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 Redmond Carolipio on July 17, 2018 @ 1:30 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.

One of the real joys of gatherings like E3 is getting eyes on games like Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, which is a visually luscious mash-up of classic 2D side-scrolling action, interpretations of Japanese mythology, and a solid dose of agricultural education. It's easy to see how those first two come together, but perhaps less so for the third — and yet, from what we played at E3 2018, it somehow works so far.

Sakuna is an exiled harvest goddess who watches over an island full of human outcasts, and of course, this island is full of all manner of demons and other foul creatures. From what I played, Sakuna seems to serve a dual purpose: She is not only the island's celestial enforcer, but she is also its preeminent rice farmer. Therefore, this game carries two distinct play flavors.

The bulk of the demo we saw consisted of the aforementioned side-scrolling 2D action, but it was also done in a bright, cel-shaded-ish, bouncy art style. It's a very good look from the small team at Edelweiss, who developed the game. For some reason, the whole "god comes down to fight 2D" vibe reminded me a bit of ActRaiser for the Super Nintendo an entire gaming lifetime ago, and the tenor of the action isn't that different: move from right to left, eliminate enemies as you go. It's fast, fun combat that's easy to absorb.

I enjoyed the cheerful, cute design of Sakuna the most. Her core weapons are tiny rice paddles used as short swords, and her scarf serves as a grappling hook she can use for platforming and enemy-snatching combat options. The combat portion of my demo ended with Sakuna fighting a giant, round, cartoonish fish that hurled itself all over the screen.

When you're not fighting the denizens of the island, you're growing rice, and it appears the entire process of rice growing is a significant part of the Sakuna experience. She does it to help feed the people of the island, which could lead to some gameplay benefits for her as she progresses in her adventure. What stands out is that the game asks you to execute practically every detailed step of growing rice at Sakuna's mountain village home, and each step carries its own play mechanics.

First, I had to till the field, so I had to move Sakuna around and till away until a graphic on the screen told me that my coverage was sufficient. Then I had to fill the paddy with water and walk around to plant the rice seeds, taking care to space them appropriately, as poor spacing can actually affect the quality of rice at the end of the day. Then, as the seeds were being nurtured, I had to walk around and pull weeds from the field so they don't sap the nutrients from the water.

Eventually, I had to dry and  thresh the rice, setting it up to get mashed at the end using a system of buttons that reminded me a little of the potion-making efforts in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. How much you mash it depends on whether you want to grow white rice, brown rice, or a mix.

I did not expect to learn this much about the rice-creating process in playing an action game, but I found Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin to be oddly addicting and an intriguing change of pace from the bouts of arcade combat. We'll see what others think when the game arrives later this year.

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