Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin – Game review

It was many years ago I heard about this 2 man project, and after years I was not sure to expect. I was desperately waiting for Sakuna to come out after a consistent flood of roguel-ikes and uninspired “retro artstyle” from independent games, this seemed like a diamond in a rough.

After years upon years of waiting, all I can say is it was worth the wait!

There are many aspects to this game that surprised me, I thought I had a rough idea of what I was getting into, but that truly was only the surface. I will touch upon this later on but if you are looking for a chilled game, this probably is not quite it, you can certainly play it casually but the game is definitely demands micro management for success.

Sakuna

The main character Sakuna, is quite deceiving visually from a marketing perspective. This is no cute little girl. This is a grown goddess who loves getting wasted on booze, in a girl’s body. She has one hell of an attitude, and her dialogue is genuinely humorous.

She is spoiled as hell and is a pure love and hate character, although I get the feeling she is on a brilliant path to redemption. Surprisingly, the Story and the supporting characters in it are quite well written, are not something you have not seen before.

Yet they are a somewhat brilliant composition, there is a nice range of different archetypes, the dialogue exchange between the MC and some of the supporting cast is fantastic. Even the interactions you see between the supporting characters themselves is genuinely entertaining.

sakuna gameplay

Gameplay

Regarding the gameplay, it split between combat/exploration and farming. You have to explore and fight the demons to earn vital resources that expire to keep food on your table, the story encourages you to explore, so there is absolutely reason to not just farm.

The farming is actually more in depth than I thought, I have completed a full cycle, and there is a surprising amount of depth if you want to strive for perfection. Bearing in mind the better your crops, the stronger Sakuna becomes, so you really do want to achieve the best result from the fruits of your labour. There are correct ways to plant, fertilize, maintain crops, and water levels etc.

Not only that when it is finally time to pick you can let someone else do it or do the manual work. If you do it manually you have much more control over the yields, whether you want white or brown rice, and how husked you want it etc. There are a lot specific aspects, so there’s actual thought that needs to be given into what crops you want, and how you want to process them.

There are also seasons in the game, which all require different aspects of farming. While this may potentially sound like a lot of work, and in a way it is, due to the nature of the seasons which are short lived (3 day cycles each), the balance of combat/exploration and farming is borderline masterfully done in my opinion.  

The seasons do also influence the zones/areas you explore visually, which gives a nice sense of time flowing.

In relation to the areas, there are what you could call Biomes, but every area seems to have it’s on environmental quirks, regardless of the biome it is in. Some areas allow you to launch rocks at enemies, and even blocked areas to gain access, some areas let you bounce enemies off mushrooms, I appreciate the unique flavour of each area to try and keep the grind interesting.

It may not be perfectly pulled off but I appreciate the conscious effort and it is somewhat effective. 

All the combat interacts quite well with the aforementioned environmental quirks.

Combat

The combat is great and allows a lot of room for creativity.  It has specials, meter management, item management and so on. There are weapons you can forge and use, which have special attributes that can be unlocked by completing specific tasks.

sakuna of rice and ruin review

The combat primarily focuses on light and heavy attacks, however there is a lot of depth despite that. You have different attacks based on the direction you are inputting, up for example launches enemies, you can juggle, parry and grab onto enemies to either spina round them or launch them towards you.

You can throw enemies into other enemies launch them in the air and send them down flying into other enemies and so on, the grapple mechanic really adds to the mobility of sakuna and the speed of the game. If you control your positioning you can setup some really good moments, all of this means that you are not encouraged to just mash.

You think about the best ways to deal with what is in front of you, and occasionally be flashy for the sake of flashy.  While there is depth, it is however very accessible, nothing is technical to pull off and it comes together naturally, resulting in an almost DMC like feel in the form of a side scroller.

Health and resources

Health stops regenerating after a certain amount of time, and you have to return home and rest if you want to recover HP. If you feel up to it you can risk fighting into the night, but the enemies see a big buff, so there is quite a big risk, the areas are also very dark.

Also the resources you gain while fighting either goes to forging, farming or food you eat at the end of the day. Maintaining the correct food is quite essential, as the meals you eat can give you buffs. It is also very easy to farm for what you need exactly as each area gives you a list of all the resources you have found there and even leaves some things blank, letting you know you have not discovered everything.

The food you find however spoils, you can preserve foods but even then they will not last that long. So you have to think about what items you want to farm and make sure your stock is constantly regulated.

At this point you probably have a sense of the micromanagement and might even feel overwhelmed, however, It really is not as bad as it sounds. Thanks to fantastic tutorials and the games helpful nature of letting you know where to find resources, everything is incredibly easy to keep on top of.

If I was to be critical, the controls when farming could definitely be improved, you can not really keep a straight line or complete control of where you are planting things or plowing the ground for example. Logically you would think the left stick would be mapped to up and down and the right stick to left and right to ensure you can keep a straight line, instead the controls are left stick to move Sakuna and right stick to control the camera.

I’ve often struggled to keep my planting lines precise, the game does not really punish you too much, but this seems like an oversight, given the emphasize on spacing between your seeds.

Sound

The music is serviceable, I do really like it, but it is nothing to write home about.

Graphics

The graphics are what you would expect for a 2-man game, it’s a passable generic art style that gets the job done. There is however one character that has their own artstyle and it is absolutely stunning, and somewhat makes me wish they had to budget to explore it further.

To summarize, the gameplay is fantastic, the characters and their interactions are brilliant, the story is oddly endearing, the loop between the almost addictive zen like farming and combat/exploration is well thought out and there is a lot more depth than one might expect.

Summary

While other indy games have often faltered when trying to offer a unique spin such as running a shop where you sell what you find, Sakuna does not,  nothing in Sakuna is a gimmick or poorly thought out.

It is not flawless, and the pacing and loop could definitely be improved with a bigger budget, (Sakuna 2 please). However, this is a brilliant game and deserves recognition for it’s achievement after being planted so long ago, there is nothing like Sakuna and it definitely deserves your time.

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