot. You don’t always have the required mech at the time you discover the point of interest so it’s worth marking the spot on your map to come back to later.

Sand Land Preview Sand Land Review

Being an RPG I was expecting some level of customisation, and in this area Sand Land really delivers. The party characters are able to be enhanced as you progress through the game and level up. Beelzebub has his own skill tree that grants new upgrades, passive and active abilities, allowing you to spec the little demon out as you see fit. There’s also a secondary skill tree that focuses on the supporting characters in the party, allowing you to shape the skills of your companions and determine the ways they’re going to assist you when it comes to combat scenarios.

The customisation isn’t limited to just a character level though. You’re also able to customise the game’s many vehicles that you can collect, letting you tweak individual components such as their primary and secondary weapons, engines, performance chips and suspension, some of which have more noticeable impacts once changed. The Garage will also allow you to tweak the cosmetic side of your vehicles too, letting you personalise your mechs with custom colour schemes and decals. There is also a base building mechanic incorporated into Sand Land too. The home hub town of Spino is a rundown and desolate town when you first visit but as you complete more quests, meet new characters and convince them to take refuge in your hub, you’ll see the city start to grow & thrive, which in return opens up the opportunity for additional merchants to enter the town which furthers the rewards back onto you as you’re then able to purchase bigger and better items. Spino also comes with a customisable home base which you’re able to fully customise the appearance of with things like materials and furniture. Not a huge feature of the game but it’s there for those that love to spend time base building.

Sand Land Preview Sand Land Review

Another thing I mentioned in my preview and that continued to impress me was the inclusion of a full English dub. There is a lot of dialogue in Sand Land and I loved that the team went through the effort of recording dialogue for just about all of it. The performances are all really solid and bring a lot of emotion to the game’s darker scenes. And if you’re looking to check out the anime series after playing the game, or vice-versa, the cast is the same between the properties helping them compliment each other.

From a performance perspective, there were a few things that stood out while I played that can hopefully be addressed in a future patch. There are some performance hiccups, noticeable more in dense areas and towns in the later half of the game where the framerate intermittently drops, not game breaking at all, but noticeable as well as noticeable pop in while traversing the world. As well as a bug where spoken dialogue repeats multiple times or starting completely over if a scene gets interrupted by gameplay such as a combat encounter or point of interest. Minor gripes for sure but worth pointing out so they can hopefully be addressed.

Sand Land Preview Sand Land Review

Final Thoughts

Sand Land offers a fun and engaging world to explore as well as a colourful cast of characters to get to know and love. It expands well beyond the scope of the source material and does so in a way that is faithful and doesn’t take away from the original story. It is slightly let down by inconsistent mission design and some repetitiveness. But if you’re looking for a fun RPG to sink your teeth into or if you’re a fan of Akira Toriyama’s storytelling, I think you’re going to have a pretty great time.

Sand Land is a game that is very Toriyama though and through. Sure, looking at games like Dragon Quest or Chrono Trigger, they are Toriyama-esque because of his assistance with character designs. But Sand Land is pure Toriyama. It captures his world building, highlights his character and mech designs and best of all it captures the sense of comedy that has been an integral part of many of his works. It’s still incredibly sad the world has lost one of its greats. But I’m glad that he was able to go out with a bang, assisting the team with delivering us a great title, highlighting so much of what made him an incredible creator.

As for the development team. After working on Pokémon, One Piece Odyssey and now Sand Land, it’s been a huge few years for the team at ILCA and they’ve proven they can handle titles from some of the world’s largest franchises. Sand Land is another hit for the team and I’m pretty keen to see what they get their hands on next.

A PS5 review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

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Played On: PS5

  • + Captures the world and characters of the source material
  • + Expands on the story in original ways
  • + Fun mech combat, customisation and exploration
  • + Varied mission types and boss battles

  • - Inconsistent and repetitive mission design
  • - Minor noticeable technical bugs

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