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As someone who doesn't watch a lot of anime or read a ton of manga, I was very surprised to find out that Akira Toriyama had done more than just Dragon Ball. In fact, when I first saw SAND LAND's advertisement for its pre-order, I didn't even arrive at the conclusion that it was by the same creator! I figured someone had just taken heavy inspiration from the drawing style. 

Ironically, finding out it was based on a manga is the same thing that pushed me away from getting the game despite how much the graphic style had smitten me — I figured not knowing anything about the premise or its characters would end up in an absolute waste of time and money... however, it wasn't up to me, it seems. While I was able to hesitantly move on from the thought of buying it, I eventually found out there was a demo, and that's when my fate was sealed — I couldn't stop thinking about the game, and that's considering the demo was so bad! Enough about my backstory with it, though. Let's talk about my adventure through Sand Land. 

SAND LAND is an RPG adventure where you play as Beelzebub, the Fiend Prince, son of Lucifer. The premise is set with a cutscene that lets us know that the world fell into somewhat of an apocalypse about 50 years prior, and it was all thanks to humans and their stupidity. While I'm not actively looking forward to being reminded of the world's (possibly) inevitable end, climate change, and humanity's unique ability to continue reaching higher depths of idiocy, I was quite intrigued by it in this situation. As a newb in the world of anime and manga, it was a cool experience to see how it would unfold in such a setting, especially one that involves Demons. 

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This time around, the war has caused an extreme shortage of water all across Sand Land, and it's depicted in both humans and Demons, as the game begins with Beelzebub and a group of Fiends stealing supplies from the Royal Army. Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to the main premise as we meet a sheriff who boldly dares ask us if we'd accompany him to find the Legendary Spring — an oasis that could offer enough water to hydrate everyone. After this, we embark on a quest with him and Thief, who is Beelzebub's companion and also a Demon, too. 

Since the demo did such a poor job of giving me a feel for the game, I didn't quite know what to expect from the gameplay aspect. Thankfully, anyone who's ever played an open-world RPG (or even an RPG, really) will immediately feel at home, as it plays no differently — you can either progress the main story, spend your time doing a ton of side quests, or explore and loot everything in sight. I tried to balance and juggle the best I could so I wouldn't burn out any of them, but I ultimately spent so much time exploring and finishing smaller missions that I was only at the halfway point by the time I reached 40 hours! 

Evidently, I had fallen head over heels for the game. This is a good time to tackle an important question many newcomers might be having: can you play, enjoy, and understand SAND LAND in its entirety as someone who doesn't know the manga? The answer is a resounding yes. I had no idea who any of the characters were, and a few hours in, I already felt like I was part of the crew. ILCA, Inc. and Bandai Namco really did a phenomenal job at making this surprisingly lighthearted and humorous title an absolute delight to experience, even as an outsider. While the gameplay and narrative might be a bit slow for some, I didn't mind it one bit; I was very pleased I got to know the characters organically, and I can scarcely think of many games that I've liked such a large amount of the cast in. 

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The different dynamics play very well. Beelzebub and Roa's relationship was especially meaningful to me as they really help each other grow throughout time, especially with the personal (albeit a bit repetitive, but more on that later) dialogue, and there's a real sense of history whenever Thief interacts with his Fiend Prince. While I can't say much for those who already know the manga or anime, as a newcomer, it was great to experience.

That being said, there is a bit of a glaring issue — the dialogue repeats a lot. Whether it's random interactions between the cast, a scene that gets triggered if you arrive at a certain area, or the lines of a specific action, you'll be hearing them over and over and over. It got to the point in which I could actually speak with the characters. While that is (surprisingly) not that big of a problem for me, it certainly will become bothersome to anyone who finds it immersion-breaking or frustrating. Personally, I just used it as a way to remind myself to use Thief's ability to collect resources! It's a great way to never forget. 

Thankfully, there's more to the game than just the dialogue, as you'll spend a large chunk of your time exploring Sand Land for materials, quests, and even NPCs. As someone who had never tried a mech- or vehicle-heavy game before, I didn't expect to enjoy collecting them this much! It was very exciting to progress the story to get a new one so that I could then unlock areas that were previously out of reach (sometimes literally), as they all bring something new to the table. I would be a fool to say it's not mostly thanks to the great handling and variety, as it felt like they all played very differently. It was also very fun to mess around with their customisation, as not only can you change the way they look by adding different colours, patterns, and even stickers — especially if you get the Deluxe Edition! — but you can also tinker with their stats and weapons. I made sure to take my time and enjoy getting to know each one, which wasn't too hard, thanks to them being spread out throughout the game, so I spent a lot of time changing weapons and colours. It really brought a lot of fun!


