Sand Land Review: A beacon of light for anime games

With more and more anime/manga games available these days, it's refreshing to see a title like Sand Land stand out. After 19 hours of playtime, I've come to see it's a perfect example of how much potential anime and manga games have if the developers give them proper time and attention. Let's dig into it.

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Story

The Pichi village in Sand Land
Image by Pro Game Guides

Sand Land tells you the original Sand Land story with some original touches and natural additions. It starts the same as the manga with Beelzibub, Rao, and Theif going on an adventure to find the Legendary Spring to end the long-standing drought in the region. There are some drastic turns as you progress, but it never loses its charm.

With its adept world-building, the game does an excellent job of immersing you in Sand Land, making you feel like you're part of the adventure, and its well-balanced pace never makes you feel slowed or rushed into the narrative. Overall the story is captivating and provides a solid foundation for the gameplay (which is a weak point).

Unlike the manga, the games tell you the story through Beelzebub, who has a very childish and kind personality. This makes the story and events simple so that even a child can understand most of it. Despite its simplicity, the narrative doesn’t shy away from exploring complex themes like power dynamics and manipulation.

The story also adds and shuffles things around to fit the game, but nothing feels out of place, and sometimes, it does things better than the manga and anime. For example, the game has all ONA (Original Net Animation) episodes after the manga's main story and unlike some anime-based games, you get to unlock and play in those episodes instead of having to sit there and watch.

This introduces a new region and expands gameplay with additional vehicles and storyline but everything feels like a natural addition because of good worldbuilding and storytelling. Additionally, the pacing of the missions and timings when you learn about each character’s past and how that plays a significant role in the continuation of the story is masterfully executed.

The main weakness of the story is the lack of proper cutscenes, and most of the time, you will be tapping to go through each dialogue in a very stiff scene. The overall narrative will keep you engaged for the entirety of the game, and by the time you are done with the game, you will be left wanting more because of the lack of cutscenes, which is where I recommend watching the anime (if you haven’t already).

Score: 4/5

Artstyle

A waterfall of Sand in Sand Land
Image by Pro Game Guides

The art style of Sand Land is a fantastic blend of modern technology and love for the original content. The scenery, characters, vehicles, and cities are visually accurate, with a perfect touch of graphics that brings Sand Land to life in a way we always want from anime games.

The environment of Sand Land is brought to life with beautiful lighting effects and detailed textures. Each region has unique aspects and challenges that make you want to explore the map. Some regions are full of quicksand and sand alligators, and others have a sand waterfall that looks breathtakingly amazing.

The characters are designed with great detail and love, each remaining true to their source materials with their expressions and design. Even certain side characters had their charms, making the game feel good to play.

There is also a lot of stuff inspired by the iconic and my favorite anime, Dragon Ball. The capsules you use for storing the cars are like DynoCaps, the Pichi people are like Namekians, the royal army is like the Red Ribbon army, and much more have clear inspirations from Dragon Ball.

I especially love the character design for Zeo, which is Sand Land’s version of Frieza. Overall, there is a lot to appreciate in Sand Land for its accurate art style and graphics.

Score: 5/5

Gameplay

Tank fighting Royal Army in Sand Land
Image by Pro Game Guides


When it comes to gameplay, Sand Land has a lot to offer but it all feels underdeveloped. First, you have melee combat, which is as basic as it gets with normal attacks, powerful attacks, and a few barely useful skills. Then we have vehicles, which is where most of the gameplay lies.

There are four main types of vehicles: tanks, jump and combat bots, cars, and bikes. Tanks are heavily armored and pack a punch for medium to long range, while jump and combat bots are great for close-range combat. Bikes and cars are not as heavily armored, but they make up for it with their speed and usefulness for traveling across Sand Land.

There is also vehicle customization, where you can upgrade each of your owned vehicles and get new or upgrade parts already own. Later in the game, you can customize your vehicles visually, adding a layer of personality to each vehicle.

Most of your battles will be on vehicles, so you don’t have to deal with half-baked melee combat for 90% of the game. However, that remaining 10% is where you must fight with melee in certain main and side quests and bounty hunts.

Besides that, the game also offers a variety of side quests, bounty hunts, races, stealth missions, and other small world events. Side quests are mostly about fetching items, so it gets repetitive fast, and there is not much fun doing those, but bounty hunts are where I enjoyed the game most.

You can pick a target with a listed reward, usually some money and a vehicle frame, making most of these bounty hunts worth doing. Sometimes, these bounties require you to infiltrate the enemy base and other times, you have to fight the whole gang at once.

While going from place to place for quests and bounties, you will encounter small world events where you have to save vendors from enemies for some quick rewards.

Lastly, we have stealth, which is the worst part of the game because you don’t have a choice to skip it and fight enemies head-on. Although it’s a good concept, it’s very limiting, and all you can do is sneak on enemies and take them out, and nothing else.

The game has many ways to enjoy it, but it is nothing mind-blowing. In the end, Sand Land tries to do everything without having anything special to leave an impression.

Score: 3/5

Characters

Rao Beelzebub and Thief in Sand Land
Image by Pro Game Guides

Characters are my favourite aspect of the game, and the amount of detail put into their development is commendable. Each character has a unique personality and backstory that adds depth to the narrative.

All the protagonists have unique personalities, and as the story continues, there are small arcs dedicated to each of them, where you learn more about them and why they are the way they are.

The natural bonding with the characters and the trust they build for each other is unmatched. Additionally, the villains in the game are not just there for the sake of being antagonists. They have their own motivations and reasons, making them more than just one-dimensional characters.

However, the game lacks good dialogue to show these characters at their peak. What makes up for that is good English voice acting for each main character, where you can feel their personality and intention from the voice. Overall, the character development is one of the strong points of Sand Land, making you feel invested in their stories and rooting for them throughout their journey.

Score: 4/5

Verdict

Getting good anime/manga-based games is a rare treat, especially when some of the biggest anime games have recently failed badly; amidst that, Sand Land stands as a beacon of hope for the future of anime games. The game is developed with a keen understanding of the source material, so it’s solid regarding the story, art style, and characters, but it lacks the gameplay charm that makes it a complete game.

I felt satisfied after completing the game and spending a few extra hours trying to get all its bounty hunts and vehicles. I recommend every anime/manga fan to try this game out, as there is enough gameplay diversity to keep you distracted while you complete the game’s amazing story. 

A free copy of the game was provided to PGG by the publisher for review purposes.

For more Sand Land guides, check All Sand Land materials and how to get them here on Pro Game Guides.

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About the Author

Saqib is a freelance guide and codes writer at Pro Game Guides. He has previously worked at PlayBorderland, WePC, DualShockers, eXputer, Gamepur, and Rise Up Gamer. Besides playing and writing about games, he loves to spend time with his family and watch anime.
Find Saqib Soomro On: Twitter

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Sand Land Review: A beacon of light for anime games

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