Written by Robert Mullarkey on 10 Nov 2020
Distributor Marvellous • Price £34.99
After a mishap at a banquet of the Gods, Sakuna, who happens to be the daughter of the God of War and the Goddess of Harvest, is tasked with ridding an island of it's demonic horde. Sakuna is aided in in this task by a group of humans who somehow wandered into the spiritual plane. After setting up a base of operations at an abandoned village, Sakuna uses this base as a means to grow rice to provide food in order to survive. However as a Goddess of harvest, Sakuna's godly power is tied into the cultivation of rice crops. Not only will growing rice in the village's fields provide much needed sustenance to her companions, it will alsoy give her the strength to battle against the island's demonic hordes while solving the mystery of how they came to arrive in the first place.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a side scrolling platformer/Action RPG that also mixes in farming simulation elements. Subsequently the game balances exploration and resource management. Sakuna visits various locations on a map in order to advance the story, with each containing certain objectives that, when completed, will increase the exploration level of the player and unlock new areas to explore. The growing of rice is handled via a farming simulation - there is a patch of dirt in the village that is used as a base of operations, and each year the player must grow a rice crop from scratch. This is achieved by cultivating the land, planting the rice crops, growing them, drying out the harvested crops, threshing the crops and then cultivating the finished product.
The game employs a seasonal cycle along with a day and night cycle in interesting ways. The seasons are used to determine when rice growing starts as well as the stages at which certain methods should be used. The game has a good tutorial and a character on hand to give advice. Things start out simple enough but as years pass more systems come into play and the game becomes more involved.
The game starts out by having the player make sure that rice crops are planted with enough space and that there is enough water in the field for the crop. As things get more complex, additional factors such as water level percentage, water temperature, weeding, pest/disease management and even managing fertiliser come into play. Thankfully the more time the player spends tending crops the more skills they learn to help them.
As the player becomes familiar with all the aspects of farming, you'll start to take an interest in ensuring land is properly tilled via a grid base which shows where to properly place the rice plants and pick your crops more efficiently. The main aim when growing rice is to get a good harvest each year, and it is this aspect of the game that will determine your experience points, not battle. This incentives the player to properly tend to the crops each year. Along with this, as the player hits certain milestones in farming they'll learn skills not just for farming but for battle.
Sakuna handles battles via side-scrolling RPG mechanics. Sakuna has access to two weapons; a one handed weapon for light attacks and a two handed weapon for heavy attacks. Each can be used by pressing their respective button. Special skills can be equipped and used in combination with a direction button too. As the skill is used it gains experience, making it stronger. Along with this Sakuna has access to the Raiment, a silken scarf used for both traversal and combat. It has its own skills that can be equipped, and can grab opponents, flip them and cause status effects. The combat can be rather frantic so getting to grips with the raiment along with the other attacks is the key to victory.
Each weapon has special attributes that can be unlocked when meeting a condition or equipping items onto them. These can have various effects such as health and attack bonuses, or providing greater drop rates for items. The key to progressing in the game is collecting items which have multiple uses. Most are materials for upgrading weapons, but some have beneficial effects when used as fertiliser or in cooking. When used for fertiliser, the items can increase various attributes of Sakuna herself, such as health, strength and defence. Adding these to the fertiliser is crucial to level up properly.
Their use in cooking also grants bonuses. Sakuna has a hunger mechanic, and after eating she has a fullness meter that goes down when exploring. Until it empties the player will have various benefits applied, based on the properties of the meal they last had, such as healing while not in battle. When exploring new areas or areas that will have tough fights its best to go home and eat a full meal before doing so. The game becomes this rather routine affair where it'll have the player jumping back and forth between exploring the map, fighting demons, raising crops, eating food, resting and then doing the same all over again.
What makes the game fun is the consistency and evolution of your tasks. The flow of combat works well and the rice growing doesn't feel like a chore. The only niggle is the interruption of having to return back home to eat most of the time, especially when food spoils too quickly. The ingredients you get spoil which feels like most of the items you obtain are wasted if not immediately used for a meal or in fertiliser. I'm the kind of person who likes to save their good items for later when I really need them. This approach to using items as soon as I get them breaks one of my habits.
Other than that the game is great fun. Presentation is charming, with an approach to Japanese mythology and cute characters that reminded me of the game Okami. Here though rather than go deep into the lore, things are presented to the player through dinner conversations and side quests that randomly crop up. We discover things about the human characters that are helping Sakuna and about the Goddesses lineage. Its a rather fun game with a very nice repetitive loop.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Review Code provided courtesy of Marvelous Games
Computing graduate. Office Worker. Deserved a Big Toblerone. Anime and Video Game Fan
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