Growing rice is exhausting. This is one of the most fickle crops you can grow. It takes constant focus and attention to be successful, and hopefully, you'll end up with an award-winning yield. It is on the one hand.
On the other, you have 2D action games. These are fast, frenetic adrenaline rushes that reward you for pulling off the right moves at the right time.
What do you get when you put both hands together? Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin from Edelweiss and Xseed Games. It's a bold twist that combines intensely detailed farm simulation with polished 2D action gameplay to create a game that's immersive, rewarding, surprisingly deep, and unmissable.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Review – Grains of Glory
Sakuna's story begins with an accident. A group of humans from the lowly realm have somehow managed to get to the land of the gods, and in the process of apprehending the gods, Sakuna accidentally burns down Divine Empress Lady Kamuhitsuki's rice shops. . Whoops.
As punishment, she and the humans are banished to Hinoe, an island once owned by Sakuna's mother, which also happens to be teeming with demons. If Sakuna wants to regain her place in the High Realm, she must bring the island under divine control and replenish Lady Kamuhitsuki's rice stores.
This is a terrible punishment for the lazy Sakuna, and not because of the danger. As the daughter of the High Realm's preeminent warrior god, Sakuna doesn't mind defeating a few thousand demons. But growing rice? Ick.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is the only game I know of that builds its core mechanics around being a lazy kid, and Edelweiss pulls it off so well.
Your first year is going to be difficult. Sakuna's mother is a harvest goddess, but Sakuna herself ignored that part of her divine responsibilities. So you don't get any indication for any step of the rice growing process. What she doesn't know, you don't know.
How to control the water level? Randomly! Why is temperature important? I do not know! Brown rice or white rice? *internally shouts*
That pretty much sums up the first cycle of growth. But the more you work on it, the more skills Sakuna develops to refine rice cultivation. You will eventually have the tools and know-how to plant a balanced field, manage pests and control quality to produce the type of rice and the yield that meets your needs.
This creates a unique feeling of immersion. You grow alongside Sakuna, who grows as a person/deity alongside rice.
It's the perfect way to play the game, but you don't technically need to learn anything. In keeping with his nature and position, Sakuna can delegate nearly all farming duties to someone else.
But there is a price to pay. Sakuna won't learn some key skills without getting her hands dirty, and the quality of rice is always lower if she delegates tasks. This is a bad thing because the quality of the rice is essential for everything to work in the game.
To say that Sakuna gets her strength from rice isn't just an abstract note from the game's mythology. It literally controls her growth. Sakuna divides rice quality into five main categories. These are each tied to one of Sakuna's base stats (e.g. Toughness correlates with Vitality, and her overall strength is decided by a mathematical idiot of adding and averaging certain qualities ).
Fertilizer quickly becomes your best friend and is one of the best ways to encourage growth in specific areas. There are other methods, but these are more complex and only come into play later in the game.
It's not always a case of "cramming everything into every batch of fertilizer." You can only use a limited number of ingredients in each fertilizer bundle, and certain qualities take precedence over others depending on your position in the game.
Sakuna relies on you wanting to learn more and do better, which is probably what you'd want if you played the game. This hands-on approach to learning the ropes of the game might not be a hit for everyone. world, but it's a huge payoff if you put in the time.
Unlike other farming simulation games, I felt attached to the field and its products in Sakuna. The care I put into the field, growing from rice hustle to young rice scientist, made me feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that just isn't possible in other games in the world. kind.
That doesn't mean I've perfected rice cultivation, and I don't even think it's possible. Too many variables, from temperature to invisible weed damage, means there's always something gone wrong or something you could have done better.
It's a bit like real agriculture in that sense, but without the danger of starvation and misery.
Luckily, Sakuna doesn't punish the odd incident too harshly, which is good because some things like weed damage seem out of control to you most of the time. As long as you put in the effort, you will reap (*ahem*) the rewards.
And it feels so good when that happens, when you bring in a new crop of rice and the power boost means you can suddenly get through a tough boss to open up new areas.
With that in mind, Sakuna doesn't skimp on exploration or combat. This marriage of two disparate playstyles, where what you do in one halve of the game affects the other, is one of Sakuna's most powerful and impressive features. And the combat is the most fun I've had with a 2D action game ever.
You get two weapons, a one-handed weapon (for fast attacks) and a two-handed one (for powerful attacks). These weapons have specific attack types that you swap out to exploit enemy weaknesses, and Sakuna also uses her divine garment for magic-based attacks. There is also an RPG element with upgrades and gear customization.
Kinta crafts new weapons from the materials you gather, and Yui weaves new clothes. While the extra attack power is always a bonus, it's the added perks inherent in these weapons that often make the biggest difference. Each piece of gear includes at least one special skill, such as extra health or water attack damage reduction.
More powerful items have spare slots to which you can add new skills, including ones that change weapon attributes, gained by finding Spirit Branches. While there are admittedly more of these perks than you ever need in the game, the system adds a welcome layer of depth and customization to Sakuna's combat.
However you customize your loadout, fighting in Sakuna feels good. Weapon skills and basic attacks work together seamlessly to create a maelstrom of flying demons that you send crashing into each other.
The garment is a crucial combat tool and allows you to evade attacks and reposition yourself for greater advantage, while doubling as a magical weapon itself.
This gives combat an element of choreography where you dance around enemies, perform skill chains, remove debuffs, dodge, parry, and attack again in a series of fluid actions that never become stale.
It's not always easy, at least not on the game's default difficulty. Even without the powerful enemies, it's easy to get overwhelmed by regular groups of demons. This keeps you on your toes and, since the demons get progressively stronger in each new area, makes up for the lack of enemy designs.
Each main area of the island is divided into four smaller locations to explore. These have a handful of exploration objectives to complete, such as defeating enemies in a certain way or finding specific treasure.
Clearing these objectives increases your exploration level and unlocks new areas or advances the story. Some objectives are a little difficult, but there are so many to complete that you rarely find yourself stuck trying to raise your exploration level.
The zones themselves have the advantage of being small and focused in design. You revisit a few of them a few times, to scavenge for food and fertilizer ingredients or to find materials for equipment, and not having to spend a lot of time finding what you need is a big plus.
It helps that Sakuna is incredibly beautiful. The scenes themselves can be pretty basic, but the backdrops and the collar farm are pure eye candy. Handheld mode on the Switch version isn't as striking as docked mode - or maybe just because it's better on a bigger screen - but it still looks amazing either way.
It all seems like a lot to take in at once. However, you quickly fall into a rut that allows you to accomplish whatever you need to, balancing quick bursts of exploration with maintenance in the field.
That said, one of Sakuna's best features is the quietest: meal times.
Your end-of-day meal is an indispensable part of the game at all levels. It's tied into the story, through conversations that define what's happening in the story at that point. Other stories are less relevant, but no less important, as they are ways for the Hinoe Group and you to understand each other better.
Everyone on the island comes from a different background (for reasons I won't spoil) which often leads to disagreements. It never overflows with anger. No, because they have to rely on each other to survive. Instead, it ends up being a vehicle for exploring different viewpoints and quietly expanding everyone's horizons. It is not surprising that religion often features in these conversations. It's a game about a goddess after all.
As well as being a storytelling tool, meals serve a practical purpose in boosting Sakuna for the next day as long as she stays full. As with rice cultivation, it's far from impressive at first.
Yet what begins as a depressing meal of shoe leather meat and water gradually turns into a multi-course feast where you fill both your stomach and your stats. Sometimes the key to getting through a difficult situation is simply choosing the right menu.
It's yet another reward for all your hard work with rice, which naturally forms the base of most of these meals and another way Sakuna seamlessly blends its gameplay.
What's surprising is how Sakuna deals with the themes she raises, pushing beyond the black and white, pushing the gray areas, and gently showing how much more complex everyone is than you think. .
Those moments, and the whole game really, owe a debt of gratitude to Sakuna's fantastic location, with writing that's easily one of the best of the year. The voiced segments are also top-notch, and Laura Post's work as Sakuna absolutely deserves a nomination or official recognition.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Review – The Bottom Line
- Solid plot, with touching character stories, unexpected twists and a fun riff on mythology
- Incredibly detailed and rewarding farming system
- Fluid and addictive combat
- Beautiful, beautiful art design
- Sublime soundtrack
- Fantastic writing and voice work
- Transparent and innovative gender bending
- A vague, hands-off approach might turn some people off
- Not much enemy design variety
- Starting a few character events feels a bit too random
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a fantastic mix of genres. Far from skimping on one part or another, Sakuna pays prodigious attention to both of her halves and adds an endearing, solidly realized cast of characters on top.
He may ask you to take it on his own terms from time to time, but that's a small price to pay when the experience is this rewarding and unique.
(Note: Xseed Games provided the copy of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin used for this review.)