Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin - Review | A Deadly Harvest
By: Fernando Da Costa
A PUNISHED GODDESS! - Introduction
Upon the release of the very 1st trailer, it had my interest piqued. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin was presented as a relaxing, slice-of-life affair that tickled my fancy. See, I’m somewhat obsessed with the genre, so, naturally, I’m sold. My intrigue grew further once I saw the combat - I was enamoured. This game was combing the tranquil musings of farming with fast-paced side-scrolling action. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin had me smitten, and the Japanese aesthetic charmed me even further. It was a no-brainer at this point - I had to cover it. I hurriedly reached out to XSeed with my request and, thankfully, they responded in kind. Before I dive into this in-depth analysis, I’d like to thank them for this opportunity. Now, without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
TEND TO THAT RICE! - Story Synopsis
Edelweiss has told a masterful tale of the redemption of Sakuna - a spoiled brat and daughter to The Harvest Goddess. As five mortals stroll into the kingdom of the Gods, she’ll confront them. Because of the hijinks that follow, they’re all exiled to a beast-infested island. Once there, they must work in unison to not only cultivate rice to strengthen Sakuna but also cleanse the demonic filth. Only then will they be able to rectify any mistakes made and regain favour with the Lofty Realm - the heavenly plain.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is built around a daily routine. Crafting, cooking, and most importantly: planting and harvesting rice. You’ll endear yourself to all the characters and chuckle at their antics. You’ll also be surprised by the sheer depth on display. With time, pasts will slowly unravel, and the truth will reveal itself - things aren’t what they seem. The question will now become: will Sakuna find salvation?
SLICE OF LIFE WITH A BIT OF SPICE! - Gameplay
I’d be remiss to categorize Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin as a Metroidvania. It’s a recipe that consists of 50% rice farming and 50% side-scrolling action and tasks you with traversing various sections of the map to advance the story. Before selecting one of the levels, you’ll notice a list of items. These are what you can expect to find within. Once obtained, it’s used in two different ways:
As ingredients for fertilizer
As materials to craft weapons and garments
It’s worth noting that anything equipped is visually displayed - a nice touch of polish.
One issue that I tend to find with this genre is after a few hours; earlier areas are push-overs. Your character becomes far too powerful for the enemies, and it renders any backtracking quite arduous - it feels like a chore. Edelweiss, fortunately, tries to rectify this, and they do so effectively. While there’s no scaling, a day and night cycle differentiates the weak from the strong. That level 1 area is only that by day, but at night, it’s suddenly suitable for level 17. It won’t be only the monsters that receive a boost as the quality of spoils also sees an increase, mitigating the tedium of returning to early areas by incentivizing it with the challenge.
FARMING ISN’T FOR THE WEAK! - Gameplay
Amidst that rice harvesting, there are some RPG elements sprinkled in. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has an exciting level system implemented - I loved it. A player would, typically, have to earn their experience by battling the many enemies of the game. That isn’t the case here, however, as it’s tied directly to your crops. Sakuna’s power comes from the cultivated rice. The amount it’s bolstered by is dependent on how successful the yield is. In simpler terms, if you’ve finished an in-game year with a growth level of 5, then Sakuna will reflect that. While strengthening her is a significant component in the game, it isn’t all you do. You, eventually, unlock the ability to purchase items. The currency, though, isn’t money earned from combat but, instead, it requires the usage of the fruits of your labour - the rice.
This very mechanic, unfortunately, reveals a personal gripe of mine. The intricacies of it are confusing to grasp, and there are no tutorials that clearly explain how to do it adequately. I was tossed to the wolves and had to learn on the fly - failures and all. Edelweiss does try to clarify things by having in-game scrolls hidden throughout that go into further detail. It sounds great, but the biggest problem is that I didn’t stumble on some of these until late into the game. By that time, I had stumbled on a semi-competent farm that was doing good numbers. Yes, this is, assuredly, a nitpick, and as I've indicated, you do get a hold of the basics through trial and error. The thing is that it’s never fully understood, and even after playing for several hours, I still don’t have a firm grasp of it.
An aspect that I did come to adore is that, with time, Sakuna learns new skills. I know, this doesn’t sound groundbreaking but listen, none of them are tied to battle, but farming. As you play and repeatedly plant rice, she’ll start to learn more sophisticated techniques. For example, she’ll only know how to place one seed at a time, but as the game progresses, it becomes 2, then 4, and then eight at once. I can’t help but applaud this because it’s as if Sakuna is learning how to be a more efficient farmer. A lot of attention went into this mechanic. Because this was handled in this way, it was like witnessing Sakuna grow and learn.
Conveyance is something that Edelweiss struggled with doing. See, before selecting a level, there’s a list located at the top left. These are the tasks in an area, and besides each one, there’s a particular star rating. In other words, Sakuna isn’t the only one that can level. Your exploration will be able to as well, and those ratings mentioned above indicate how much - one does so by one, and so on. What you require will vary: from killing a set number of foes to finding a specific item. Some tasks were a bit too vague in description, and by proxy, meant I couldn’t complete them all. There was one, in particular, that asked me to utilize skills to reach new heights. I took this at face value and traversed it to the highest point of the specific level. That, of course, didn’t work out and what it turned out to be was touching the invisible wall above. To do this, I needed to manipulate the many flying enemies nearby to slingshot myself upwards, but I, initially, had no idea of this. I wasn’t even the one to discover this. A fellow reviewer stumbled on this after getting frustrated and button-mashing. I’m pointing this out because you need a certain exploration level to unlock new areas. If I’m unable to decipher what needs to be done, I’m not able to advance. This is, thankfully, an issue that affects the minority of levels.
