XSEED and Edelweiss‘ Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin cleverly brings together two genres. There’s the action sidescrolling/exploration portion reminiscent of a Vanillaware game (Odin’s Sphere, Muramasa) in combination with gardening/life-simulation elements similar to in popular series like Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons. Thankfully, Sakuna mostly succeeds at blending these two portions of the game into one.
The unconventional hero
Despite looking like a child, the main character Sakuna is a grown adult with a bit of a drinking problem. She spends her days drunk and lazily moping around her village, as she is royalty and she can do that sort of thing. However, her spoiled lifestyle quickly takes a turn when she accidentally sets a local building on fire. The game then truly begins as she is banished from her hometown and thrust into a wacky adventure.
Without going into story spoilers, I really like the setup for the game. Sakuna is a lot different from most protagonists. We are not intended to like her at the start, and that’s a nice change of pace from your typical RPG hero.
The combat in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is satisfying. Using Sakuna’s hookshot to zip around the battlefield and destroy enemies never gets old. Sometimes the combat can feel a little wonky and definitely doesn’t feel as mechanically strong as something like in a Vanillaware game. Hitboxes aren’t always reactive, transitioning from one enemy to another isn’t always smooth, and Sakuna’s movement isn’t as floaty as I’d hoped — but it is a fun time nonetheless. Combat gets better as you play the game thanks to the new skills and weapons you will acquire. You can attach four different special attacks to Sakuna’s A-button attacks.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed in battle. You’ll need to constantly be moving in order to stay alive. This keeps things exciting and always intense. The combat in the levels is usually pretty easy on normal difficulty. However, the bosses will have you whaling on them for a good 10 minutes or more before they finally go down, which could get a bit tiring and repetitive.
Action vs. sim
Speaking of difficulty, one aspect I love about Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is the difficulty options. The combat and sim portions have two different difficulty sliders. So if you are mainly looking for a life-sim experience with easier combat, you can turn the combat difficulty down and the simulation difficulty up, and vice versa for someone who is mostly looking for an action experience. I was mostly eager to explore and battle foes, so I kept the combat on normal and turned the gardening/sim elements down to easy.
Sukuna’s home area in the land she has been banished to is really relaxing and therapeutic. The music is beautiful and the visuals are stunning — even at nighttime! However, one element that surprisingly stood out to me was the sound design. You could hear the various animals in the forest nearby, the water running down the rocks, and the plants blowing in the wind. ASMR people will love this section of the game for sure.
While the action segments in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin are all in 2D, when you’re at home, you have a fully controllable third-person camera. It’s ultimately a simple but really nice addition. At your home area, your crew will randomly engage in a conversation with you about a task they need you for. This usually involves you fetching some items or ingredients for them. Luckily, you will naturally complete a lot of these tasks while exploring the world.
Addicting gameplay loop
The gameplay loop in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is really addicting. Each day you’ll wake up and go out and explore new areas. In these new areas, you will find ingredients for new recipes, secret items, and of course seeds, food, and resources to bring back home. The game uses a day-night and seasonal system, and you’ll need to get most of your exploring done during the day, as the enemy’s defense will skyrocket at night time.
Being able to see your progress for each area incentivizes you to keep going until the sun goes down to try for 100%. Then it’s back to the house to work, eat, and sleep. You’ll gain EXP from eating the meals you unlock. The crew will eat dinner together and get to know each other better.
The characters in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin all have unique personalities. While some of them are pretty typical, I still found this odd grouping of characters charming. You have the hardheaded young boy who thinks he can boss everyone around, the dopey dad-like character who’s always messing up, and the motherly outsider that’s still learning the land and the language used in it, plus a few more side-characters. Then, of course, you have Sakuna, who grows relationships with each of them throughout the story.
The overarching narrative of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin doesn’t do much to move the needle, but I still enjoyed the dialogue between the characters. There are some charming, cringeworthy, and memorable moments of levity between Sakuna and her new surrogate family. At the end of the journey, I was happy with where the story concluded.
Lastly, I saw some concerns online when we published our video preview about how the Nintendo Switch version performs. I’m happy to say that the Nintendo Switch version runs excellently, and I didn’t encounter any performance issues big or small. Even the load times between levels are snappy. It’s pretty darn impressive considering the beautiful visuals the game offers. If I had to guess, I think the Switch version might be running at a lower resolution than on PlayStation 4.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin succeeds at offering both an exploration-based beat ’em up adventure and a relaxing life-sim experience. The combat may not be perfect and the difficulty feels uneven at times, but the addicting gameplay loop and charming world more than make up for it.
A review code was provided by the publisher.