I won’t lie to everyone, but Animal Crossing: New Horizon has basically gotten me through the entire COVID-19 pandemic. After many months of playing, I eventually needed to break away. I needed a new adventure and just a little more action, and yet, I wasn’t able to easily break away. That is, until Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. Developed by Edelwise and published by XSEED, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a farming simulator/side-scrolling action game. Combined with a new take on Japanese lore, this title is a fantastic combination of story-telling and gameplay.
The story starts with a small group of humans who have had a tough lot in life. Somehow, they make it to the Lofty Realm; the land of the gods. Meanwhile, the goddess, Princess Sakuna, is living her best life celebrating , eating tons of food, and drinking lots of sake. Upon discovering that humans have made it to the Lofty Realm, Sakuna goes to send them back to the human realm lest their appearance cause an uproar amongst the other gods. The humans are just a little bit too clever and end of up getting the best of Sakuna, so much so, that Sakuna ends up blowing up Lady Kamuhitsuki’s store of rice!
Upset to have lost her rice offerings, head goddess Lady Kamuhitsuki bans Sakuna from the lofty realm to the Isle of Demons, where Sakuna must clear the island of all demons before sending the group of humans back to the human realm.
From there, the game progresses. Through the story, we learn about Sakuna’s hertiage, the cause of the demons on the island, the past of the humans, and, of course, about growing rice! The story has a wonderful touch of Japanese mythology and really brings perspective to the rice cultivating culture – it’s a lot of work!
There are two methods of game play: farming and side-scrolling action.
For farming, you need to pay attention to the seasons. Depending on what time of the year it is, you will need to know how to maintain your rice. In the spring time, you need to plant the rice; in the summer time you need to maintain it; by autumn you need to have harvested all of the rice; and by winter you will need to hull the rice, sift out the good seeds, and till the land. Meanwhile, you will need to keep the field weed-free, fertilized, and properly watered! Whew, that’s a lot, isn’t it? You can pass the tasks off to the other characters in the game, however, the quality of the rice is diminished and you won’t have the best results.
The farming, being one of the key parts of the game, feels somewhat clunky to me. I love growing my own rice, but I hate doing the physical actions involved in it. This is mostly because of the controls. The way Sakuna moves in the field, overall, feels very awkward to me and it’s hard to grasp her body position with how I want to use my controller. If I move forward, I want Sakuna to move forward, but instead her body position flips and the task I was trying to do messes up. It takes a lot of getting used to. I’m not sure if this is to emphasize just how difficult growing rice can be, but it definitely made this part of the game hard to get through.
The side-scrolling action part is just that, side-scrolling action. On the Isle of Demons, Sakuna needs to clear each area and learn more about the demons. Sakuna wields two weapons, uses normal attacks, uses heavy attacks, and uses skill attacks. Sakuna also has the divine raiment, a magical sash that assists attacks and helps traverse through the different terrains.
The game play is easy, and I like how I can mix up my buttons to unleash different attacks. Attacks can also be customized so you can put them in for whichever input is most comfortable for you. My least favorite part of the gameplay is the divine raiment. The divine raiment is great for battle to block, counter, and move around the screen to better position Sakuna, but I hate using it to traverse the terrain. This might be personal, but I hate having to jump around in stages! Although, I really like how they created this aspect of Sakuna, since the divine raiment has meaning within the story.
Through growing the rice and fighting demons, Sakuna collects food and supplies that help sustain life on the island.
Another important aspect of the game is food. Sakuna needs to eat. When she is hungry, her health won’t recover. Food also provides extra skills to Sakuna, giving her buffs and extra health. These are especially important when certain stages have challenges such as poison or lava.
This game has a lot of balance. You can’t just focus on farming or grind all the areas. Night will bring stronger demons, Sakuna will get hungry and her health will not recover, and, if you’re up too late you end up being too exhausted to explore new areas the next day. Luckily, there is no shortage of things to keep Sakuna busy. While playing you really have to balance farming and exploring. I think this balance helps pace the game and story.
The graphics on this game has a waterpaint cell shaded look. The characters are beautiful and the game runs incredibly smooth. I popped it on the PS5 and was awed by just how amazing the game looked. You get the same effect on a PS4 Pro. The overall look of the game is stunning!
The sound track mixes well with the overall style of the game. It has a traditional sound that places you right on the Isle of Demons.
Pros: This game is beautiful! The story is it’s own blend of Japanese mythology with it’s own original story added into it. It also makes something that might not be that interesting (rice harvesting), into a rich storyscape. The characters are all memorable with their own quirks. The game play is fun and balanced so you can’t easily grind through the whole game. You really do need to take your time and cultivate your own land.
Cons: The farming can be clunky, and tedious. It sucks when you’re on a roll exploring a new area and then suddenly you have to go harvest your rice and get it hulled and ready before the spring time. On top of that, Sakuna is difficult to control during these farming actions.
Overall, I would give this game an 8 out of 10. I love the story, characters, gameplay, and overall look and feel of the game. I also love how it makes growing rice a unique experience. If I felt tired by having to farm in the game, can I even begin to imagine what it would be like to grow rice just to live?
Have you had a chance to pick up this title? If so, what do you think? Are there any games you have played that have made something you didn’t even think could be interesting, interesting? Let us know in the comments!