Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
[Review code provided by Marvelous Europe]
What happens if you put together perhaps the most in-depth rice growing simulator in gaming and a side-scrolling action RPG? You get Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, brought to us by Edelweiss.
When the bratty and spoiled princess Sakuna accidentally burns down a tribute for the great goddess Kamuhitsuki, she – and a group of hungry mortals who wandered into the realm of the gods – are exiled to Hinoe island. This seemingly unremarkable island is infested with demons. It falls to Sakuna to clear up this infestation – until she does, she cannot return to her noble life of comfort.
Life on the island is split between two distinct tasks, which form the core of the game – exploring, and farming. Sakuna is the daughter of the war god and the harvest goddess, and as such, she takes much of the responsibility in both tasks – much to her chagrin.
Exploring the island takes the form of side-scrolling platforming and combat. Fighting is fast and fluid, with a variety of unlockable and upgradeable skills allowing you to string together powerful combos. Sakuna can use her raiment to grab enemies and throw them, or swing herself past them to dodge attacks. Certain skills also allow Sakuna to use the environment as a weapon, by smashing rocks (and unfortunate foes) into her enemies for big damage.
Combat is very satisfying, and challenging at times, too. You’ll find yourself retreading your steps quite a bit as you gather resources to keep you and your reluctant new family unit properly fed. Stages are often quite short, but plentiful, and feature objectives that must be cleared to keep expanding your exploration options. Demons grow stronger at night, meaning that you must manage your time as well.
At times, though, you’ll come across enemies that are just far too strong for Sakuna, even if she has a strong set of weapons and armour. You may well find your progression blocked by a seemingly impassable foe. In this case, you must wait for harvest day.
As the daughter of the harvest goddess, Sakuna’s strength is directly connected to the quality of her crops. You can’t do a half-hearted job and expect to succeed; every aspect of your rice’s quality has an impact on how Sakuna’s stats will grow when harvest day arrives.
This is also where the game presents it’s most unique and complicated systems. Growing rice is not a simple Harvest Moon affair. Sakuna will take a hands on approach to every step of growing the rice – from planting the rice and applying fertiliser, to drying and threshing your harvest. Every day, you must keep an eye out for weeds to pluck, manage the water level and temperature, catch and release bugs to deter pests… It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s quite engaging.
Of course, as you progress, you’ll gain new skills and tools to make your work easier and more efficient. Aspects of farming can be handed off (though usually with lesser results). Savvy players can tweak Sakuna’s stats by favouring particular qualities in their rice. There’s a level of depth here that is both uncommon and unusually rewarding.
As Sakuna grows, so too do the characters and world around her. By speaking to your fellow exiles and helping them out, you can learn more about them and improve yourself with new weapons, new armour, and stat-boosting meals. Everything feeds back into those core tasks, which gives the game a steady sense of progression.
Meal time in particular is one of my favourite parts of the game, as the characters sit down together and speak of the world around them, or share tales of the gods. Apart from being a good way to disseminate lore, it gives you a genuine sense of attachment to this misfit family. Doing well by them gives both the player and Sakuna a reason to push on and do their best every day. Failing to provide a solid meal not only hurts your stats the next day, but gives a sense of guilt as you let your friends go hungry.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a wonderfully charming game. It’s beautiful art and rich world of colourful characters will keep you engaged as you explore and farm on Hinoe Island. It’s certainly one of my favourite games from the year so far, and I thoroughly recommend it.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin delivers an engaging experience throughout with it’s combination of slick and satisfying combat and complex, detailed rice farming simulation. Wrapped in a colourful world with a charming cast of characters, it’s easy to fall in love with this unusual game. An easy recommendation for RPG fans.