Unmissable at Summer Game Fest 2023 the presence of Bandai Namco Entertainment, which presented itself at Geoff Keighley’s event with the aim of bringing back one of the many worlds of Japanese manga created by the artistic flair of Akira Toriyama, with a production coming soon on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 e Xbox Series X|S dedicated to one of the least known works of the Dragon Ball dad. Let’s prepare supplies of fresh water at will, maybe even some +100 sunscreen and let’s dive into the desert dunes of SAND LAND in this preview!
SAND LAND: a story of friendship between demons and imperialism
We find ourselves in a period between the end of the 90s and the beginning of the new millennium and after having made a small contribution to the Dragon Ball GT project by Toei and Bird Studio, designing what posterity will be known as Super Saiyan 4, the good Akira Toriyama lives an experimentation phase. Between collaborations, Dragon Ball encyclopedias and small commissions, the good mangaka pulls small series like Peke the Alien, Tokimecha and Cowa out of his hat! Small self-contained works but which in the end allowed the author to “recharge the batteries” before the start of his new serialized adventure. Only one thing would have remained the same, his funny and irreverent style in the drawings and characters inserted in contexts that were at times absurd and with a parodistic flavour.
And it is precisely in June 2000 that Weekly Shonen Jump published the first chapter of SAND LAND, an adventure set in a dystopian futuristic society where humans and demons coexist together, trying day after day to survive an extreme drought which brought the entire planet earth on the verge of extinction. However, one day the only river of drinking water that supports the entire world population suddenly stops flowing, allowing a greedy and evil king to enter with outstretched leg and start selling – at prohibitive prices for most of the population – his personal branded bottles of water, thus holding a monopoly on the only source of water still in circulation. And who will ever stand against this all-grabbing tyrant and his unstoppable army? But obviously, as in most of Toriyama’s stories, the fate of the world is entrusted to an unusual trio, made up of the prince of demons Beelzebub, the thief Shif and the sheriff Rao, with the three setting off on a “desert road trip” in search – in addition to the immense boundaries of sand – of a ghost source capable of re-donating water to the population and discovering the most hidden secrets of their world.
A not indifferent cross-media effort
On balance, the plot of SAND LAND seems interesting and offers many original ideas together with some of the “warhorses” of the good Toriyama. Which is why the mangaka and some Bandai Namco insiders will most likely have made some calculations and thought “but yes, let’s do it”, giving life to a very particular cross-media operation. The development of the SAND LAND video game under ILCA Inc. was accompanied by the creation of a 3D animated film produced by the “new” Bandai Namco Filmworks, ex-Sunrise and best known for having given birth to very influential anime such as Code Geass, some series of the Gundam franchise and especially Cowboy Bebop. Fans of the first hour and the most curious will therefore have the opportunity to approach SAND LAND in several ways, recalling an approach similar to what was seen with the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series, where players could face the blonde ninja series through two very distinct interpretations and from the different directorial pacing.
Crazy fight in pursuit of the enemy tank… In the desert
But how is SAND LAND transposed into a video game? During the – albeit short – trailer presented at the Summer Game Fest event, several game sequences were shown that suggest an Open World RPG approach, in which the entire desert becomes a playground for Beelzebub and associates. Particularly when the trio takes control of an armored tank with which to face the forces of the king, and equipped with a wide range of special attacks such as homing rockets, energy beams or more traditional missiles. But not only that, other means were also shown with which to move between the sand dunes, from small mechas to futuristic machines or “very Pilaffosi” robots specialized in melees. Hand-to-hand clashes that can also be tackled by controlling only the Beelzebub, with the little prince who is able to defend himself with combos, slaps and psychic powers that ooze particles from every pore. Each of these components, from the vehicles up to most likely even the moveset itself of Beelzebub will be customizable and interchangeable between various loadouts set by the player.
In this vast desert there is no shortage of exploration sections, which will try to break the possible “monotony” of the desert world of SAND LAND and allowing the player to visit underground ruins and enemy outposts. The role of the fauna that surrounds the sand dunes of the game world remains unclear, and whether the game will adopt a “survival-like” formula in which the search for animal resources and not will lead to the acquisition of new skills, upgrades or other. One thing is certain: SAND LAND is proposed as a great adventure that will have to dose its contents wisely, avoiding running into the usual “stereotypes” of open world video games. In addition, ILCA will have to consider the notorious “elephant in the room” represented by its “transmedia” nature. In particular, the next presentations or trailers dedicated to the game will be essential to understand if the ILCA project will be able to stand on its own legs as a video gameand not as a simple licensed “tie-in title”.
Piattaforme: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4
Developer: ILCA Inc.
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: TBA
The cross-media project by Bandai Namco and Akira Toriyama has the potential to bring SAND LAND to a new type of audience, made up not only of those who may have recently approached the works of the Dragon Ball father, but also of that large slice of public that has not known his “experimental phase” arrived with the beginning of the second millennium. And if on the one hand Bandai Namco Filmworks’ film seems to promise sparks at the Japanese box office already from its first trailer, the ILCA production will have everything to prove and everything to lose. Because if it is true that what we saw at the Summer Game Fest 2023 constitutes the structure of a fun Open World RPG, the “curse of the tie-in” represents a Fantozzian cloud that is difficult to ignore, and there is a colossal difference between creating an excellent game and a “great for fans” game.