REVIEW : Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin (PC)
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, from developer Edelweiss (Astebreed), is a captivating combination of gameplay ideas, with a mixture of farming simulation and side-scrolling action. The blend works surprisingly well, even if the overall experience experiences some pacing problems.
It’s a big change for the developer, and Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin oozes charm at every turn. Sakuna’s story takes place in what’s identified as the Lofty Realm, a realm of gods separate from the world of humans. The game’s title role, Sakuna, is a ruined harvest goddess living the great life by using her mother’s vast reserves of rice as a tribute. After a group of humans breaks into the Lofty Realm, Sakuna finds herself exiled with said humans to an island infested with devils, all to take it back.
Sakuna begins the game as a pretty detestable hero, a whiny brat that needs to do nothing but relax. There’s Taumon the atypical samurai, bad at both fighting and agriculture, Mythre the refugee from a European-influenced land, Kinta the reckless young blacksmith, and more.
Sakuna’s gameplay is essentially divided up into two different halves: farming and 2D exploration and combat. Sakuna gains control by growing and cutting rice and the cultivation system is surprisingly complicated and demands players to learn the ins-and-outs of the business. There’s a definite training curve to the agriculture system in Sakuna, and even though the play has a series of scrolls to assist train players, there’s a lot of trial and error. Planting rice is directly attached to Sakuna’s growth, as a more solid harvest will help improve her stats and level up even more. As Sakuna farms more she’ll learn extra skills that make everything easier, although if players want they can hand off the work to one of the humans as well, sacrificing possible growth in trade.
When not farming, players explore the island in 2D platforming style. There are a wealth of locations selectable from the island map, and each one has different objectives to complete to raise their exploration level. Raising exploration level will in turn unfasten more places to explore. The 2D gameplay controls fairly well, and Sakuna uses agriculture tools for light and heavy strikes. Her divine clothing also lets Sakuna stretch cloth that lets her catch up to higher spots, or around opponents. Combat skills and raiment skills are unlocked through rice harvests and present more options as the game proceeds. Combat feels fast and fluid, and the only major issue is that players can’t hit opponents that have fallen, as they have to go through animation to get up first. Because of the pace of combat, this can slow things down at times and gets a bit frustrating.
The game’s greatest strength, by far, gets down to its pleasant art style and a cast of characters. Sakuna practically hates her human companions at first, but over time they all grow closer and come to understand each other. Every day ends with a meal that’ll boost Sakuna’s stats, but more often than not the group has a discussion over dinner. These discussions dig into the history of every character, their thoughts on topics or problems, and Japanese mythology in general. Overall the narrative is lighthearted and fun, and it’s a great adventure to see these figures grow more complex and become closer as they face difficulty. The game has an overarching theme of finding your place in the world, and the growth that Sakuna goes through as a person drives that home. It’s all made stronger by each facet of gameplay tying directly into Sakuna’s growth. Over time more characters and creatures will join the settlement, like a group of lovable Kappa that enhances the available farms, or a lazy cat that players can pet and carry around.