Much like ActRaiser, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is an engaging amalgam of action game and simulation. The former is competent, but it’s the rustic charm and attention devoted to the latter that makes this game distinctive.
Platform: PC, also on PlayStation 4, Switch
Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, Inc.
Release date: November 10th, 2020
Price: $39.99 via digital download, Digital Deluxe Edition also available
There’s a multitude of reasons why Japanese game are revered across the globe. For some, fan-service shuns the vestiges of puritanism, reminding us that sexuality is part of our nature. For others, it’s the focus on context. Story often plays a fundamental role in interactive journeys, supplying a compelling impetus for the protagonists we care about. Personally, I love Japanese games for the same reason I adore world cinema: the worldviews can be wonderfully refreshing.
Take Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, the recent release from two-man doujin circle Edelweiss. It’s never explicitly stated, but the game is about the symbiotic relationship we have with the land. While developers from other territories might injected dire environmental warnings, Sakuna’s viewpoint is expressed through an imaginative intermingling of dissimilar genres.
Banished to the Isle of Demons
We first meet the game eponymous lead in a drunken stupor, a condition that’s rather unbecoming for the offspring of a warrior god and a harvest divinity. As a goddess, Sakuna speaks in a regal and often condescending tone, that’s maintained by a top tier localization effort from XSEED. Remarkably, Of Rice and Ruin takes inspiration from Shinto and Buddhist tradition, without reiterating folklore directly, making for an expedition that feels fresh. Another successful attribute is that the game habitually shirks seriousness, with lighthearted moments that reflect the delights of pastoral life.
Trouble begins when a group of humans are crossing the celestial bridge. Attempting to chase them out of a divine realm, Sakuna inadvertently starts a fire. For her impudence, celestial ruler Lady Kamuhitsuki banishes her to the Isle of Demons in hopes of purifying the land. But there’s the sneaking suspicion that the monarch wants Sakuna to stop acting like an entitled brat. (as a goddess, she’s aged, but has the appearance of a young girl).
Magnificent Views from the Island
Despite its ominous moniker, the Isle of Demon’s isn’t entirely perilous. It’s undoubtedly one of my favorite game destinations in recent memory, with a winding mountain in the middle of the landmass. In the midst of a gentle rain, stand on the edge of the winding path, peer past the bamboo and you’ll see mist covered mountains in the distance. At the summit is your rice garden, which during the wet season, offers a reflection of moonlight that will put RTX owners to shame. Of Rice and Ruin’s diminutive details paint a picturesque setting.
But you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in the Island’s perilous underbelly. Here, antagonistic creatures like giant rabbits, pigs, and sparrows attack as you gather resources for your habitat. Luckily, Sakuna has a capable loadout with selection of farm tools that can issue light and heavy strikes. She’s also outfitted with a divine raiment, with sleeves that can stretch and wrap around enemies, sort of like Bionic Commando’s grappling hook.
Like Capcom’s classic title, you’ll can fling the garb in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal directions, propelling yourself around each subterranean environment. Combat is mostly smooth, as you trigger combos and deals with foes that tend to attack in mobs. You might wish that you could injure downed foes, but even unruly Goddesses demonstrate dignity when fighting. Another wrinkle is rooted in the game’s diurnal cycle. If you attempt to confront foes at night, prepare for a protracted battle. The amount of damage you’ll do is greatly reduced.
While you can have one of the accompanying humans take care of rice cultivation, you’ll be missing one of Sakuna’s best components. Here, farming is broken down into the kind of segmented tasks that Bokujō Monogatari/Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons’ fans with be familiar with. From tilling, planting, watering, fertilizing, plowing, harvesting, drying, to threshing, the game imparts reverence toward the invaluable grain. Maximizing both volume and yield is suitable challenging and pleasingly, you can grow different varieties.
Come Grow with Me
Pleasingly, rice cultivation plays a role in the contentment of the humans of the island as well as the improvement of your fortitude. The former is rooted in the dinner conversations which extend character development. Unsurprisingly, the irksome cast gradually grows more endearing, becoming your surrogate family on the island. Agricultural success leads to augmentation, with stats, weapons, and your raiment all becoming increasingly powerful.
Here, is one of the few instances where Sakuna can frustrate, with some boss battles requiring Sakuna to level up or else she’ll feel dramatically underpowered. The other possible issue is found in the game’s day-night cycle that occasionally pushes you along instead of letting you bask in the natural beauty. While some might be attracted to Of Rice and Ruin with the hopes of becoming a rice farmer, know that you’ll spend a significant portion of time fighting as well.
On PC, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin runs smoothly, offering solid sixty frame-per-second output even on an aging GTX 1060-powered laptop. Given the ability to scale graphic quality down, the minimum requirement of a 750 Ti seems reasonable. Voice over is available in both Japanese and English. While the native language is exceedingly expressive, there’s one character with ambiguously-European accent that’s a bit forced. But given the game’s doujin heritage (it was first shown at Comiket 92 in August 2017), it’s visual and aural accomplishments are noteworthy. This looks and sounds like a title crafted by dozens of developers rather than a team of two.
Not only does Of Rice and Ruin effectively tackle action and agrarian simulation, but it’s succinct storytelling is adept. It’s certainly a fascinating world to visit, and watching Edelweiss cultivate character arcs is yet another winning attribute. But oddly, it’s the unexpected moments- from a group of captivating kappa to the fireflies that twinkle above your grain that will hook you. Few games nurture a sense of place as well as Of Rice and Ruin.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin was played on PC
with review code provided by the publisher.