If you've ever wanted to run your own blacksmithing operation then you'll certainly want to check out Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom.
After watching the trailer for Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom, I was intrigued by its seemingly expansive item creation mechanics, tactical-looking battle system, and dungeon crawling. Now that I played it, I must say that some of these areas delivered the goods while others should have remained in the kiln a wee bit longer. One thing that surprised me is how similarly Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom plays to the Atelier games which is one of my personal favourite game series ever. Going between gathering materials and fighting monsters in dungeons to organizing all of your treasures back at base in order to craft cool things, fulfill requests, and equip your party with swanky new gear is all very familiar. With that being said, Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom doesn't quite reach the heights of the Atelier franchise although it's surely a noble effort that's worth checking out, especially if you love retro-inspired games as much as I do.
Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom takes place in the humble Santburg Town and its surrounding dungeons. Its gameplay loop essentially has you gathering all sorts of goods by stealing from and defeating enemies as well as collecting them from designated spots and treasure chests. Once your party can't take much more adventuring or you've exhausted what the dungeon has in store, you can head back to town where you will likely spend an hour or 2 simply crafting stuff, setting up your party, and battling in the arena.
At first, the vast amount of options available to you is sure to impress. However, as you progress and become familiar with everything, the fun begins to slowly turn to tedium as you realise just how much busywork is required in order to fulfill requests and keep your party strong. Because of this, I highly recommend playing it in short bursts after you become accustomed to everything although that's a difficult thing to do because Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom can unfortunately be rather habit-forming and I don't necessarily use that as a compliment. Yes, it's great fun at first but once monotony rears its ugly head, you'll know it's time to play something else.
One thing that I love about Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom is how many distinct features it has via its party growth systems and Santburg Town's businesses. Each party member has a main class and subclass that you can change whenever you want from a selection of 14 and on top of that, they have their own religion (or faith) that provides a boost as well as lists of assignable passive skills and learned active skills and you can actually upgrade both types. Meanwhile, equipment can be created and modified with runes and you can eat at the tavern each day to get a huge boost of experience points although doing so can be pricy. There's also an arena with tricky battles and its own shop and currency. However, the place you'll spend the most time in is the workshop which features an absurd amount of items that you can create which you can then sell, equip, or hand in to complete requests. It all works together brilliantly.
Finally, allow me to discuss some odds and ends. I find Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom's art style very appealing in both its character sprites and portraits which help bring its diverse cast of characters to life. With that being said, I found most of the cast to be not much more than typical and I wish they had more substance to them which would have helped add more of a driving force to its story.
One last point is that the overall challenge isn't very well balanced because as long as you stay on top of swapping out gear and eating at the tavern, it's quite easy to become overpowered. The fact that you can redeem Exploration Skip tickets to amass a wealth of materials without any effort makes progress even easier. I even beat the bosses on my first attempts without much need for strategy.
Your enjoyment with Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom will vary according to how much mileage you get out of its gameplay loop until it begins to become tedious. Before that sinks in, it's a great RPG but afterwards, you'll gladly come back to it just every once in a while.
- + Mix of dungeon exploration and item creation is highly engaging
- + Lovely character art and sprites
- + Lots of nifty supplementary systems
- - Busywork eventually stops being fun so it's best played in short sessions
- - Cast isn't all that fleshed out
- - Could use better balancing