The goddess of farming and cultivation is a spoilt one, so her life takes a drastic turn when she is temporarily exiled from the Capital with the task of seeing to a mountaintop with a group of ragtag humans from all ages and backgrounds. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin takes 2D action platforming and combines it with 3D farming simulation, all wrapped up in an Edo-Japanese inspired world known as Yanato. However, as Sakuna begins to grow accustomed to her companions, an over-looming darkness threatens all that she holds dear.
From the get-go, it’s clear that the more effort you put into harvesting, the better off you’ll be in combat. In a game that combines the meticulous organisation of rice farming with the aggressive combat of a 2D action platformer, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin makes you work for your bonuses but just like cooking your own dinner, it’s always more satisfying when you’ve earned it.
Tending and harvesting crops isn’t exactly a new concept in video games, but Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin takes it all to a whole new level by breaking down each step of the process. This includes tilling the earth, adding ingredients to the fertiliser, spreading the fertiliser in the soil, planting the seeds, seeing to the water/temperature levels, plucking out weeds and pests, harvesting the crops, drying them on a rack and finally, threshing the rice out of them. To my memory, no other farming game lets you go into that much meticulous detail and while at first I thought this to be somewhat tedious, I levelled up and learned new skills which better streamlined the process, allowing for a wonderful sense of progression whilst I took pride in my harvest.
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When leaving home to fight off the beasts, you’ll need to be wary of your Fullness bar. This depletes the further you push yourself, meaning that you’ll only have enough time for one or two ventures per day. Obviously, this bar is refilled by what you eat and the better quality of the food, the longer you can last. If your Fullness bar depletes entirely, your Effects and stat boosts will wear off, leaving you more vulnerable in combat.
The combat itself is varied, although somewhat rigid and stale. You can learn new skills as you go, craft new weapons and upgrade them with the loot that you collect along the way. When you find new loot, you can bring it to Kinta at his forge to learn new equipment to craft. Sakuna also has a Raiment which acts as a makeshift grappling hook and can also be used in combat to make up for a lack of ranged attacks. It’s fun to zip around and it allows Sakuna to reach high places but it can also feel awkward and clunky at times.
This all sounds well and good so far but Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin suffers from frequent pacing issues that often makes you feel unsure about how to proceed. It’s never fun if you are required to find a single item that is in a remote corner of a level just to continue the main plot and even worse when the game can occasionally be cryptic about said process. The farming is elaborate, the cultural education is fascinating and the combat is engaging but when you hit the infrequent wall that arbitrarily halts your progress, it can take away that will to see it through.
World / Level Design
There are two different aspects to Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin: you have the 3D areas which take place on top of the mountain where you cultivate, farm crops and manage your upgrades; then there are the 2D areas where you hunt, fight and progress with the plot. It’s a clever system that allows the farming aspect to feel robust with complexity.
The 2D levels don’t tend to offer all that much variety. They’ll start off simple, making your way from one side to the next and next thing you know, they’ll resemble mini Metroidvania layouts without the convenience of a map. Your tasks will also range from getting to the exit to beat the boss and at night time, they’ll be even harder to beat, requiring you to face them when you are much stronger. The idea of completing these challenges is to increase your exploration level, allowing you to unlock more levels and carry on with the story.
Story / Personality
Each character has their own discernable personality that makes them stand out amongst the group. Everything from the over-priveledged goddess Sakuna, the travelling mother Myrthe who struggles with the local dialect, to the inept samurai turned bandit who’s cowardly with a katana but knowledgeable growing crops in the field.
Much of the story and conversations take place in the hut on the floor as the whole group gets together to eat. Not only is it a lovely and wholesome way in which to build character relations, but it’s also elegant and an accurate depiction of Japanese food culture.
Graphics / Art Direction
While Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin certainly looks better on other consoles, it’s Japanese inspired art direction still holds up wonderfully on Switch. The intricate details of the world and its inhabitants are superb and the sceneries you’ll come across are breathtaking.
The water effects are absolutely mesmerising! When filling up the rice field, the water gracefully replicates how it would in reality. Now for less about reality, some levels have floating balls of water that you can jump into and when it’s winter and raining, you can see the effects of the droplets hitting it. It’s a small touch but it looks incredible.
Music / Sound Design
The Japanese culture is heightened by the game’s wonderful soundtrack with beautiful stringed instrument harmonising together. Each track is catchy and I found myself humming to them hours after I had put the game down.
Considering the game’s Japanese setting, I couldn’t possibly imagine playing through it with English voice acting. That is its default setting, and it wasn’t poor by any means, but changing the voice work to Japanese just made sense.
Final Score: 78%
It may take a while for things to pick up but once you get in the groove, there’s a lot to love about Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. Its Japanese inspired setting brings forth a beautiful atmosphere as you farm and see your hard earned efforts pay off in combat. Its choppy pacing certainly holds the game back from being a masterpiece but Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a shining gem, through and through.
Thank you for checking out our Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Switch review, thank you to Decibel PR for providing the review code and thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:
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