Those previously discussed scrolls also aren’t forthright. There’s one that divulges how to produce an excellent yield better. To do this, the seedlings need to be submerged in shallow water. And while water depth is, eventually, shown through percentage, it also didn’t help. It’s a mystery as to what exactly qualifies. I’d argue that 20% complete would fit the bill, but at the same time, 10% does too, same with 15%. If I tried to play it safe by going with the lesser value, it might damage the rice I grew.
There is a significant stat dump at the end of every harvest. It details the decisions made during that cycle. I, however, couldn’t make heads or tails about it. As a result, it was grossly ineffective.
C’MON BABY, GRIND UP ON ME! - Gameplay
Despite there not being traditional experience points, there still exists a semblance of grinding. For every weapon and article of clothing found, there are abilities ingrained into each one. They consist of up your strength during a specific season or outright increasing a stat. Those star ratings mentioned earlier are also found here. These are the rankings of the particular piece of equipment that can range from one, two, three, or five. Every time that it’s upgraded, a better reward will be acquired. The conditions to do so include but won’t be limited to;
A certain number of an item gathered
A certain amount of amber collected
The latter is what substitutes as EXP - think of it like pseudo-points. For those wondering, quite a few of them do need a bit too - 20,000, 30,000, or 50,000. A lot of time is going to be spent trying to accumulate amber. Edelweiss, thankfully, throws us a bone to make it easier. First, note that there may be sockets in the armament found, and there’s a reason for this. Early into the adventure, you’ll come across something known as a “Spirit Bough.” There are several of these scattered throughout and have their effect. The one in question grants a percent bonus of earned amber. A little tip, but I highly suggest focusing on maxing this specific one out to make levelling everything up more of a breeze.
Look, I understand that most folks are wary of the word “grinding” because it’s deemed tedious. Well, there’s some excellent news then as I enjoyed the combat. Edelweiss nailed making every battle fun with fluent animation and fast-paced action. What I, significantly, grew obsessed with was the Raiment - a scarf-like fabric that Sakuna wears. It can grab hold of monsters and stick to particular objects to propel to formerly unreachable areas. When boiled down, you’ve transformed the Goddess into Spider-woman - and I’m so for it.
Okay, I’m going to say - I’m in love with this exclusive feature. What’s more is that while Sakuna has her own set of skills, so too does the Raiment - and a diverse range at that. For example, one allows you to attach yourself to an enemy. Then, with the correct button prompt, she reels herself towards them and the impact of her body hitting them causes massive damage. Another technique grabs hold of a monster before whipping it upwards, twirling in a circle, and then smashing it towards the ground - see picture for reference. As a bonus, any enemy in its swinging trajectory also hit.
One other example of how polished *Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin* is that weight is a factor. Since the Raiment is cloth, you‘ll struggle to lift that large, hulking bear. With that in mind, you’ll find a smidgen of strategy in the battle.
NOT AS GRATING AS I EXPECTED! - Sound Design
With gameplay out of the way, let’s get into the audio. I’ll be honest, I was apprehensive with the voice acting but kept an open mind. It wasn’t horrible, but the constant yelling with each strike didn’t sit well. It, fortunately, didn’t get as annoying as it could have been. I, in fact, even began blocking it out as I continued playing. If anything, take this as a clear sign of how addictive the actual gameplay is. As for the dub proper, it was genuinely great. My only issue was whenever Sakuna screamed; it got a bit grating. There is a simple fix, though, and by adjusting the individual volume sliders, it’s much more bearable. Her speaking voice fits her instead nicely, too - it’s a phenomenal performance, as are the others.
Tauemon - a soft-spoken samurai
Myrtle - a lady from a foreign place. I specifically liked her. The accent and her imprecise English reminded me of my parents.
There’s also three children; Yui, Kinta, and Kaimaru
Then the disembodied voice - who is your spiritual servant - Tama
AND THE GODLY VERDICT IS…
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is an engaging, near-perfect experience. The casting for each character was chosen perfectly. Every actor hit it out of the park and truly dedicated themselves to infusing life and personality into these 3D models. The banter was amusing - I laughed quite a few times, wildly, at the dad puns. That out-of-the-box approach to the levelling system was a welcomed change. I loved having the crops tied to strengthening the Goddess - it was a creative way to showcase her roots on her mother's side. A lot of polish and love went into making sure this was a fun romp from beginning to end - they succeeded.
Hell, there’s so much I haven’t even touched on. Quests are a predominant factor, as is cooking food. Before calling it a night, everyone will gather for dinner. Pay close attention to the dishes chosen because each one has a specific effect - from poison resistance to health regeneration. Oh, some weeds attack your crops, as well as insects. There’s also a mini-game to enjoy and even a 100-floor dungeon. Bluntly put, there’s a lot of content to enjoy.
The musical score is both whimsical and cheery. String instruments and the sweet sound of flutes dominate. Edelweiss did a great job injecting Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin with that Japanese flare. It's visually stunning and comes with no noticeable performance blunders. I liked the water, too - shout out to that. If not for my subjective problems, I’d consider this a perfect game.
As it stands, definitely buy this. Edelweiss put their hearts and souls into the development of this project, and it shows. XSeed did an excellent job localizing it and maintaining the quirks intact. I can’t rave enough about Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. This game is a must-buy and scores an astounding 9.
Editor's Note: This entire article was rewritten by Fernando Da Costa and republished September 1, 2021, as a show of the reviewer's growth in writing.