Sakuna of Rice and Ruin, the title has lingered around in the shadows for years holding out promise for it uniquely mixing genres that usually have no business together. Finally, Sakuna is ready to step out into the light, was this a bountiful crop worth waiting for, or is this season a write-off?.
Sakuna of Rice and Ruin before we even get into the nitty-gritty of it all, was created by 2 people, not a complex team but 2 extremely talented individuals and I don’t usually go all in spoiling my own review in the first paragraph but this is something that should be mentioned out of the gate and damn well recognized!.
Sakuna is not an innocent little girl, she is an adult and a god and she will make sure you know this from just the introduction. Humans have managed to stumble into the spiritual realm and are causing a bit of a ruckus. Sakuna being slightly drunk and of short-fuse starts a somewhat Tom and Jerry style chase of the humans and as such gets herself and them banished from the peaceful realm and stuck in a lovely sounding area named the Island of Demons!.
In order to regain her seat at the table of gods, she has to purge the island of Demons and keep her new human family alive, much easier than it sounds!. I’m sure we can all agree, as humans, we have stuff going on, complicated pasts and whatnot (unless this is my cats reading this, please stop!) and of course there is that pesky aspect of living with said people who you don’t really know, it also transpires that even our own plucky goddess Sakuna has a few metaphorical plates spinning.
The narrative is propelled ahead by the amount of character development going on between Sakuna and the inhabitants of the island, this also has benefits within the game but it so brilliantly is written you can’t help but want to get to the bottom of every character every person and help them exist as a family on this unforgiving, demonic isle.
Graphically Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is one of the most impressive games visually on the Nintendo Switch, while it isn’t exactly mindblowing with technically graphical wizardry and all that “ray tracing and 7000p burn your mind graphics” (you can tell I’m not a technical guy!) it is the key example in the statement that a strong art direction stomps next-gen graphics EVERY TIME. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the graphics of the game are ancient by any stretch but the art direction is that strong you can’t help yourself getting lost in this moving painting. The colours pop, the animations are charming and the scenery is varied, beautiful, and deadly, coupled with some fantastic weather effects and what you get is a title that sits in the graphically upper echelon of the Nintendo Switch releases and that of releases in 2020!.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a generous title in that it has a Japanese dub and an English dub, for those of you who can play with English dubs you’ll be met with a quality dub which will no doubt raise a few smiles over its performance. Whichever dub you choose you, you get the quality writing and some beautiful music permeating throughout the game world which does SO MUCH to increase the atmosphere and pull you into the world of Sakuna and the Island of Demons.
So as mentioned in the introduction, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a fusion of genres creating a game of 2 halves, one is a platforming game with a combat focus and the other is a farming simulator, yes this is a more jumpy less talky version of the Rune Factory series.
The platforming sections are brilliantly varied and the combat is fantastic due to the inclusion of Sakunas scarf. This weapon acts much like the Bionic Arm in Bionic Commando and has you not only using it to zip between enemies and get behind them, but it’s also integral to the platforming of the game and makes you feel like a god when you use it to get past a difficult platforming section.
Each area generally has a collection of items to find, these impact the farming sections which in turn impact your platforming and thus the gameplay loop is discovered. Also to further your exploration of the Demonic Isle you have several objectives in each area, defeat X amount of enemies, find X item, or defeat the boss.
After you’ve done your exploration it’s time to farm!. Fortunately, you don’t have a traditional farm to tend to, I’m not sure Sakuna could tolerate the cows! no, you have a rice farm to tend to and as mentioned your progress and care here carries over and gives you stat boosts for the exploration section. The Farming sections are fully 3D unlike the 2.5D of the exploration section and are mainly a collection of QTE sections as you plant, tend, till, and eventually grind your crops to keep your belly full through the winter months.
It’s the farming section where slight monotony and boredom may start to creep in after the fast and exciting exploration sections. Here the game’s narrative takes more of a front seat and you slow down, breaking the pace nicely and making you feel closer to that grind that Sakuna is doing to get back into the heavens. While you can hand off the farming to one of the side characters you won’t get the best results and you’ll be wanting them as the game gets quite tough quite quickly, the farming becomes somewhat of a respite!.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a game of 2 halves, fortunately, each part is expertly crafted and engaging. Despite the tedium with farming it feels almost essential to the spirit of the game and does help relax after some of the tougher stages. The game is beautiful and is easily going to a breakout title that a lot of people hadn’t been expecting, I went in expecting Farming x Metroidvania and what I got was one of the most endearing, exciting, engaging, and beautiful games I have had the pleasure of playing in 2020. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a must-play.
Despite Sakunas fall from grace, this title shines brighter than any heavenly diamond!