Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Edelweiss
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2020


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Switch/PS4/PC Preview - 'Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 20, 2020 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin offers a genre-defying mixture of side-scrolling action with the complexities of rice cultivation set against the mystical backdrop of Japanese mythology.

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Since the title was announced in 2017, we've checked on the progress of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin at every E3 event, and every time we do, the game seems to get better and better. The look evokes some modern 2D classics, the combat is engaging, and the farming aspects are done so well that even those who aren't interested can still find enjoyment in it. While we didn't get a proper E3 this year, we did get a final release date for the game and one last preview look with a near-final copy for the PC.

The premise is reminiscent of something from Disney or Studio Ghibli. You play the role of Sakuna, daughter of the god of combat and the goddess of farming. Born into the role of the goddess of the harvest and already a noble, you've become spoiled by the ease of your role. That changes when a group of humans cross into your world via a bridge, and while you tried your best to chase them away, you ended up burning down your reserves of alcohol, oil and rice that were meant to be a sacrifice to the supreme goddess. As punishment, you and the trespassing humans, along with your sword's familiar, are banished from the celestial palace and sent to the isle of demons to cleanse it of evil.

Interestingly, while Sakuna is the star of the show, the party of humans is the most intriguing, since you aren't immediately told of their backstories. You'll discover some of those things in a few key cut scenes, but other pieces of information are uncovered during dinnertime meals in otherwise idle conversation. Some big pieces of information drop during the early moments, and I won't spoil that here, but it'll be intriguing to see how the side characters develop over the course of the adventure.

Aside from having plenty of voiced cut scenes that are all done in-game, Of Rice and Ruin focuses on two main gameplay mechanics. The first is the combat, which takes place in 2D stages. Initially, the game feels like Muramasa: The Demon Blade due to your ability to juggle enemies and get some high-digit combos when fighting them. While you don't need to switch out weapons or worry about them breaking in the middle of a fight, you still have two on your person at all times, as each is used specifically for heavy or quick attacks, and they can level up to unveil more abilities until you switched them out for something better.

The standout feature is Sakuna's Divine Raiment, a fabric that initially looks like a glowing scarf but can do so much more once you acquire more abilities. In our preview, the first ability lets the raiment latch on to any surface within a set distance. While this doesn't necessarily mean you can start swinging away like Bionic Commando, you can pull yourself toward walls and ceilings and jump from there, a technique that'll be familiar to Worms players who have mastered the use of the ninja rope. In combat, the technique is useful for pulling yourself toward the enemy to appear a good distance behind them, which is great defensively but gives you an opportunity to fall behind an enemy and attack them while they're unprotected.

Another interesting wrinkle to the combat is the hunger meter. The meal that Sakuna had the night before will determine how full she is as well as any stat bonuses she'll start with. That meter depletes over time and will do so faster if you get hurt, since it regenerates health as a result. Once it empties, no more health regeneration can occur, and the stat bonuses are gone. While the game is kind enough to not deplete your main health bar while you're hungry, there's simply no way to address your hunger or health beyond leaving a stage to go home and eat, a move that may irk some but does put an interesting spin on the fights.

Combat also features a day and night cycle, which is novel at first since most games simply freeze time when fighting. At first, the mechanic seems to be superficial, since you'll see stages transition toward different lighting states with a few weather effects. It isn't until night falls that you realize that the fighting works against you, with every creature becoming more powerful and much more resistant to your attacks. Thankfully, you can retreat from fighting at any time, but it gives each location a time limit, so you must choose between fighting and exploration in each run.

Based on what we've seen before, the fighting in Of Rice and Ruin is rock solid, but that only comprises half of the game. The other half deals with farming, specifically rice farming. It ends up being more detailed than you'd expect, since you'll take part in just about every step of the rice-making process. You start by planting the rice seeds, taking care not to plant them too far apart. You need to make sure that there's more than enough water in the paddy, and you need to get rid of any bugs that'll eat the crops or weeds that'll take away precious water and nutrients. Once the time comes, you have to cut down the rice and place it on drying racks. After the rice grains are dry, you take them to be threshed before milling them to get rid of husks and determining if you want to make brown or white rice. When all of that is done, you till the soil to make it pliable, add fertilizer created from your own personal waste along with items gained from combat, and check on the seeds in the storehouse to make sure they're ready to start the process again. It is very involved but also rewarding, since crop growth ties into leveling up and gaining abilities, so while you may be tempted to let the game do all of this for you, you gain more benefits by doing all of this yourself.

Beyond the farming comes the fact that combat yields more than just fertilizer ingredients, since you'll get items to cook your meals. Like a survival game, each fresh element has an expiration date, and while a number of things can be dried or prepared into dishes that can last forever, other ingredients need to be cooked for your meals, so they don't become more fertilizer ingredients.

The only issue one may see with the game so far is the need for level repetition. Each level in the early stages is seen less as an opportunity to rid the island of demons and more of as hunting and gathering expeditions, whether it's for fresh food, fertilizer parts, or items that can be crafted into more armor and weapons for yourself. However, some of these areas won't unlock until you've completed a certain number of tasks in one area, and some of those tasks can take multiple runs before they're done. Throw in the day and night cycle and the fact that revisiting areas doesn't change the enemy makeup, and you'll get moments when combat becomes a grind, since you don't unlock new locations too often.

There's less than a month to go before Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is released, and so far, it is living up to the promise shown all those years ago. With excellent combat and slightly involved farming mechanics backed up by an interesting cast of characters, there's plenty here for fans to get excited about. Look out for a full review of this game soon.

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