Review – Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin

I first had the chance to play Edelweiss and XSEED’s Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin back at E3 2019. I literally knew nothing about it prior to tackling it: it was a surprise announcement, a game I was going in fully blind… and had a great time with. I had little time to play the demo, but loved the visuals, the feudal Japanese anime-ish setting, and most importantly, I was intrigued by its gameplay, which was a mix of 2.5 platforming with slice of life elements. The game would only be properly released a year and a half later, and I’m really pleased with the end results. Sakuna was worth the wait.

Aw, he’s so adorable! Do I really need to beat him up?

In the distant past, a group of humble Japanese folk, aptly called “Children of Men”, escape from their turbulent country, ravaged by war and famine, finding a bridge that connects the world of men to the world of the gods. There, they happen to find a cocky and arrogant harvest goddess called Sakuna, who eventually runs after them and traps them inside the realm’s rice silo. She accidentally burns the place down, and as punishment, is forced to move to a nearby island riped with monsters, with a mission imposed by an elder goddess: explore the place, clean it from all the evil monsters that inhabit it, and learn how to be a better person by helping the Children of Men harvest crops and survive in this hostile environment.

I fell for the game’s plot and presentation right from the getgo. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is absolutely gorgeous. This is one of prettiest games I’ve played so far on the Switch, featuring some awesome anime visuals, coupled with great character designs, excellent animations, and some really impressive lighting effects coming from a system I was dead sure wasn’t able to pull them off at all. It even manages to run pretty smoothly, achieving 60fps during 2D sections, and a smooth 30fps whenever you’re back at your main hub, where you can freely roam around in 3D.

I don’t know if she’s saying that because I’m an actual deity or if she thinks I’m downright phabulous.

Another great thing about Sakuna is its sound design. Like most high-quality feudal fantasy games out in the market, its soundtrack is comprised of tunes that feature classic Japanese instruments, like shamisen and bamboo flutes, mixed with modern pop sensibilities. It’s a pleasure to listen to. The voice acting is not bad either! Whether you’re playing the game in English or Japanese, their respective voice actors deliver great performances, mostly thanks to the game’s smart and hilarious script.

Our protagonist is such an inspiring role model.

Sure, the presentation is great, and I absolutely adored our main protagonist, as she is sassy, sarcastic and ridiculously strong, but what people really want to know is if Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is fun to play. Well, as previously mentioned in my E3 preview, yes, yes it is. It’s a very fast-paced action platformer with a big emphasis on exploration and stylish combat sections. Mind you, this is not a metroidvania: you can freely select a level from an overworld and explore it until you complete enough objectives to unlock a brand new one. Levels most often don’t have a beginning and an end: you just keep exploring them until you gather every single item available, and then you pause the game, press the X button, and go back to the overworld.

Don’t be fooled by the cartoonish looks. Sakuna features some tough boss battles.

Sakuna is a fierce fighter. She has countless weapons and gadgets at her disposal, but you’ll only be able to wield a light attack weapon, a strong attack weapon, some accessories, and her trustworthy magic belt, which can act as a grappling hook and a long-ranged weapon, at any given time. You can pull off some sick combos with the weapons at your disposal, as you can even assign four different special moves with the combination of the A button and one of the directions on the D-pad, a-la Super Smash Bros.

One thing you need to pay attention to is that you need to constantly look for items and ingredients scattered throughout these levels. Since the game has a day cycle, you only have a few minutes available until night falls and enemies become stupidly harder to kill. This is when you’re supposed to go back to your hub base and ask for a kind lady to prepare dinner with the ingredients you’ve collected during that run. Different dishes will grant you different stat increases. They will also satiate your hunger meter, which acts as a passive autoheal mechanism while you’re exploring a 2D level.

Making rice ain’t easy, yo.

Besides your typical, well-designed 2D action levels, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin features another completely different half: its rice harvesting gameplay. The aforementioned day cycle puts players into a 12-day year period divided in four seasons of equal length, with each season featuring a different activity involving planting and harvesting rice.

You plant seeds on spring, water them during summer, harvest them on fall, and process them into proper, consumable rice, on winter. Each one of these activities is accompanied by either a simple button prompt, such as pressing a button to plant a seed on tilled soil, to partaking in simple, QTE-based minigames after harvesting and drying the rice up. None of it is overly complex, and they will only take a handful of minutes of your daily schedule to complete. Think of them as chores from the Harvest Moon or Story of Seasons games.

Nothing like a nice family dinner after an entire day murdering yokai.

Harvesting rice is really important because, remember, you are playing as THE goddess of harvesting. Planting and harvesting rice actually powers up Sakuna up as well, being the best way to level her up and improve her stats. This is not an easy game, so you’ll need to improve your stats in any way you can, be it by planting more rice, or be it by asking one of the kids in your hub world to craft new weapons with the resources you’ve collected on the main 2D levels. This is a seemingly simple gameplay loop that becomes addicting pretty quickly.

Sakuna is one of the best looking games on the Switch.

Edelweiss took their sweet time to polish Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin as much as they could. I am more than happy with the final product. This is a truly impressive 2.5D action platformer that boasts some of the best production values on the entire Switch’s library, with gorgeous visuals and a great soundtrack. Its gameplay is fast-paced and addictive, and its slice of life mechanics, while far from being the best thing about it, are still interesting and not very intrusive. If it wasn’t for its ridiculously short day cycle, it would have easily become an instant classic and a must-have for the Switch, but this is still an easy recommendation for platforming and anime enthusiasts.

Graphics: 9.5

One of most gorgeous games I have seen on the Switch so far, with beautiful environments, character models, and animations. The framerate is pretty solid on 2D levels, but it can occasionally drop a bit when you’re back in the farm.

Gameplay: 8.0

The platforming is precise, and the combat mechanics are fast-paced and fluid. The rice harvesting gameplay is comprised of simple QTEs and slice of life mechanics. They’re nowhere near as interesting, but they’re not as intrusive as I thought they would be.

Sound: 9.5

Excellent soundtrack comprised of classic Japanese instruments with a modern pop touch. The voice acting is also great.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a surprisingly robust action platformer with amazing production values and a very funny script. Its slice of life mechanics aren’t as annoying as expected, either. The only main issue lies on how short each day cycle is.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is available now on PS4, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin was provided by the publisher.