Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Review (Switch)
Release Date: November 10, 2020
File Size: 6.3GB
Publisher: Marvelous (XSEED)
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Over the past few years, it feels like farming sims have had a burst of popularity, with a large amount of games featuring this kind of gameplay coming out recently. Every game, while having the same base with farming mechanics, is a little bit different in their delivery. And now, Switch users have a new game to look into with Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin. With a balance of farming and action-platforming, does Sakuna give the player the best of both worlds, or does it leave the player wanting a bit more due to focusing on two major mechanics over just one?
The gameplay of Sakuna is split between two distinct modes: farming and exploring. Both of these are integral to advancing the plot, so you can’t avoid one in preference for the other. There is a season and a day/night functionality in the game, with each season having three days. There is an in-game timer for day and night and if you are fighting in an area at night, enemies are stronger and it is harder to see the area (although you will get an item that removes the sight issue later in the game).
With exploring, you first select a location on the overworld map. Each location has a list of tasks for you to complete in order to increase both your overall explorer level (which will unlock more areas the higher the level) and the exploration rate for that location. These tasks vary between finding specific materials, defeating a certain amount of enemies, or just reaching the end of that area. And while some tasks can be very simple to finish in one go, as you progress, you will come across some tasks that will require you to explore that area multiple times due to factors such as RNG concerning drop rates for items, or needing to defeat a large number of enemies.
As you’re going through each area, you’ll have two main attacks – a light attack that is fast but doesn’t do much damage, and a heavy attack that is slow but does a lot of damage. And as you progress, you will unlock the ability to have more attacks, which are a combination of a directional button and the A button. You also have an ability known as Raiment, which is a slingshot ability that allows you to either latch onto either specific surfaces in the area or to an enemy, which then allows you to go directly behind them.
There are a couple other abilities that Sakuna has that, unless you are in the mindset to check, can go completely unnoticed. She has the ability to parry attacks, by pressing the correct directional button at the right time (if your enemy is on your left, you press the left directional button, and vice versa). She also has the ability to dodge by pressing the directional button two times. Since there isn’t a tutorial that explains the existence of these two abilities, you’re left to figuring these out by experimentation, or by coming across their existence thanks to other players.
As for farming, you only have one crop type to worry about – rice. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the farming section isn’t deep. If anything, the focus on just one crop allows the game to go more in depth with the planting, cultivation, and harvesting process due to this. You’ll start out with tilling the field, preparing it for the upcoming rice crop. Once the rice is planted, outside of managing the fertilizer, water level, and weeds, you don’t really have to do much during the spring and summer portions of the year.
After you harvest the rice, you will hang the rice up to dry and wait until it’s either completely dry, or the last day in Autumn that you can leave your rice outside without one of the human characters taking over the task. Lastly, you’ll thresh the rice (which is separating the grain from the actual rice plant) and hull it. With hulling the rice, you have the option to hull it until it is either brown rice, white rice, or a mixture of both. If you want better food buffs, you’ll want to stick to brown rice, but if you want better permanent buffs, then you’ll want to hull it until it’s white rice.
You’ll want to invest a bit into farming, since finishing your rice crop for the year is the only way to permanently increase your stats. You do have some control over which stats to prioritize thanks to the fertilizer. You can choose which items that you pick up from exploring to add to your fertilizer, and based on the item, they will increase certain aspects of your rice, which translates over to Sakuna’s stats. You’ll also have to watch out for pests, diseases, and other negative effects that can impact your rice crop if you’re into min-maxing your stats. That said, the game doesn’t punish you if you don’t wish to invest much more than a basic understanding of which stats to raise.
Just like with exploring, as you continue to do specific tasks, you will unlock new abilities that make managing your rice crop much easier. This can be anything from new abilities (like those allowing you to see the water level percentage and being able to pick weeds faster) to new tools that make the post-harvesting process simpler and faster. I did appreciate these abilities, as it does leave you feeling as though Sakuna is improving instead of keeping everything the same throughout the game.
