[Review] Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Edelweiss
  • Publisher: Marvelous (XSEED)
  • Release Date: 10/11/2020
  • Price: £34.99 / $39.99
  • Review code provided by Marvelous (XSEED)

Introducing Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Switch Review

Simulation games have never been my cup of tea. I have been known to dabble in Animal Crossing over the years, but nary a Harvest Moon has captured my attention. Not without trying either! I have played the original SNES game, but it didn’t stick. I wanted to like the idea of simulation games. Legend of the River King and Harvest Moon both “sounded” fun. That was it. I never found actual joy in playing those titles. With this life sims history, why would I be interested in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin? Because I am a mad man, that’s why – and I haven’t given up hope on finding one that tickles my fancy!

Oh My Goddess!

Sakuna’s tale begins with a small group of refugees walking across a misty bridge. They have been chased by an unknown assailant, but their luck has run out. Ishimaru, a mysterious brigand, has caught up to them and things look dire for the group until a drunken child shows up? That’s no child, but a small goddess! Sakuna investigates the scene because this group is destroying her vibes and proceeds to kick Ishimaru into oblivion. But how did a god arrive on the scene? An otherworldly bridge linking the worlds of gods and men happened to materialize on this fateful night!

Having been rescued by Sakuna, the refugees decided to go back whence they came. Okay, so that didn’t happen, and they followed Sakuna back to the realm of the gods and accidentally started causing mischief. Then a building was accidentally burnt down. Needless to say, it was not happy times all around and Sakuna was held responsible for these indiscretions. Her punishment saw her banished to the Isle of Demons with humans in tow. She was to reclaim the island in the name of the gods. This is where the real journey begins!

I’m Heading Out

When Sakuna and the crew reach their destination, they set up camp at a rugged old shack that is seemingly protected from the rest of the island. Our favourite goddess tries to start reclaiming the land in the name of Lady Kamuhitsuki (the supreme goddess), but soon find out that she is pretty lacking in power. She is a harvest deity, so it is decided that she must produce rice. In doing so, she gains power, allowing her to tackle more and more of the island’s monsters.

The setup for Sakuna is simple enough: harvest the fields, gain power, and tackle the monsters. The story is very linear for a few chapters until we reach what feels like the final climax, only to be thwarted! It was an interesting twist that did receive some foreshadowing, but not enough for me to truly see it coming. All in all, the main story should take roughly 30 hours to reach the credits. There are secrets and challenges that can expand the time, or you could simply continue to harvest rice forever!

Sah- Sah!

The gameplay is split between two distinct activities, farming/exploring your home, and combat/exploring the island. For the farming and home base activities, it is set on a 3D plane where you can cultivate your land, chat with your mates, upgrade equipment and have meals. Upon starting the game, it allows you to set the difficulty for the farming activities. I opted for the easier difficulty as I did not want my rice to rot away if I didn’t plan accordingly.

Growing rice is split between many activities, such as sorting seeds, tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Along the way, more skills and tools will become available, allowing Sakuna to have larger harvests. Having larger and healthier crops means more growth for the combat sections, as well as more rice which can be used to eat and trade. Trading rice becomes important later in the game when you can freely trade with the godly realm to acquire new materials for upgrades and meals.

Goddess Among Us

The combat sections are experienced on a 2D plane. The levels themselves are selected from an overworld map and each area has certain quests tied to them. Completing these quests give exploration points, which are used to unlock more areas and further the story. These can be as simple as reaching the end of a stage and beating all the enemies, beating a boss, or defeating a certain number of enemies. The tasks can also include finding materials in a level, either from cutting shrubs, mining (hitting rocks with your weapon) or finishing a level in an approximate timeframe.

I do have a gripe with the exploration system and progress with the game in general. There were a few moments in the game where I felt utterly lost and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do. It was at that point I realized that the exploration quests were not just optional, but mandatory. While I did not complete all of them, I completed around 75-80% of them. Certain stages were locked until hitting a required number of completed quests and the only prompt was to “keep exploring”.

Crouching Tama, Hidden Sakuna

Sakuna has two main attacks, a light and heavy strike. They can be combed into each other or into a special attack. These are unlocked as the game progresses and really help to shake up the fighting scenes. Special attacks use up a stamina meter which recharges over time, so they can’t be spammed continuously. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use them every chance you get, because you really should. The more they are used, the stronger they become. The Tidal Wave move I loved eventually reached level 15 by the end of the game.

Our goddess also has her raiment, which can be used for combat and exploration. She can grapple enemies with it and dodge behind them, flip them and even throw them. Some of these actions use the stamina meter, so make sure to keep an eye on that! The raiment can also be used to latch onto the walls and ceilings to allow for extreme mobility in fights or reaching high cliffs.

The Revered Ears

The characters in Sakuna are almost chibi-like but may be closer to say they are caricatures. For example, Tauemon is a beefy samurai with an excessively large cartoony nose. I rather enjoyed this style as it brought an air of levity to the characters. They felt imperfect and therefore easy to feel connected to them. My favourite of the cast was Kaimaru, a child who mostly spoke in gibberish, but had the uncanny ability to speak to animals, which left him constantly bringing home stay cats and dogs. He was also the cheeriest of the group and rarely had anything to fuss about.

The enemies, while also cartoony, never felt truly sinister in design. Yes, they can be pests, but rabbit demons never struck fear in me, but the larger bear and hog demons certainly could. The boss designs felt distinctly Japanese in the best way possible. It’s quite possible they were based on folklore, or just inspired by them, but they were a real treat.

The audio was a mixed bag. I thought the music was lovely, with the main tune for the farming area getting stuck not only in my head, but my wife’s as well! The battle tracks were equally good, and some of them were quite pumping. The voiceovers were not my favourite. Kaimaru, Tauemon and Mrythe being the best out of the bunch, while Kinta and Sakuna eventually got on my nerves. That’s not to say they were bad actors, just that I personally just didn’t care for them. Also, I must note that during the meal scenes, the actors would chomp, slurp and make ‘ahh’ noises. I hated that, with a fiery passion.

I Make Something?

I spent a majority of my 30-hour playthrough in handheld mode and the game played flawlessly. Experiencing in docked mode did make the graphics pop more, but I never truly noticed a difference in the framerate. Either way, you play, this game is a joy.

Final Thoughts

After many crops being raised and countless demons slain, I have retired from the life of a goddess and now have hope in the simulation RPG genre. Some of Sakuna’s brightest moments weren’t fighting off the spectres on the Isle, but rather taking the time to till the land and hull the rice. These instances left with a sense of peace, something I don’t often get in video games. Yes, the combat was fun, but there was a zen-like state I had manifested in completing my farming tasks. The combat and exploration sections sometimes left me scratching my head, but the harvesting areas always were strait-laced and kept me going.

Pros

  • Farming Zen
  • Fun Combat
  • Character Designs

Cons

  • Lack of Focus Sometimes
  • Voice Work
  • Mouth Noises

Verdict
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a great entry game to the simulation RPG genre, as it makes the farming aspect enjoyable and the action scenes add enough variety to keep it from being stale.

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