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

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 14, 2017 @ 3:00 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.

Sometimes, a game concept gives you pause. I've seen action RPGs before, but I've ever seen RPGs mixed with farming simulators before. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is unusual for being so specific. It's not merely a farming/action simulator but a rice-farming action simulator. You're thrown into the role of the titular Sakuna, a harvest goddess who needs to find a way to live up to her job title on a dangerous island filled with the worst kind of monsters.

At E3 2017, our demo of Sakuna threw us into a forest, and the goal was to reach the end. You have a short-range fast attack using a scythe (the one-handed farming type, no ornate grim reaper weapon here), and you have a longer-range but slower attack using a gardening hoe. You can combo the two to knock around enemies or beat the stuffing out of them. You also have a special attack that allows you to use your hoe to either send enemies flying or launch a repeated series of attacks on the enemy. The special moves have a meter that is drained each time you use one, so you have to be cautious about how often you spam it.

You also have a health bar, as in any good action game, though it has some interesting quirks. Your health regenerates naturally, but in addition to your regular health, you also have a food meter. As your health regenerates, the food meter drains. Once it's empty, your health no longer recovers, and you lose any special bonuses that you might have received from eaten food before the mission. We didn't get a lot of information about this, as the mechanic is still in development, but it sounds like the end goal is to craft powerful food with different advantages. One theoretical example was food that gives powerful stat buffs but only can recover a lirrlw health before running out. It's an interesting twist, especially because if you run out, you have to retreat to your home to refill or run the risk of venturing while you're weaker and less durable.

The last ability is what really defines Sakuna: her magical scarf. Hitting an enemy with the scarf causes it to latch onto them. From here, you can perform all kinds of cool special moves. You can let go to instantly flip around to the enemy's other side, yank them toward you, toss them into the air, or send them smashing into the ground. It can be chained together, allowing you to perform lengthy combos. It sounds simple at first blush, but there's a lot that you can do with it. You can even latch onto walls with the scarf to reset combos or get past obstacles.

The gameplay in Sakuna is simple but addictive. The key to everything is the scarf mechanic, which is super fun. Once you get the feel for it, you're zooming around the battlefield and throwing around enemies like it's nothing. It was possible to defeat enemies in the demo by just mashing buttons and avoiding a few attacks. Defeating them with style was something else entirely. With some effort, you can perform lengthy air combos where you drag around multiple enemies without ever touching the ground. It's just as addictive to obliterate entire groups of foes by slamming them into rocks or the ground or leaving them helpless in the air.

Even the boss battle made strong use of the scarf mechanic. The boss was a giant toad demon who had been busy sucking up the naturally occurring oil found in the forest. The toad was huge but slow, and we could turn that to our advantage. By using the scarf on it, you can swing behind it and damage it while it has to slowly take the time to turn around. Repeated use of the scarf left the poor boss puzzling out which direction to look while we pounded on its defenseless hindquarters. We could also lure it into traps. The toad spit oil, which smaller enemies in the environment could set on fire. By luring the boss into that fire, it would take massive amounts of damage.

Sadly, the action/platforming that we saw in the demo was only part of the entire experience. Your goal is not to defeat monsters but to get the materials and abilities necessary to grow rice and power up your character. What little we know of this mechanic is that it involves a series of minigames. You have a central hub area where you grow rice, and you'll venture into the 2D dungeon areas to get new materials and crafts for your rice farming. The example mentioned in the demo above was needing to slay the toad so you could harvest precious oil to further your crops. Hopefully, we'll get to see more of this before Sakuna releases next year.

Our demo of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin was short but sweet. It's unfortunate that we didn't get to see the rice-farming gameplay, but what we saw of the 2D action was a ton of fun. The action was accessible but also fast-paced and frantic. There's a huge difference between merely smashing foes and becoming a scarf-grappling, elemental butt-kicking force, and it really seemed to hint at a game with a low skill floor but a high skill ceiling. Hopefully, we'll see a lot more of Sakuna before its 2018 release date, but at very least, the action gameplay has a ton of potential.

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