Nine out of every ten people in the world who eat rice are Asian. The other ten per cent are gamers who played Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. A game that as silly as it sounds, recreates the strenuous task of rice farming that delivers with great care and attention to detail. Its heavy emphasis on its core mechanics puts a deeper meaning to what it means to plant rice… or at least I hope it does. Now if you’re someone who isn’t Asian or doesn’t care about rice at all, we don’t judge people on what they eat here so stay for a while and let me tell you about our lord and savior Sakuna, the Rice Goddess.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin follows the story of the aforementioned Goddess, Sakuna, and her endless struggles of harvesting rice while also trying to escape the hordes of demons that plague Hinoe, the island that she was banished in after setting ablaze the very harvest of rice that was offered to Lady Kamuhitsuki, the head goddess that rules over all the deities of Yanato.
From here, you’ll be thrown into the fray leading a band of misfits as you get down and dirty learning the ways of farming. Edelweiss, the two-man dev team behind Sakuna, provides something akin to a game like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. But unlike these simulation games, the game puts a deep focus on rice planting alone. From preparing the soil before the start of spring, planting each individual strands of grain to finally harvesting your fruits of labour. There’s a deep and long-winded process to be seen here and it’s one that might seem a bit overkill. Each task is meant to test your perseverance. It’s very punishing from the get-go and despite its incremental upgrades, it’s still the repetitive tasks that felt short to reach the word fun.
Half of the game is a hack n’ slash side-scroller though which is easily my favourite half. There’s a bit of a deep customization between your gear and skills too which really hooked me in despite its awfully repetitive tasks that I can’t consider as anything but an unnecessary baggage of work. It’s quick and frantic action creates some satisfying-to-pull-off combos that gets better as you dive deeper with each skill’s proficiency and new gear to match the occasion. From abilities that deals more damage as you defeat enemies to being able to return half your health for clearing a horde of enemies, there’s a satisfying sensation that just makes me want to delve deeper in the dungeons and its inner workings… or at least only before sunset where the stronger baddies come out to play.
However, there’s a sort of balance that needs to be set here. Sakuna’s level progression relies heavily on her ability to plant and harvest rice. Unlike the traditional RPG where you gain experience from defeating demons and monsters, Sakuna only levels up after harvesting rice usually done between summer and autumn. This makes the early to mid-game progression a battle of attrition where the encounters are hard and takes a bit of work especially when the game doesn’t have consumables mid-fight and food buffs wear off pretty quickly.
Exploration is also at its very core, a fun experience. Not only are there tons of secrets, obtainable gear and items, each region is also unique in its own way. From the grassy plains and lush forests to the sandy beaches and fiery pits of hell, there’s a sort of unique twist that makes them fun to visit as each season passes. Despite fighting the same brand of enemies for the hundredth time, the lush green forests turn into a patch of orange dried leaves come autumn or get buried in snow in the passing of winter. It’s those small little details that count despite something far from game-changing.
Visually, its cel-shaded character models and striking art style does the job well in portraying the cartoony and old school style of animated characters. There’s Sakuna’s petite stature and striking hairstyle as opposed to Tauemon’s humongous build and the wavy-hair much like a samurai while Kaimaru falls into the lovable kid you’d want to take home. Obviously that passion into creating the world’s inhabitants also shine through with their own backgrounds. This made me fell in love with each one whether it’s finally learning why Yui kept following Kinta around throughout the story or what Myrtle is hiding under her hood… just kidding, we’ll never know that last part.
But in a huge nutshell or in this case, an overgrown ear of rice, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is still the fun game that I hoped it would. While rice planting might not be for everyone, its story and fun combat makes up enough of that burden, making the 30-hour adventure well worth the effort. If you’re not here for the art of rice, the art of war is something that can put you through hours of content as you learn and master new skills or create builds for exploration.
This review is based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
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