You play as Sakuna, a spoiled god who lives in the Lofty Realm amongst the other gods. She comes across a group of humans who have somehow wandered into the Lofty Realm from the Lowly Realm. And in typical anime shenanigans, the humans tumble through the Lofty Realm until Sakuna accidentally sets fire to all of Lady Kamuhitsuki’s rice offerings. As punishment, Lady Kamuhitsuki sends Sakuna and the humans to the demon-infested island later called Hinoe with the goal of working off her sentence.
In order to live comfortably on this island and harvest enough rice to fully replenish Lady Kamuhitsuki’s destroyed offerings, they will need to defeat the demons that have made the island their home. As you progress through the story, you will come across a couple of new (and old) characters, as well as plenty of animal friends to keep Sakuna and the humans company during the gameplay.
Outside of the main story that is progressed by increasing your exploration level, there are occasional side quests and character events that will pop up if you wander to a certain part of the area near the rice field that you manage. Since that means that it can be easy to sometimes miss certain events, if you wish to see all of the character events that happen, make a habit of visiting the areas where the characters regularly hang around. I have found that for the most part, any side quests that involve making your gameplay experience easier tend to be in areas that you will highly frequent, but do keep that in mind.
Since this game is on the Switch, PS4, and PC, there comes the worry that the Switch version may not run well. I am happy to say that the game runs nicely on Switch, though! The models look nice both in the farming area as well as out in combat. There is the occasional clipping with hair and clothing, however, and I have run into a couple of bugs related to enemies, as well as Sakuna herself ending up stuck in a part of the area.
I especially loved the styling of the cutscenes to make them appear cinematic, allowing the characters to move around and the camera to follow them instead of defaulting to a static shot. However, the way that the game chose to display the text does leave a lot to be desired. The text is displayed as text bubbles that follow the characters around. This means that while the characters are moving, the bubble is moving with them. This can make the text hard to read until either the bubble or the character stops moving around. And due to this movement, there can be some stuttering issues with the box moving up and down before settling into a position.
Each of the areas that you navigate to are relatively short, but each have their own stylings. The areas near the volcano are filled with lava and craggy surfaces while those near the water are covered with water and give off a chilly atmosphere. While I loved the differences in each of the areas when it came to different settings, with areas that are in the same setting, I did find it hard to differentiate between a couple of the stages. Specifically, I found that the water levels all tended to blend together for me, mainly due to the fact that they are designed very similarly and you have to use the same mechanics to traverse across the area.
You do have the option to change Sakuna’s clothes and weapons, and outside of a few cutscenes, you will see the items that you chose for Sakuna to wear. The other characters look nice as well, although Kaimaru’s (the toddler) choice of clothing does leave me raising my eyebrow. But overall, those who are fans of the styling of Sakuna will be very pleased with how the game looks in general.
Impressions and Conclusion
Sakuna has been on my anticipated list for a year or so since it showed up at E3 and overall, I am pleased with how the game turned out. The game does a great job of leaving the player with a feeling of accomplishment both with defeating enemies and bosses, as well as finishing an in-game year of cultivating your rice. At times, it did feel frustrating to have to wait until another in-game year passes before taking on harder levels, due to the level of strength differing between you and the enemies. This, paired with minor frustrations with confusing one level layout for another, as well as RNG drop rates for items, made my feelings for the exploration portion of the gameplay not as joyful as I would have liked. However, with the goal being striking a balance between exploring and farming, I think that this game does a relatively decent job.
I did enjoy how the story was told, although I do wish that any side quests or character events were displayed in a way that made the player aware that they were available to see. But in terms of immersion, the game does its storytelling well. Cutscenes and moments are shot cinematically, which made them a pleasure to watch. Overall, Sakuna is very much a game that gives back equal to what you put into it. Outside of the gameplay loop of having to increase your explorer level and needing to farm to increase your stats, you can take things at your own pace. For instance, there is a moment where two of the characters disappear and Sakuna has to hurry to find them. Outside of the story text emphasizing that, the game itself doesn’t punish you for allowing any amount of in-game years to pass before continuing exploring. As a result, Sakuna overall is a chill experience that you can easily unwind with.