Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin from Edelweiss and XSEED is a combination of farming simulation and 2D sidescrolling action adventure that creates a fun and satisfying loop. The game also boasts a wonderful cast and a lighthearted story about finding oneself.
You play as Sakuna, an entitled goddess who has never really had to work for anything in her life. Unfortunately for her, she gets tangled up with a group of humans and they all end up being banished to Hinoe Island, also called the Isle of Demons. In order to regain her status, she and her human companions must rid the island of demons. Along the way, she bonds with the humans, makes new friends, and learns more about her own history.
It’s impressive how Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin equally divides your time between farming elements and 2D sidescrolling action. Sakuna’s power increases as she cultivates more rice throughout the game, and that translates directly into her stats when fighting enemies.
The farming simulation is surprisingly in-depth. Including maintaining your rice crop, like tilling the soil and letting water run through the field, you can also add fertilizer. By inserting components dropped by normal enemies in the game, the fertilizer grants stat boosts to Sakuna as the rice grows over the year and increases her overall Growth Level. For example, adding Boar Tusks into the fertilizer increases the rice crop’s Taste factor, which translates to boosting Sakuna’s Strength stat, while adding Sweetfish increases the crop’s Aesthetic, which is Sakuna’s Luck stat.
You have direct control over your crop, so you can influence which of Sakuna’s stats you actually want to increase, given you have the appropriate components. There’s a wonderful feeling of satisfaction when you pre-plan how you want your upcoming rice crop to be. Getting the field ready and separating the good seeds from the bad directly impacts how your yield turns out. Then you have the business of planting the seeds and, after the crop is fully grown, reaping them and putting them on a drying rack. It’s an incredibly smooth experience.
Over time as Sakuna does the manual labor of planting seeds, tilling the field, and other tasks, she’ll learn new skills that make the process go much faster. For example, she’ll learn to plant four seeds in a row or till a much wider area of soil with a single swing. Rice is the only crop she can grow, but she also needs to go out and hunt for additional food and rid the island of demons.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin provides an overworld map, and players can select certain areas to hunt in. New areas in the overworld will unlock when you meet several requirements in current areas, like reaching the end of one, finding three components of salt, or defeating a given number of enemies at night.
The 2D sidescrolling elements play very similarly to in games like Bloodstained and Odin Sphere. The combat is also surprisingly fluid. Sakuna’s scarf acts as a grappling hook, which she can use to reach higher areas as well as pivot around enemies. She can do standard quick and heavy attacks in addition to powerful Fighting Skills and Raiment Skills.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is stylish too, as Sakuna can launch enemies in the air and slam them into other enemies on the ground or into obstacles like spiky barriers. Enemies will drop components with which you can cook, add to fertilizer, or craft new equipment.
The equipment that Sakuna wields, including weapons and armor, have hidden powers. After meeting certain conditions, such as defeating a certain type of enemy or collecting a component a given number of times, Sakuna can release these hidden powers inside her equipment to gain new abilities. There are tons of abilities in the game, like doing 20% more damage to bipedal enemies or increasing your base Strength stat by 50 points.
While you’re out on the hunt, time will pass by, and the closer it gets to night, the stronger the enemies become. That’s your cue to go home and cook the food you gathered for that day. Or you can brave the darkness and continue fighting on. Different recipes grant stat buffs, and you’re going to be cooking every day, lest your raw material spoils.
All of these mechanics work really well with each other. You never feel like your materials are going to waste, as there’s always something you can do with them. Even if your food spoils, there’s a use for them in the fertilizer.
Where Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin falters the most is that sometimes it can be a bit too open-ended. You’re free to do whatever you want in-between major story events, but there’s a lack of guidance. Once, I was trying to advance a main quest, and I needed to speak with a character. However, the game didn’t really tell me where that person was, even though I had the story quest highlighted. I wasted a good amount of time trying to find him, only to realize that he was directly at the side of my house.
Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be a minimap anywhere when you are out on a hunt in an area. When one of the area requirements had me searching for a treasure box, I wasn’t sure where I had already looked, and I wasted valuable time accidentally going back to places I had already uncovered in the area.
You also have to figure out the intricacies of farming in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin yourself. While some players may enjoy this kind of learning, sometimes certain mechanics aren’t explained fully or clearly the first time around. There are scrolls that you can collect and read that explain these mechanics more in detail, but it would have been nice to have more guidance instead of taking a trial-and-error approach.
While the combat is fluid, traversal feels a bit stiff at times. It can be hard to aim Sakuna’s scarf grappling hook accurately, and oftentimes you’ll end up shooting at empty air. Messing up your aim during fights can be deadly, as there’s a huge cooldown between launching the scarf and retracting it. There are also hazardous obstacles that need to be grappled onto in order to safely pass, but sometimes there isn’t anything around for the scarf to latch onto. The game certainly could have used a double jump mechanic to navigate around these obstacles easier.
The art style is endearing, with beautiful environments inspired by Japanese lore — it looks right at home on Nintendo Switch. It runs well in both docked and handheld mode. However, if there are tons of effects on the screen alongside a large number of enemies, there are some small but noticeable frame rate dips.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is ultimately a charming and fun adventure. The farming mechanics could have been explained more explicitly, but once everything clicks, you come to appreciate how well both the farming simulation and sidescrolling action adventure aspects complement each other. Sakuna starts off as a spoiled goddess with no concern for anyone but herself. But as she learns the value of hard work through harvesting rice and bonds with her group of outcast humans, she truly grows into a heroine fit to conquer the Isle of Demons.