In a world where the games industry is plagued by AAA titles that get released buggy and unfinished, you eventually need to take a step back and play some indie titles, or rather in this case, a AA title. That just so happens to be what this review is about, a really fun and unique AA title, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a 3D platformer developed by non-other than Edelweiss, and published by XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, inc. The game released on November 10th, 2020 on PC, PlayStation 4 & Nintendo Switch. I played the game on PC via Steam, so lets get right into the review!
The story follows a spoiled harvest goddess named Sakuna who finds herself banished from her opulent celestial home to an island overrun with demons. In the untamed wilderness, she must rediscover her birth right as the daughter of a warrior god and harvest goddess by: weathering the elements, fighting monsters, and cultivating rice, the source of her power.
By her side in this forbidding place is her guardian Tama and a group of outcast humans. Together, these unlikely companions must join hands to tame both the soil and the demons of Hinoe Island.
The game has an interesting plot and takes a unique approach to its gameplay, and while it has a good story, especially for the type of title it is, at times the title had a consistent struggle to stay consistently entertaining near the end; making the final push to finish the game a bit of a chore.
Even with that said, the title has still got plenty to offer in terms of style, and a relaxing, and sometimes tedious, farming mechanic.
In terms of gameplay—Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a mixed party bag of game-play, where you will be jumping from platform to platform like any other platformer. However, you arent just playing a platforming title, which if it was just another platformer, there wouldnt be much to talk about here.
As the player starts the game and gets acquainted with the rather unique characters and plot, they will be thrown right into the action. Your first task being you exploring your island home.
This is where the title starts to show its true colors. Remember when I said its a mixed party bag? Well when you explore the island the game transforms into a 2.5D action platformer, where you will also be immediately introduced to combat, having to defeat several enemies that are in your way.
When in combat, Sakuna can use three tools, her sickles provides short and quick attacks, while her hammer being the opposite, offering heavy, but slow attacks. Last but not least is her divine raiment, which allows her to grab and stick to objects during combat or light platforming.
While the combat is smooth, the traversal of the environment is a bit clunky. It can be hard to aim Sakuna’s scarf grappling hook accurately, and oftentimes you’ll grapple a whole lot of nothing.
Having good aim during battles is a must, and can be deadly used incorrectly. Launching the scarf and retracting it is locked behind a cooldown, which is deadly if you’re about to get charged by something.
During your adventures, you’ll also pick up items and materials in different sections of the map. The island has a plethora of both food and crafting items, which you can take back to your homestead and do a bunch of things with.
One such way is bringing back the items to the many humans in her care. Most of the humans play certain roles in the community, such as a blacksmith, an assistant farmer, and a cook. These characters will offer their skills to Sakuna during her sentence, making her time on the island a bit easier.
Getting to the game’s main event, rice farming, the game surprisingly pulls off as realistic a take of rice farming as you can get in a video game. To begin the rice growing process, players will first need to plant seeds reasonably spaced from each other.
They will then have to fill the patty with the appropriate amount of water. Finally, you’ll wait for your results while also killing weeds in the meantime. Come harvest time, Sakuna must then wait for the rice to dry then use the appropriate tools to thresh and mead the rice.
After finally receiving the result of their hard-earned work, you must do more hard work, which is preparing for the next batch. This includes clearing out rocks, prepping soil, and applying fertilizer while making sure you watch the seasons.
The beauty of Sakuna’s farming system is that everything is done manually, and it does a superb job at immersing you in the process in a very relaxing way. Earlier I mentioned that its a tedious task, and it is, however after doing it multiple times over and over and unlocking new abilities to farm, it becomes as easy as clicking your mouse.
The graphics of the game are by no means flawless, however what it doesn’t have in graphical fidelity, it makes up with a unique art style. You can tell that the art is oozing with passion from the artists who carefully crafted the games aesthetic. The character models for the game are also very unique, with characters emanating with personality from just one look at them.
The initial art style is very much so inspired by anime in the way the world and characters are painted and coloured, and the developers took great care to show respect to the Japanese culture that is very heavily featured in the title. It’s ultimately a very positive thing, especially when working with Kami (Gods) from Japanese culture, which if done wrong could hurt the title badly.
The world of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is beautiful to behold. The graphics have a quality of hand-painted likenesses despite being 3D models, even in the 2D sections of the game. The environmental and creature designs, particularly the boss monsters, are a delight to behold and show a new creative spin on some traditional design concepts.
Music & Audio
The music compliments the graphics and visuals well. An example being the music playing during the intro, in which the music gives off a mischievousness and whimsical tone to fit the unwelcome visitors being pursued by Sakuna.
The English voice acting in particular isn’t anything special, as with most English dubbed media, but they do a good enough of bringing their characters to life. The game’s soundtrack is filled with invasive tracks that get suck in your head, from the very bubble-gum type tunes accompanying the home area to the adventurous tracks scoring the action levels.
Thankfully, their carefully crafted composition made sure I never got bored, even as the hours piled up. The soundtrack is masterfully crafted to make sure that the experience is never dull, and every piece of music plays its part perfectly.
I caught myself looking up the soundtrack and listening to it as I wrote this article. The sound effects on their own are nothing special, and pretty much what you would expect from the title.
Sakuna starts off as a spoiled goddess with no concern for anyone but herself, however as she learns the value of hard work through harvesting rice, and forming a strong bond with her group of outcast humans, she truly grows into a heroine fit to conquer the Isle of Demons.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is ultimately a charming and fun adventure. The farming mechanics are explained pretty vaguely, making it difficult to really get a grasp, but once everything clicks, you come to appreciate how well both the farming simulation and side scrolling action adventure aspects complement each other.
The game benefits from its vibrant visual style that draws immense inspiration from eastern art and culture, with a stylized colour palette that gives the characters and setting plenty of personality.
The audio and music of the game are by no means the literal voice of god gracing your ears and making you feel eternal peace and enlightenment, but it does get its point across where it matters, the sounds and music fit the title well, and I could never see anything else in its place.
Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4 for $39.99. The screenshots used in his review are from the PC version of the title via Steam.
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