At E3 2019, we had the pleasure of previewing a few upcoming titles from XSEED. You might have already seen our impressions of Heroland. I also got to preview Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin from two-man development team Edelweiss. It’s a sidescroller with crafting and, of all things, farming simulation.
I likewise had the opportunity to interview Edelweiss themselves — Director Nal and CG Artist Koichi — with the assistance of a translator. We discussed the improbable inspirations for the game, the challenges of developing as such a small team, and a desire to spread a love of rice around the world.
[The translator provided Nal and Koichi’s answers as a unified response, so we are presenting their answers as such when it is not entirely clear who gave each statement. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]
Nintendo Enthusiast: In Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, where did the idea come from to combine platforming with farming simulation?
Nal: From the very beginning, we had decided to do something like this, wanting to do an adventure game mixed with a simulation. We had decided to create a village first, and then we expanded it from there. For the rice farming aspect of it, we realized there were a lot of different farming simulators out there, so we wanted to find a way to make it stand out from any farming simulator predecessor. That’s why we started to go all in with the rice farming and the rice fields.
NE: What games or even just other media are inspirations on this title?
Nal: If I had to say specific titles, I would say ActRaiser and Devil May Cry. From the story, I took a lot of inspiration from a movie called Seven Samurai and Princess Mononoke as well.
NE: Where specifically is the ActRaiser inspiration coming from?
Nal & Koichi: I guess the ActRaiser influence comes from the mix of the action and the simulation. Because you know a lot of times, companies will say, “We want to do one aspect [with respect to game genre],” so we wanted to try to put [aspects] together. ActRaiser had that sort of “creation mode” as well, so we figured as any game company, we have the power to mix some of these aspects together. So we thought we’d go for it!
NE: What is the “goal,” so to speak, of the farming in the game? How is it helping Sakuna?
Nal & Koichi: The rice farming actually affects Sakuna in terms of the rice has stats — depending on how delicious it is, how sticky it is, things like that. These stats of the rice will also affect Sakuna’s stats as well.
NE: I noticed while playing the demo that Sakuna’s health regenerates when she’s not in a fight, and that’s actually unusual for a platformer. How did you arrive at that decision?
Nal & Koichi: My personal policy is that I don’t actually like putting recovery items in games. A lot of the self-recovery comes from the meal that Sakuna eats the previous day. There is no specific item that recovers it.
NE: Obviously, Edelweiss is a very small team. What are the biggest challenges of developing as such a small team?
Nal & Koichi: The realm of stuff that the two of us have to do because we are such a small team is ginormous. There is a lot we have to do. I think one of the most difficult challenges for us is doing something outside of our [specializations], outside the things that we normally do … or coming out here [to LA for interviews] can be a little bit nerve-wracking. Even though it’s just the two of us, we always start out with something simple, but then we “hit the accelerator.” We go for it! We always sort of go for more than we originally planned.
Koichi actually drew the game logo.
NE: Do you arrive at game decisions together always, or are there some aspects where it’s like, “I say this, and you do this,” and it’s separate?
Nal & Koichi: Usually we’ll want to agree on [decisions], and we talk about it until we’re convinced that it’s something we’re both interested in. But Nal-san is very powerful. [laughs]
NE: You guys are well known in the doujin scene for games such as Fairy Bloom and Ether Vapor. How did it come to be that Edelweiss wound up with XSEED? How did that connection happen?
Nal & Koichi: We were actually displaying our game [Astebreed] at BitSummit one year. We had [Ken Berry, Executive Vice President of XSEED Games] — he approached us and said, “Hey, would you like to make a game together?”
NE: Wow, that’s easy. You only have to make several great games and then somebody comes to you. [laughs]
Nal & Koichi: I guess when we’re thinking about it now, even though we didn’t know what the content was going to be, we still wanted to go for it.
NE: Edelweiss has covered shooters. You’re now doing platformers and farm simulation. You’ve done some brawling. What are some other genres you might still like to make games in?
Nal & Koichi: There is a lot! I think, first of all, for our next project it’s going to take a lot of courage to set up because Sakuna itself took four years to make. We don’t want to say we’ve decided anything, but simulation RPG or something like that is something we’d like to touch on. We’ve only got so many chances in life; we figure we might as well go for it while we have the chance.
NE: Easy question — what are you enjoying in LA?
Nal & Koichi: Just walking around the city has been a really cool experience because the way the streets and city are set out is very different from how it is in Japan. We’ve also enjoyed being tourists and even just going to places like McDonald’s and people-watching. I think becoming a better designer or artist is also kind of dependent on what you see, so the architecture here has also been really interesting to look at.
NE: When Sakuna releases, it’s out to the world, and everyone is playing it — what do you hope is the big “takeaway”? What do you hope players will feel or remember about the game once they finish playing it?
Nal & Koichi: I guess one of the main things we want to have players take away is an interest in Japan and its culture — and also an interest in rice! So we hope more people will be interested in rice and Japanese culture.
We would like to extend a big thank you to Edelweiss and XSEED for making this interview possible. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin will release for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 this winter.