Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is, in a word, charming. The colors are vibrant, the music and ambient sounds are lovely, and the gameplay is just the right amount of challenge versus cute.
Unlike the Bokujō Monogatari series, which is also published by XSEED Games, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin doesn’t have you running around growing dozens of crops for specific requests and to make your living, nor is there a dating sim aspect. Instead, Sakuna finds itself squarely in the action RPG/platformer genre, with the rice growing, crafting, and food preparation aspect being a welcome addition instead of the main focus.
The story is perhaps a little confusing at first, with Shinto-Buddhist concepts woven into the game, pulling on bits of old stories and folklore that westerners might not be familiar with. Eventually, all these elements will fall into place. The various gods, demons, and humans of the world of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin are unique but familiar, leaving you with comfortable ease.
The imagery and common tropes of Japanese folklore are blended seamlessly with stylized action and survival gameplay. Each character is unique, having their own backgrounds and personalities. Yet, they all fit together like a mish-mash band of travelers that’s almost reminiscent of a Kurosawa-produced story.
The cast and their stories
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin starts with an unlikely group of five humans, a spirit familiar and a spoiled goddess who find themselves banished to Hinoe Island by the goddess Lady Kamuhitsuki, the ruler of the Lofty realm. Lady Kamuhitsuki instructs them to solve the issue of the demons spawning on the island before they can return. With that goal in mind, they must work together to look after one another and survive the strange island.
Tauemon is a dishonored samurai with no claim to glory. However, he has a love for farming (though he lacks any practical skill in the matter), goodness that rubs off on others, and a kind heart full of determination. He guides you on your journey to grow and cultivate the rice you will need to survive and cover your debt.
Kinta is a mischievous, bratty urchin who has a sharp tongue. Underneath all that roughness is a skilled hand at crafting and is well suited to smithing tools and weapons for the group.
Yui is a mysterious young girl who overly dotes on Kinta and has a real talent when it comes to understanding the otherwise unintelligible babbling of Kaimaru. Apart from that, she is also an excellent weaver and creates wonderful clothing for Sakuna at her loom.
Speaking of Kaimaru, he is a toddler that speaks in unintelligible sounds that only Yui really understands. He seems to have a knack for conversing with the animals of Hinoe island and brings them back home with him on several occasions, giving you plenty of fuzzy friends to pet.
A young woman from a foreign country, Myrthe is a missionary with a kind heart and an open mind. She takes care of feeding the group and managing the supplies. Though her cooking may at times leave something to be desired, she puts her heart into everything she does.
Tama is Sakuna’s loyal advisor that also used to take the form of her father’s old sword. While this familiar takes the form of a somewhat shaggy dog, it seems to enjoy spending most of his time scolding Sakuna.
Finally, we have the Sakuna, the titular character. She is also a stuck up, prissy goddess with a lazy demeanor, a chip on her shoulder, and a surprising knack for handling life as it comes at her.
“As above, so below, as within, so without…”
You may be familiar with this phrase by Hermes Trismegistus through pop-culture or perhaps astrology. In Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, the phrase describes the duality and inherent link between the Lofty Realm and the Lowly Realm. It would seem that whatever affects one affects the other.
The world of the children of men and the world of the gods are so intertwined in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin that a war in the Lowly Realm may cause a shortage of offerings in the Lofty Realm. Conversely, if the Lofty Realm is in disarray, it is felt as strife for the children of man. This concept seems to play a large part in the story as the idea of the lack of belief or offerings to the gods ultimately weakens them.
Growing the rice
I love farming games and these other fantastic life simulators such as the Rune Factory series, Fantasy Life, and not to mention the Bokumon games, of which I believe I have currently played all but one. It’s hard to put into words how growing and tending the rice makes me feel in these kinds of games. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is no different, and it wouldn’t be complete without the rice portion of the game.
However, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is also unlike any of the other game simulators. While it’s true that you do not solely focus on the rice’s growth, it is the driving force for much of the story and necessary to access Sakuna’s many skills as well as a few mid and late game features. Suffice to say, you won’t be able to eat without rice, and that alone makes it important.
