As we wade through rice paddies and explore a hostile island, what lies in store for us from the hands of Edelweiss? Let’s find out in our official review for Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin.
+This game is breathtakingly beautiful. The art style invokes in me nostalgia towards my younger days as a gamer.
+The farming aspects are surprisingly in-depth and allow for some amount of min-maxing.
+Options, options galore. From weapon skills to what farming skills are active this game has options in spades.
-The tedium at the very start of the game is real. The process of tilling your paddy can be an all-day task initially.
-Without going too far into detail, the final boss was a tad underwhelming and made it feel as if the game fell on its face at a critical moment.
I have to fully admit, prior to being asked if I was interested in handling this review I had no knowledge of this game’s existence. For some reason or another, it is something that has completely slipped under my radar. While that is regrettable, I also feel thankful for it.
Thanks to completely missing any news or information for this game, I was treated to what I can only describe as an absolute gem. As always, I played this title on the default difficulty I was presented with.
Princess Sakuna Pays a Price for Hubris
Our protagonist, Princess Sakuna, is slothful. Arrogant, demeaning to others. Gluttonous. Overall, she’s an exceptionally infuriating person. She’s the daughter of two deities, Takeribi the Warrior God and Toyohana the Farming Goddess. We all know someone like her. The one who feels entitled to everything while never lifting a finger. Riding on the coattails of others.
Despite this, I absolutely love this character. While she does indeed start off as someone vile, as all good characters do she grows over the course of the game. While still maintaining some of her arrogance and bratty attitude displayed at the start, by the conclusion of the game she has become compassionate and even remorseful for her past actions. She forges bonds and comes to understand her wards over the course of the game, overall showing immense growth as a person.
So what happened between Point A and Point B? She was expelled from her home in the Capital of the Lofty Realm, the realm of Japanese God’s, after humans from the Lowly Realm infiltrate the Capital and cause a series of events which leaves a food store in ruins.
As punishment for the destruction of an offering to the pre-eminent Goddess of the Lofty Realm, Sakuna, and the humans are banished to the Demon Isle until such time Sakuna can replenish the stores of rice that were destroyed. During this time she takes up the roles of a guardian for the humans, farmer to grow rice so their bellies are full, and explorer of the land. It is around these three roles that the game revolves.
Rice is Power. But a Balanced Diet is Important Too!
Unlike your traditional role-playing game, your path to power in Sakuna is successive crops of rice. The first few crops won’t be anything spectacular in terms of quality, which means you won’t see immense gains in your stats right off the bat either. This is something reflected in many areas of the game, at times the processes for harvesting your crop can be agonizingly slow.
That’s also an area where the game shows character growth in another way, however. The more you perform tasks such as plowing the field, processing ears of rice, and hulling the grains, the you gain skills to make all of these processes go by faster. You can choose which level of each skill you want to have active, as you gain progressively higher-tiered abilities.
Your growth takes off a lot quicker as soon as you unlock the ability to make Fertilizer and participate in some weird science. The creation of fertilizer is facilitated by the exploration of the island. The items you get from defeating enemies, finding treasures, and harvesting from gathering spots can be used to alter the effect of the fertilizer.
Whether you want to increase the parameters or increase its resistance to diseases and pests, this is a trial and error system for sure. That’s one of the most wonderful aspects of this game, all of its systems feed into one another. Your ability to explore the island directly affects your ability to raise a high-quality crop, which in turn raises your stats and allows you to further explore.
Some of the most important items you’ll obtain during your time will be Food Items. Unless it is a processed food item, think jerky and alcohol, it will eventually spoil. While entirely possible, living on rice alone isn’t always the most viable option. A well rounded meal will grant Sakuna a buff so long as she is not at zero fullness.
Your crops of rice tie back into this, as well as different types of rice, bring different benefits. Completely hulled white rice will offer greater permanent stat gains while mixed or brown rice will allow for stronger temporary buffs. This opens the door to some amount of player choice, do you want to give yourself more powerful buffs or gamble on high stat gains? Personally, I’ve yet to make a single mixed rice harvest.
Divine Equipment Skillfully Utilized
I love the combat of this game, absolutely and completely. While the combo system doesn’t appear to be overly complex on the surface, you’ll gradually unlock more abilities while grasping the more intricate aspects. Your primary methods of battle will be the utilization of your Divine Tools, a Hoe and Sickle respectively, in addition to your Divine Raiment.
The Divine Raiment is a feature of the game I’m particularly fond of. Whether using it to recover from a missed jump, to pull yourself away from an enemy’s attack, or even to utilize some of its more offensive features to dominate the battlefield the Raiment is hands down my favorite tool in the game.
You will periodically stumble upon special items whether they appear on your paddy, or are uncovered from chests in dungeons, called Spirit Boughs. These little guys are the key to a whole new level of customization for your preferred style of play. Most weapons and clothing will have Skills, Skill Slots or both. The empty slots are filled with Spirit Boughs.
Their utility ranges from a flat boost to a stat, to health regen for every enemy defeated. Do you use more Weapon Skills? There’s a Spirit Bough to increase your SP and an equipment skill that drops your SP consumption by a percentage. There’s even equipment that gives massive stat boosts based on the season.
All the while you are clearing out swathes of demonic creatures, you will be surrounded by beautifully detailed landscapes. From the top of mountains, to poison filled caverns, to a caldera. At every turn Sakuna has impressed me, I can’t sing its praises enough. However, this title has a very serious issue. Due to the way combat functions, most of the story based fights can feel a tad bit flat.
It’s a flaw many games can have. You feel the anticipation, the story is reaching a climax as you prepare to engage a menacing foe…and then they turn out to be a joke of an enemy. The two most enjoyable fights I found in this game were located in the one-hundred-floor challenge dungeon, which is one of two challenge areas you can approach to test your mettle.
Overall, I am in love. I’ve invested an unhealthy amount of time into this title. I plan to invest even more time into it as well. While I felt there were a few moments where the game could have been more engaging, my overall experience has been overwhelmingly positive. It is a nice reprieve after having practically lost my mind on my last project.
Sakuna of Rice and Ruin
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: November 10th, 2020
Sakuna of Rice and Ruin is, at the end of the day, a game that dips its hands into the realm of RPG, sidescrolling hack-n-slash, platforming, and farming simulator. It reaches into so many baskets and does so to great success. Whether it is for the story alone, or the intricacies of raising rice(seriously, so much rice), if you’re a completionist who wants to unlock all the game has to offer, it’s a great experience.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game for review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Kennard Daniel Prim isn’t just your average gamer, he’s a die-hard fan of the single-player genre, specializing in imported games from Japan as well as his love for everything RPG related.