Even in an industry with unlikely genre hybrids like MMO / shooters and puzzle / RPGs, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin offers an odd combination. It’s a fast-paced action game where you can unleash stylish combos against a screen full of monsters. However, it’s also an agricultural game that emphasizes the value of the community and growing high quality rice. Finding a harmonious balance between these extremes of the gaming spectrum may seem impossible, but developer Edelweiss makes it work surprisingly well. Despite this great challenge, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin still succumbs to little pests and plagues that devour the fun over time.
Sakuna is a deity whose parents are the god of war and the goddess of the harvest, and players experience this legacy in separate but interrelated ways. Most of the time you spend leaning into the whole war thing, traversing 2D stages and battling demons with a range of weapons and magical powers. The fight feels satisfying and you can do all your movements with simple shortcut keys. It’s easy to knock enemies back, do a dashing slash, or summon a tornado. You’ll also acquire and improve new skills along the way, and experimenting with different combinations is fun. I enjoyed throwing enemies into the air, mercilessly slicing them up, and plunging them into environmental hazards and other demons.
Navigating most of the levels also involves platforming, which Sakuna’a requires divine clothing – a glowing scarf that she can use to hold onto walls and enemies. While I appreciate the potential mobility that the robe adds to Sakuna’s moveset, it’s frustratingly unreliable. You use the analog stick to aim at it, but the robe is strictly tied to vectors with eight directions. So if you don’t line it up just right, you can easily step over the ledge or ceiling you want to secure. I don’t mind repeating small jumps, but when a slight misjudgment puts me on a fatal collision course with a lava flow, I start to lose patience. I had a similar problem with clinging to certain enemies – especially bosses who always have a ton of smaller demons around.
When not out to explore and struggle, spend time on your homestead growing rice. Simple mini-games will help you prepare and process your harvest, e.g. B. when sorting the rice with mud or when pounding the grains to peel them. How you do these tasks will affect several qualities of your final crop, such as: B. how hearty your rice is or how good it tastes. However, because of the ambiguity and uncertainty associated with the whole growing process, fine-tuning your rice to the specifications you want feels like a guessing game. Even so, precision is not required for success, and since you are not farming large fields or growing a ton of different crops, the agricultural element never becomes overwhelming.
This pastoral gameplay also feeds well with the action elements. The meals you prepare give you short-term attribute bonuses and buffs to help you tackle the day’s challenges. Every rice crop you complete offers lasting improvements. It is effective as you level up. On the flip side, the items and ingredients you collect in the action-oriented segments are used for fertilizer, craft and meal ingredients, creating a clever loop that ties the two different facets of the experience together. This interplay is the main thing that got me invested, especially since the story (which focuses on Sakuna’s redemption) is nothing to get upset about. Some of the characters are gross and disgusting, with too much dialogue to convey too little.
Even with the action and simulation elements working together, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin still struggles with its repetitive structure. Simply completing levels is not enough to get you forward. Each stage has a handful of goals that will increase your “exploration level”. This is a number that arbitrarily determines which areas are available to you. This means that you will have to revisit old zones several times to complete boring tasks like “defeat 30 enemies with magic” or “collect 3 pieces of ore”. All of these goals are slight deviations from similar topics, so they don’t result in unique moments. It’s just routine work that you have to do over and over again.
Sakuna: From rice and ruin is full of ups and downs. From one moment to the next it can be great fun. Agriculture and combat are each independently entertaining, but the systems that support these central concepts don’t feel refined. The fight is cool, but the pace breaks its momentum. The rice-based development is interesting, but the story and characters are not. All of these tradeoffs prevent Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin from delivering its full premium, although you can still take advantage of its novel combination of ideas.