There have been many types of games that have seen players planting and harvesting crops as well as battling against enemies in an RPG style format but generally these two mechanics work as separate parts of a game or simply an extra way to earn money. Rarely do these mechanics blend together in such a way that the player finds themselves stronger as a result of proper farming but that happens to be exactly what Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin offers. After debuting at Comiket of all places, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has made its way to Western shores but the question is whether or not this unique side-scrolling RPG is worth your time?
The goddess Sakuna has always had an easy life in the “Lofty Realm” where the gods reside as being the daughter of a warrior god and harvest goddess has left her wanting for nothing. This carefree attitude has allowed Sakuna to easily slack off on her duties as a divine being and when she notices that a number of desperate humans have managed to somehow find their way on a bridge into the Lofty Realm, she cannot stop them before they cause massive damage and ruin a major event for the gods. As punishment for her failure, Sakuna is banished to the a distant island teeming with demons where she must not only take care of the humans who now find themselves trapped in the Lofty Realm with no way to return home but also uncover the reason as to why monsters continue to appear on the island if she ever wishes to find herself back among the other gods.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin starts off a bit risky by having nearly every character in the game be at odds with one another as not only does Sakuna blame the humans for her predicament but even the humans are often bickering. Most of these interactions occur at the group’s small home either during the day or during dinner and serve as ways to expand upon the world by detailing just how bad things have gotten for humanity and why the group was so desperate. Watching Sakuna learn to appreciate the humans that she has grown close all while growing out of being a spoiled brat into one capable of truly being called a goddess makes this risky beginning worthwhile as Sakuna’s journey of redemption.
Players will quickly find themselves introduced to the two split modes of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin after they begin the game as they must fight through a side-scrolling platforming set of zones to reach their eventual home base where, with little food left, Sakuna plants rice seeds in the rice paddy that takes up most of the limited land. With the home base being playable in 3D, it serves as the location where Sakuna can talk with her human companions, plant seeds, manage the field and other elements of the rice, have meals, and more before setting out into numerous 2D stages filled with monsters that players will need to slay over and over again.
Players will quickly learn that Sakuna is quite a fast and skilled fighter when it comes to using farming tools and her divine raiment to take down the various foes that populate the island. Players can make use of light and heavy attacks that can be combo’d together into various attack strings allowing for potential enemy juggling and even sending foes flying into one another with satisfying smacking sounds anytime they smash into one another. Alongside this Sakuna’s raiment can be used to zip around a battlefield as it can be used to grapple to surfaces or even flip around a foe, pull them closer for extra damage, or even throw them. It is a bit unfortunate however that Sakuna really does not have any proper way to defend herself in a fight outside of playing aggressively and dodging any incoming attacks using her raiment.
When it comes to actually exploring these stages, players will find that the actual platforming can be a bit on the iffy side. Sakuna isn’t the most accurate when it comes to properly landing her jumps and even the raiment often does not launch exactly where the player is aiming, meaning Sakuna might end up launching herself into spikes or falling straight down and being forced to climb back up. These issues wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that there is always a timer going whenever the player is in the field between a day and night cycle as well as Sakuna’s bottomless stomach.
While time must pass back at the base for the rice to grow, it also passes while the player is exploring and fighting enemies. The problem here is that when night falls the enemies see a remarkably high spike in difficulty to the point that players won’t even be able to touch them until they are are much stronger than they would regularly be for that level. When it comes to the hunger meter, Sakuna can no longer regenerate health or see any buffs from her previous meal when she grows hungry meaning players will find themselves quite limited when it comes to exploring. This can be quite disappointing especially since players must complete various objectives in every map ranging from simply completing a stage, to mining at every location available, to slaying a boss within a certain timeframe. These completed objectives unlock additional locations to explore that, in-turn, provide players more chances to advance but between time constraints and difficulty spikes, players are far more limited than how things appear.
This is generally because players cannot initially upgrade Sakuna’s abilities without the slow growing process of the rice. Weapons can be crafted and have their potential unlocked while Sakuna’s clothing can occasionally provide additional effects it is up to the rice yield and quality to see just how much of a boost Sakuna will gain at the end of every harvest. This does make for a very unique leveling mechanic that makes it so players truly have to pay attention to the ins and outs of managing the rice and there are tons of details to learn and manage.
This includes creating fertilizer that can add different effects to the rice, adjusting the water level, pulling weeds, making sure the shoots are planted just the right distance apart, and more. Even the type of rice that players plant will play a role in how the character grows as white and brown rice provide different effects in the end. The rice is then harvested, dried, and more as players try to keep the quality up and make sure to get the most out of every yield. This is perhaps the most in-depth rice farming a player could ask for and while it may feel a bit much at times, things quickly feel like they fall into place though whether this is because it is essential to make Sakuna stronger or simply because it is easy to learn will be up to the player. That being said, players can eventually leave some tasks to a human companion but things can easily go wrong this way and leave Sakuna in a bad way. Combine this with the fact that ingredients gathered from the world and dropped from monsters spoil and players will always feel like they have a timer ticking away at nearly every aspect of the game only to be held back from advancing thanks to the aforementioned leveling system.
Visuals & Audio
Every aspect of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is dripping with style as the 2D platforming sections feature great designs and a wide-variety of areas to explore, which is good considering how many times players need to replay every level, with solid enemy designs while the character models, even in their 3D forms, have a hand-painted style to them that is absolutely wonderful looking. Once again a lot of praise has to go out to making sure that the rice field can look quite detailed and varied depending on how players raise their crop and the season that it is growing in.
The release of the game features both the original Japanese voice track as well as an English voice track that players can swap between at any time with the English cast handling the characters well enough, though it is worth noting that not all dialogue is voiced. The soundtrack fits the aesthetic of the game perfectly, whether players are whiling away in the field tilling rocks out of the ground and planting seedlings or fighting against waves of large red-eyed rabbits there is a tune to match it.
There has probably never been a game that has taken rice farming to the level that Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has done and that is saying something. The level of depth that can go into managing the field and harvest is quite outstanding even though it ends up limiting what players can often do at times by limiting Sakuna’s growth to the harvest of the bounty. The fast-paced combat may work well enough but when players find themselves simply overpowered and dealing with less than ideal platforming, even the charming style of the game can only help so much.
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