Farming is more realistic in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin than in other games. Everything from fertilizing the soil, cleaning the rice, and absolutely everything in between is a hands-on process. While you can allow a companion to do these tasks at the cost of quality, I don’t find them really tedious in any way. Each task takes just enough time and effort to make you feel like you’re working but not so much time as to make you feel rushed.
Food and eating
Food plays a major role in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. You grow rice, forage, hunt, and prepare the food your makeshift family eats throughout the game. Ideally, each night will be capped off with a nice dinner around the irori, where you get to hear idle chatter and food critique.
At some point, bits of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin‘s story will unfold, allowing you a further glimpse into the world and its inhabitants. The food you eat affects your stats for the next day, such as fullness and resistance to certain elemental damage types. Your fullness dictates your auto-healing. Once you are no longer full, you no longer heal, and you lose those stat buffs. This is usually a good sign that it might be a good time to think about heading home for the night.
I have to admit I find these dinner scenes so cozy and warming. I set a strict schedule for myself so that I can have dinner at an appropriate time each night. Things like this are the hallmark of a good game. Any time you find yourself absorbed by Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin‘s world and story, instead of simply consuming the game a bit at a time, you have something special.
Combat in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is part beat-em-up part strategy. Sakuna has 3 basic weapons, each with its own uses.
The Bachi Gata
The Bachi Gata is your hoe. It is your hard-hitting, long two-handed weapon, long sweeping attacks and slams are its forte.
Your Kama is your farming sickle. It excels at fast combo attacks, quick, spinning slashes and stabs.
The Holy Raiment
This one is a little tricky to explain. The raiment, which resembles a tenne or hagoromo, is your utility weapon. It contains magic that allows you to do unique things. It can be flung outward to grasp enemies as well.
You can look at these divine scarfs as something akin to a halo. Though not precisely the same, they are supposed to reflect the inner holy aura of the wearer.
Defensive equipment consists of hats, garments, and masks. All equipment in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has latent skills that need to be awoken using a substance called amber and/or completing tasks related to them. Amber is also used in many places within the game and is the physical manifestation of spiritual essence.
Seasons and nighttime
Each season in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is broken into three parts, and each part is one in-game day. You will likely find yourself having more time during the late fall and winter. I am currently in year four, spring one, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching my skill at growing rice increase. Each time the quality and yield goes up, or I gain a new skill, whether it be for farming or combat, I find myself smiling. It’s satisfying and takes just the right amount of effort for my taste.
The game also takes into consideration the time of day, specifically nighttime which sucks. Everything is dark, and everyone is extra deadly, and yet, you will find yourself out past dark on more than one occasion. Oil is the key to surviving the night in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, allowing you to see and helping to keep the enemies at bay. It’s not very easy to come by oil at first as you have to render it from fish oil. Once you acquire the oil drop, you can light it, and an orb of flame will be created above your head. A meter in the top left of the screen measures how much oil you have left, so do not waste oil.
If you find yourself about to get knocked out, you’re trapped somewhere, or simply run out of oil during a nighttime expedition, it’d best to nope on out of there before things get really bad. You can do this just about any time you want in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, so I suggest making liberal use of the feature.
I suppose no game is perfect, least of all one where you can launch yourself a crossed an entire level through solid rock on occasion. I only have one major critique for Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, and that is how often I get completely lost on my own little farm. Sometimes, I’d go looking for a character to craft something or progress a story and walk around until nightfall, or fall off a ledge and end up on the world map.
Other than that, my only issue is how short days are. It’s hard to get any advanced exploration done, tend the rice, and have dinner within the limited day in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. For quests that require it to be night, I get extra lost unless I have a large amount of oil.
There is so much more that could be said about this game, but I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, myself included. There are many mysteries yet to unravel and many bushels of rice to harvest. With that in mind, I think I’m going to check in on my newest crop. The offshoots should just be sprouting. If you want to pick up Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin for yourself, you can grab a copy for PS4 or Nintendo Switch on Amazon. Happy farming, everyone.
YouTube: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin – Launch Trailer
Photo credits: The images used are owned by XSEED Games and have been provided for press usage.