Title: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
Release Date: November 10, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: XSEED Games
If you told me that a game with hardcore farming elements and action would be one of my favorite games of the year, I don’t know if I’d believe you. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin from developer Edelweiss has been a game that I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time. However, I’m used to my expectations overshadowing reality and didn’t want that to affect my experience. Well, after playing, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin blew those expectations away.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin begins by introducing us to Sakuna, who may look young, but she is definitely an adult, and she’ll tell you as many times as you need to hear it. She has an overbearing ego that really makes it hard to like her as a person. This is ultimately what leads her to become banished from her celestial home to a demon-filled island with a group of humans.
That narrative finds Sakuna taking care of these humans as she investigates the island to rid it of its monster problem. Interestingly, the developer didn’t hold back when it came to writing in scenes of the growing pains that come with living with people you don’t know and the added responsibility that Sakuna has to keep them alive. These characters each have a troubled past, and as much as they’d like to make light of it, you can tell they are hurting.
Just as much as Sakuna is the main protagonist, the story encompasses these other humans. Over time, they find their place in the community and slowly get closer to Sakuna. Still, this takes time, and you’re often subjected to witnessing some pretty heated exchanges between them all. Sakuna is no saint either; she is perhaps the most complex out of all of them, but the way that this game captures these relationships is moving and even brought me tears during moments when they shared the most growth.
The gameloop of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has players progressing through the seasons, with each year revolving around a harvest. The years go by at a decent speed and don’t overstay their welcome. In the beginning, things are tough for the group as they find their place, but over the years, skills are gained that make farming and hunting more manageable.
This is because everything you do gains some experience that will help you improve in that field. So if you pull a lot of weeds, well, you’ll get faster at it or be able to spot them easier, or the more you plant, you’ll improve with added effects like a grid and way to see the water and temperature levels. It makes the entire event rewarding as you progress.
Sticking with farming, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin goes all in. Players are tasked with grabbing the rice seeds, planting them one by one, watching over them, cutting them down when they are ready, hanging them to dry, pulling out the rice, and pounding away to your chosen quality, then hoeing the ground for next season. After it’s over, you’re graded on the yield and must survive on it through the winter, which then improves Sakuna’s stats.
These gameplay moments require some pacing because you’ll be more or less just doing quick time events. Now, it is possible to ask someone else to do it, but at the cost of quality. However, as I said previously, every time you do stuff, Sakuna improves, and overtime, these tasks become much more manageable. While playing, though, it’s cathartic in a way as you watch Sakuna respond to your button presses; there are no inconveniences from missing a button press during this section, so taking your time or going as fast you want is up to you. Although you are graded on how you plant and take care of your crops, that’s something to keep in mind.
Outside of farming, you can travel to different locations across a world map. Each area has a list of tasks and materials that can be gathered. Completing these takes is necessary to discover new areas, so if you aren’t progressing, it’s probably because you need to complete more of the tasks which revolve around killing a certain number of enemies, collecting a certain number of items, defeating a boss, or just getting to the end of the level.
Levels begin straightforward for the most part but get much more complicated by year four. The stages not only get longer, but the enemies become more ruthless. It’s around this time that you should be actively upgrading your equipment and utilizing ability stones to make these encounters easier. Furthermore, Sakuna has a list of skills that she can equip to add to her combos; these consume MP but are needed if you hope to get through some of these sections.
Sakuna can equip two weapons, a one-handed and two-handed. These are quickly cycled through in combat and act as your light and strong attacks. Combos are everything in this game if you’re trying not to take damage and require you to utilize a scarf attached to enemies and walls to whisk Sakuna through the battlefield.
Once you learn how to control it, encounters become a balance of when to move out of the way and when to land your attacks. There’s also a parry feature and ways to use the environment to cause damage to enemies. Fighting at night is advised in the early hours because enemies are just way too powerful. However, some tasks will ask you to do that, but you can just hold off on them until later.
Battles in the game require some strategy as you fling enemies around and utilize all the skills Sakuna has equipped. This game can get pretty tricky at times and features some tough boss encounters. Dying sends you back to the entrance of whatever area you’re in and refills your health, but anything collected is lost.
I wish there were easier ways to heal Sakuna out in the field, but a lot rides on what she eats the night before, which provides stat boosts. Eating in the game will end each day, but food can spoil if you don’t find a way to use it. There are preservation means, but maintaining your inventory and menu will allow you to fine-tune your adventure. It’s something that definitely becomes a must in later parts of the game if you’re playing on higher difficulties.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is graphically a stunning game. The environments all change depending on the season, and the character models for each character fit their personality. I would have liked some different clothes to be worn while at home because it just seemed strange running around barefoot in the snow, but the customizable equipment allows for some pretty cool looking Sakuna designs while out in the field.
The music in the game definitely stands out and sets the tone for the entire adventure. I also enjoyed the English voiceover as much as the Japanese voiceover, but you can choose whichever you like more. Other options include setting the difficulty of the battles and farming sections, which can be changed at any time.
I don’t think Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin can be classified as one single genre. It’s blending of farming and action only scrapes the surface of what this game actually offers. Still, by looking at those two pieces alone, there is a ton of excellent moments of gameplay to experience. Yes, it’s very much a farming game, and yes, it is full of action, but these two systems run seamlessly alongside a beautiful story and brilliant presentation.
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