In fact, I think I would be downright lying if I said that the vehicles aren't my favourite thing from SAND LAND (not counting the characters, of course). While the combat might be a bit dull for anyone looking for a challenge, I personally enjoyed how simple it was. All the enemies have fighting patterns that are easy to identify, and it's up to you to level up your mechs, as it's not through experience but instead by finding the right materials for an upgrade. Another way you can control the battlefield is through the characters' skill tree, where you can set points for Beelzebub and his companions, unlocking different passives and abilities. 

Upon seeing the combat was going to be on the easier side, I ramped up the difficulty to the highest setting, remained under-levelled, and made sure to only get some of the abilities and passives from the skill trees. Despite all of that, I was still acing every fight (even bosses!) without a problem, which might become incredibly boring for those who like binging games or fighting every enemy they see. It wasn’t an issue for me because I usually only fought when I felt like it (I wasn’t aiming to level up too much, anyway) and also because I still can’t get enough of those mechs. Seriously, the tank packs a punch! It’s a real delight to see, especially since it’s rare to be able to handle one outside of serious war games. Whenever I got bored and wanted a bigger challenge, I just went to pick a fight with enemies that were enough levels above me that they appeared as a skulls.

Unfortunately for those who are looking for a challenge, the simplicity goes beyond just combat — the overall loop is, too! For the most part, you'll spend your time picking up random quests from NPCs or finishing repeatable ones, such as Bounty Hunts. Roaming around Sand Land with my various vehicles while I unfolded all the side stories was more than enough for me to fall in love with the game; not only did the writers do a phenomenal job at delivering some hilarious punchlines (highlighted even more by the animated reactions from the cast), but the voice actors really brought a lot of life and comedy to it! It's hard to find that sort of charm just anywhere. 


Of course, I wouldn’t be very fair and honest if I didn’t highlight the repetitiveness one last time. At around mid-game, something big happens — I won’t mention what because it’s a spoiler! — and it made it evident how much of the gameplay is a bit of a copy-paste with a few tweaks situation. While I don’t mind any of these, I think it’s worth mentioning for those who do: the enemy variety is sorely lacking, the combat really boils down to just what the mechs can do, and once you’ve hit the halfway point, you’ve for sure seen everything there is to see… for the most part. Things will be different but only subtly, as you’ll still find yourself finishing similar tasks and fighting the same enemies until the end. 

Despite this, it was just easy for me to enjoy exploring Sand Land because so much of the game really hit the right spots, including what originally drew me in — the graphics. While most titles take place in either lush, nature-y areas or ginormous cities, I had never gotten to explore a desert before, and I couldn’t have ever imagined what a beauty it would be. The endless sand and dunes never got boring, as it felt more and more like home every time I came back to the game, and the subtle details really brought life to such a lifeless horizon. This was especially evident when I hopped onto my Super Ultrawide OLED monitor! What had already amazed me before was downright jaw-dropping, as seeing the blast waves from the shots or the bright red fire really made it a treat for the eyes. This all was only highlighted deeper by the surprisingly incredible soundtrack! 


The last thing that really captivated me from the game might sound a bit odd: the quality-of-life features; SAND LAND plays really well, and it goes outside of just a smooth controller scheme. The small things like being able to infinitely sprint outside of battle, pick up items while inside vehicles, and — possibly my favourite one — the ability to reload a weapon while unloading the other one on the enemy really made the already great experience better. Heck, I'm even grateful that the lootables have an obvious outline so you don't have to spend too much time looking around!

Overall, it has been an absolute pleasure to play SAND LAND. While it might have been its graphics that reeled me in, the characters and their brilliant chemistry and the mechs are what kept me coming back for more. There is absolutely no hesitation in me when I say that if you don't mind a few hiccups in the form of repetitive dialogue or endless silliness and goofy situations, then this is a great title to pick up, especially if you’re looking for a more casual experience.

8.00/10 8

SAND LAND (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.

Despite its shortcomings in terms of repetition and difficulty, SAND LAND is a very enjoyable experience that’s perfect for the casual gamer, even if you’ve never heard of the manga before.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Violet Plata

Violet Plata

Staff Writer

Liable to jump at her own shadow.

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