Sakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase!
Blending genres is not new to the world of gaming. Blending them well however is another discussion altogether. On paper, Sakuna shouldn’t work. An action RPG teaming with exploration smashed together with a farming sim has all the makings of a disaster. Thankfully, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin not only succeeds it excels in bringing to life a tale that is equal parts engaging and action-packed.
The story while not unique is one worth telling. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin places you in the titular role of Sakuna an over-privileged and at times bratty goddess cast out of the lofty realm due to her incompetence and lack of caring. Banished to what is called Demon Isle she is tasked with ridding the land of the evils that plague it but more importantly find her true self.
The daughter of a warrior god and his harvest queen Sakuna must relearn and awaken her ancestral powers and fully realize who she is in this morality tale. On the journey, she is joined by the humans who played a major part in her fall from the heavens as they balance her lack of humanity with really grounded representations of the less fortunate. The bonds these characters form are undeniable as they must persevere harsh winters and bad harvests as Sakuna ventures out to gather resources, farms, and explores this foreign land.
From a gameplay standpoint, Sakuna is a polished delight. The combat and exploration is fully developed and oozes style. Combat while limited to a quick and heavy attack is augmented by her ability to use her magical scarf (divine raiment). Similar to more fleshed out Metroidvania titles, Sakuna will see players backtracking to areas previously explored with new skills and abilities to maximise their gathering potential. Everything gathered during your battles can be used to either help maintain your fertiliser (because this is a farming sim after all) or cooked to offer unique perks.
After some brief tutorials on attacks and how to utilise your divine raiment, you are set loose on the world to discover this land of danger and wonder. Before long you will be juggling enemies as you zip across the screen as if you are being snapped by a rubber band. Learning enemy attack patterns is key as the chaos can overwhelm you quickly. Learning how to parry or better yet use your raiment as a defensive tool is just the beginning of what is a surprisingly deep combat mechanic. While it can certainly be easy to spam attacks, maximising your combos and tools (because we are farming folks) will serve you best.
The farming mechanic is its own set of gameplay. While the combat and exploration is handled on a 2D plane, the farming is all done from a fully rendered 3D perspective. When in your camp, Sakuna transitions into a beautifully realized village where she can walk around and interact with the minimal inhabitants. The farming itself also takes place here and is a mix of mini-games that run the gamut of timed button presses to the almost forgotten QTE sequences. While threshing your crop can become tedious after multiple years of harvesting, the devs are to be commended for including it. Remember, the story here is of a goddess cast out of her realm for being careless and out of touch.
The practice of having you as the player go through the trials and tribulations that come with discovering your harvesting roots serves its purpose and helps further the story for the player through the tedium. While some will be turned off by planting seeds yearly to only know that you will be scooping out the outhouse daily to balance the integrity of your fertiliser to ensure you don’t starve, its importance should not be overlooked. The hidden scrolls throughout the world not only offer you new insights into how to accomplish things but they also help progress your understanding of the techniques which pay for themselves when you go from planting swingle seeds at first to rows at a time later. Finding new ingredients affords you an expanded menu when at camp. This becomes more important as you face increased danger from ever levelling monsters and demons.
Master Your Skills.
The exploration baked in, while limited, serves the purpose of forcing you to master your skills. Additionally, it also serves as a way of gathering those important resources. Again, while you will scavenge to cook and maintain fertiliser, you will also obtain items in order to have new tools crafted for you. Specialed garments that can boost vitality or masks that give you a glow when the hidden treasure is near can be found or crafted to aid in your journey. Finding the right tools for the job at hand becomes a mini-game in itself as you learn what different attributes different embued tools have.
Visually Sakuna is beautiful. The 2D sections burst off the screen with lush natural environments and water that was actually cared for. The enemies are varied and walk a tight rope between menacing and downright demonic adorable (see the demon bunnies early on). There can be some issues with what is usable from a level geometry standpoint and that ties directly into it being presented as a 2.5D perspective. On a few occasions enemies were knocked into the rocks, as in vanished behind them) but nothing that stood out in terms of it being too frequent as opposed to just a small little bug. The 3D sections are a slight step down, but by no means is it ugly. Sakuna is on almost every level one of the best looking Nintendo Switch titles.
This title is top-notch.
This also extends to the audio department. Everything presented in this title is top-notch. The magnificent score and sound design are championed even more by some excellent voice work. There hasn’t been a title in a while that has a soundtrack that by itself elevates a game. Sakuna’s journey is accentuated by a score that harkens back the traditional far eastern melodies while also feeling fresh and new. The excellent voice work is not featured throughout the entirety of the game but does return during points of greater importance. The opening of the game would lead you to believe otherwise, but the writing is handled well enough that you will hear their voices in your head when they are not spoken aloud.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a triumph of gameplay, storytelling, and audio bliss. Yes, portions of the game can become tedious and repetitive, but as stated earlier some of this can easily be explained away by the story. You must reconnect with who you truly are and in order to do that you must put in the work and effort in order to appreciate your harvest. The systems all play into each other nicely while also remaining accessible to those unfamiliar with farming sims or action adventures. No, this is not Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, but the importance of learning to grow and properly maintain your rice perfectly underscores the journey you will undertake in this fantastic title.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 10/11/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Action, RPG
Publisher: Marvelous / XSEED
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop