Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, developed by Edelweiss and published by Marvelous in the EU and XSEED in the US, is coming out this month for PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. Here’s our review of this rather unique genre-blender on the PS4.
Back when people were playing Facebook games like FarmVille, I never would have guessed that the whole farming genre was going to cross over into mainstream gaming in the way that it did. For me personally, the genre always veered too much to the casual side of gaming, but Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin still drew me in with it premise, which throws in demon slaying in a side-scrolling 2.5D context.
The actual narrative behind that premise is that you’re Sakuna, a warrior banished from her home in the heavens and sent off to purge an island that’s overrun by demons while at the same time protecting its human inhabitants. Sakuna herself is the daughter of a warrior god and a harvest goddess, which explains how these two genres come together in the game.
Sakuna uses a raiment for combat, evoking memories of the Shantae games at times (yes, I know it’s actually hair in that game), but in Sakuna’s case your weapon also doubles as a grappling hook. Although that could have made for some great platforming, the controls in Sakuna work best while you’re in combat – slaying demons is fun even if the combat isn’t terribly deep. Better platforming would have elevated this game quite a bit for those not too into the farming segments, so if you were mostly interested in this as an action platformer you might be disappointed.
Although I wouldn’t have guessed this based on the short gameplay demo I had back in 2019, the bulk of the gameplay lies with the farming aspect of the game – rice farming, to be exact. I make the distinction for a reason, and it’s because this is a game that isn’t big on biodiversity but instead goes for a deep dive into the process of growing rice. Luckily, it’s more exciting than watching the real thing grow.
There’s a gameplay loop in place that lets you prepare the soil, plant seeds and add water, all through little mini-games. You also need to keep the soil free from weeds and fertilize it before you get to the harvesting stage, and after that you’ll still need to turn your harvest into rice. I’ve been to actual rice fields and I had no idea the process was so involved.
The exploration/combat missions in the game are intermixed with the daily chores of managing your rice fields, so while none of the individual aspects of Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin are especially memorable, they also don’t stick around so long for them to get repetitive. Part of that is definitely the story and presentation as well, as you spend your time with your human companions when you’re not out farming or laying waste to demons. They’re not very useful during missions or farm life, but it’s a colorful and charming cast of characters that helps move the story along.
Visually, Sakuna has a cartoonish style that at least at times reminded me of the gorgeous Muramasa Rebirth on the Vita. They’re rendered in 3D though, and as a result you’ll see some good looking lighting and shadow effects while playing. The audio and music are also well done, adding to the atmosphere.
Perhaps that element of charm made me stick with Sakuna even though I wasn’t overly impressed with its gameplay mechanics. The combat is fun but not exactly best-in-class, and the platforming could have been better. The farming portion in itself is repetitive, yet I kept going wanting to see what happened at the end of each harvest cycle. Let’s just say it’s been the most fun I’ve had with a farming game so far.