Step one: Get outta bed and head to the tavern with your squad for a meal. Step two: Check out your request list from the guild and head out for some good ol’ dungeon-crawling murders and rock-slapping. Step three: Turn in quests, check rewards, then head back home to turn all your junk into materials, equipment, and household goods. Step four: Open up shop and make some cash. Go to sleep, spend your money on stuff you need, then head back to the tavern. It’s the life of a shop-owner in a JRPG world, and you’re living it.

Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom is another bite-sized JRPG romp published by KEMCO, and this one’s developed by Rideon. One of the more renowned contributors to the KEMCO canon, Rideon has been seen elsewhere with series like Mercenaries SaGa and the Adventure Bar series. This developer’s distinct visual style and interest in hella numbers going up once again takes the stage here. But instead of running something like a military unit or a bustling restaurant, Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom is more like Torneko’s chapter in Dragon Quest IV with a job system slapped on top.

Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom Review

There’s a little Wizardry/Etrian Odyssey sprinkled on top as well. All your options are laid out in front of you on a small map, and you’ll be constantly re-visiting the same spots as you explore deeper dungeons and build stronger items. If you get roughed up, you have to go back home and eat crow as you open your wallet for the local doctor. You aren’t playing a hardcore dungeon crawl (it ain’t first-person either), but those bits of familiar structure are noticable. Everything here supports a loop that is wholly unsurprising, but elegant in its cohesive execution.

Rideon’s sprite work is as comfortable as always, and the localized text doesn’t miss any details. The quality of life here is about as good as possible, with menus, filters to help you get what you need, accurate and detailed descriptions and very little guesswork for hunting specific materials. The titular blacksmithing is actually a lot more on autopilot than I expected. You make your items, list them for sale, then your lady friend handles the rest. The real meat in Sand Kingdom is all the minutia available for character building.

 

There are several different classes or jobs in this game, with a starting roster of obvious picks and more specialized roles you get as request rewards. Each class has its own stat balancing and equipment restrictions, but more importantly a list of bespoke skills. Unlike games like Final Fantasy V that limit crossovers, all you have to do is drop some money on a new skill to have it tied to your character(s) forever. Passive skills follow similar rules, but do restrict you with finite slots you have to level up for. But once you put effort into something, it’s always available as an option in most cases. For example, one of my crew is a Priest/Sage, giving him lots of healing and badass murderspells. But the MP situation is crucial, and only the Wizard gets some MP regen. So I popped this kid over to Wizard long enough to put some coins in the passive I wanted, then was able to swap back without losing that skill.

Customization isn’t just limited to ability pools; it’s also a big component of equipment. There’s a static list of things you can craft, which naturally expands as you master recipes. But each piece of equipment has upgrade slots, and you can find a metric buttload of runes to fit in those slots. These runes run the gamut from basic stat bumps, to targeted damage boosts, drain properties, aggro management and more. When you want to give someone a new weapon, you can either transfer those runes to the new thing, or simply dismantle the item and get your runes back in the bag.

 

This sense of having a character build playground is really what makes this game appealing. It’s a super routine grind loop, with a lot of repeating tasks that are more about showing you bigger and bigger numbers. But the amount of control over your five-person party is so much fun. Did I mention you also get to choose your party’s formation and placement within for more bonuses? How about being able to choose (and amusingly change whenever) a deity to worship for further spec-tweaking? It’s like having a big bag of Skittles. They barely taste different from each other, but eating a bunch is still gratifying.

 

Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom is a breezy little game that doesn’t front any ambitions it doesn’t have. There’s barely any storytelling, no meaningful side activities to speak of, and the dungeons are basically all the same. But you get all of that upfront with no pretense or undeserved fanfare. This isn’t a huge game you invest all your brain juice in; it’s a chance for JRPG nuts like myself to take it easy but still get that dopamine hit. There isn’t a lot to it, but everything there is appropriately presented and works as you expect it to. You don’t even have to set your expectations by yourself, really. 


 

Pros:

  • Low-pressure gameplay with constant progress
  • Incredible freedom in character building, without compromising individuality
  • There’s something about Rideon’s sprite art that just speaks to me, you feel me?

Cons:

  • The loop doesn’t change. Like, at all.
  • Don’t like to grind? Don’t play this game.
  • The text/localization has personality, but nothing you read is compelling or memorable enough to retain.

Score: 7

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review