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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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PC Review - 'Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 12, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

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.

Buy Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin

When it was released at the launch of the SNES, ActRaiser was unlike anything else at the time. Half of the game was a typical side-scrolling adventure with good combat, platforming, and boss fights. The other half was a city-building god game where you helped the inhabitants of the land with their issues and grew the place while also fending off monsters and other natural disasters. Each part was good on its own, but when combined, it made the game a memorable experience that acted as an early highlight for those willing to plunge into the new console. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin takes on that same spirit by fusing together two game genres that seem like odd fits — and coming up with a title that is a real gem.

You play the role of Sakuna, daughter of the god of combat and the goddess of farming. Born into the role of nobility as goddess of the harvest, you've become spoiled in your role due to how easy it is. That changes when a group of humans cross into your world via a heavenly bridge, and while you tried your best in your inebriated state to chase them away, you end 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, and you can only return when the place is peaceful once again.

The spoiled goddess Sakuna is the obvious star of the show, and her character growth is what drives the story, but the human characters are also interesting. There's Myrthe, a missionary who immigrated to Japan to spread the word of her religion. Kaimaru is the youngest of the group and son of a bandit leader, while Tauemon is a bandit samurai who has shunned the bandit lifestyle. Along with the orphans Yui and Kinta, the group contains a great deal of backstory and unique personality, so you'll be equally interested in their plight as the story progresses.

As mentioned before, this is a game of two halves. The first half revolves around combat, with the game shot from a 2D side-scrolling perspective. You have standard light and heavy attacks, but they're done by two different weapons. Levels feature no real bottomless pits, but you have to avoid lots of spiked areas that also work to your advantage, since you can lure enemies into them.

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. 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 the ceiling and jump from there, a technique that'll be familiar to Worms players who have mastered the use of that game's ninja rope. In combat, the technique is more useful for pulling yourself toward the enemy and appearing a good distance behind them; it's great defensively but also gives you an opportunity to fall behind an enemy and attack them while they're unprotected. The combination of various attacks and the Divine Raiment transforms the game into a side-scrolling Devil May Cry-type title, where you can juggle enemies and deliver loads of exciting combos.

Combat also features a day and night cycle, which is novel since most games freeze time when fighting. At first, the mechanic seems pretty, since you'll see stages transition toward different lighting states and 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 until much later in the game, when you have a fighting chance against nighttime creatures. You can retreat from fighting at any time, but each location has a time limit, so you must choose between fighting and exploration in each run. That means you'll never have enough time to complete all of the required objectives in a level before night falls, so you'll need to repeat levels multiple times before you feel that you can move on.

Between fights, you have a good deal of things to do, but some tasks are only available if you gather the necessary ingredients to build each person's work hut. For example, Yui needs a place to craft clothes for you, while Kinta crafts weapons that can have be upgraded as you use them more. Once you get a dog through Kaimaru's efforts, you can send anyone away for a few hours to gather more ingredients. Myrthe does the cooking, which is more involved than in other games, since you can either let her construct the menu or do it yourself. Aside from replenishing your health, dinner levels up your stats depending on what you eat, so you have a reason to choose dishes if you want to work on a specific stat. Story-wise, dinner time also uncovers some story progression and some character lore; it feels natural and makes this random assortment of characters feel like a family.

The combat portion of Sakuna also adopts a few elements from survival titles. You get hungry over time, but you won't lose any health in this state; the game opts to have no gradual health refills outside of combat. Some of the items you pick up may go bad if they aren't cooked or preserved into another dish. Again, the inclusion is small but interesting.

The second half of the game has to do with farming, but you only have to worry about one task: farming rice in a small paddy. For the duration of the game, you only farm rice in that same small paddy, despite the game expanding the farming to different and larger paddies as the story progresses. While the farming focus is solely on rice, it's still quite detailed because you can't just plant the crop and wait a few days to reap the rewards. You start by planting the rice seeds, taking care not to plant them too far apart or too close together. You need to make sure that there's more than enough water in the paddy at the right temperature, which can be controlled via two gates that can add water or take it away.

On occasion, you'll get rid of 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. Once it's dry, you take it to be threshed before milling it to get rid of husks and determining if you want to make brown or white rice. Once 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.

Those with actual rice-growing experience may find that some steps are missing, but there's no argument that the process feels rather thorough. The game gives you the chance to automate some of the steps, but the Zen-like nature of each activity and the knowledge that you can achieve higher proficiency percentages compared to some of the automation encourages you to do this on your own.

As in combat, repeating the farming techniques makes you level up, which gives you access to new tools, like a grid to help you visualize where to plant each rice stalk. You can talk to Tauemon to read up on the farming teachings left behind by your mother, and helping Kaimaru means you get animals to help with the farming process. All of this becomes important, as the amount of rice you produce and its quality are your best means of growth, since it directly influences your stats and new abilities you'll gain.

About the only thing that might be a negative is the amount of time spent before that growth can be seen. The day and night cycle goes by at a brisk enough pace, but it takes roughly three or four of those days before a new season begins. Growing rice takes a year in-game, so it's a significant amount of time before you have a chance to level up. That would be fine most of the time, but if you're faced with a challenging boss, you'll either have to treat the encounter like a Dark Souls game or wait until harvest time before trying your luck again.

Individually, each game type is rather deep due to the level of involvement needed for farming and the amount of moves available in combat. Combined, the systems work well, since they're complementary. The high-energy combat gets a cooldown when you head into the welcome tedium of farming and vice versa. The only time this doesn't work is if you aren't a fan of either mechanic or don't have the patience for it, especially those who have no interest in fighting since it is necessary to unlock more tools and abilities for the farming aspects.

The overall presentation in Sakuna is top-notch. Although the game is fully made of polygons, it has a hand-drawn anime appearance, with hints of water coloring to make it look stunning. The backgrounds look good, but they're amplified by the day/night lighting, while the frame rate is absolutely solid without needing a high-end rig to hold steady at 60fps or more. The soundtrack is excellent, with plenty of Japanese instrumental influences creating a pleasant listening experience. While a Japanese vocal track is here and is most likely the one that many players will listen to, those who opt for the English track will find that it isn't that bad, especially since it better conveys that Myrthe is a foreigner compared to the rest of the group.

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin works well on all levels. The action segments are a treat thanks to their fast pace, since they deliver an experience that matches up with other fast-paced action titles. The farming segments are interesting because they're so involved and go into so much detail that the title surpasses all but the most dedicated farming simulator titles. When combined, the experience is fantastically balanced — provided you can deal with the slower overall progression rate. In the end, Sakuna is a great title that delivers on a unique experience.

Score: 8.5/10

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