The surprise indie hit
- Action RPG
- 2D Sidescrolling exploration and battles
- Limited 3D exploration and movement in Village Hub
- Only one usable character
- Rice Farming mechanic that is integrated into the RPG mechanics
- Yearly calendar system, but no time limits
- JP and ENG Voiced Dialogue Options
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin was developed by the small indie company, Edelweiss, but achieved surprisingly remarkable success. They started Sakuna as a two-man team, but eventually grew to a little over ten people by the time of its release. Their initial sales target was 30,000 and the latest sales data shows 1,000,000 copies sold as of June 4, 2021.
Prior to Sakuna, Edelweiss developed the shoot’em up game, Astebreed.
The game takes place in a fictional period of medieval Japan that’s heavily inspired by traditional Japanese myths and religion. One day, a group of humans stumbled onto the heavenly Lofty Realm where Sakuna and the other gods reside. Sakuna gave chase when the humans barged into the palace. Her destructive pursuit eventually lead her to be punished by the chief goddess. Along with the humans, she was banished to the Isle of Demons where she must expunge the demons while sending rice offerings to the Divine Lofty Realm as tribute.
Despite the aspect of fighting demons, the game’s story overall is quite lighthearted and straightforward. It doesn’t ever really become particularly deep either. The story does have some serious moments, but does not deter much from its more lighthearted and sometimes comedic moments.
I thought the story was fairly entertaining even though there wasn’t any particular plot point that I felt was amazing. That said, the frequent lighthearted moments made for a relaxing game without having to dwell on convoluted and complex plot points. Overall, it was a serviceable plot that was interesting enough to keep me invested with what’s going on and what will happen. I even got emotional during one of the final scenes in the game.
The game doesn’t have a ton of characters. The village hub consists of Sakuna, her familiar and the handful of humans that were sent along with her. They and two recurring Lofty Realm goddesses make up most of the cast in the game. Just like the story, the characters aren’t very deep, but they aren’t completely shallow either. All of the humans have a story to them that gets revealed as the game progresses. Events during dinnertime also help flesh out the characters as they engage in idle chat with some topics on their backgrounds.
Sakuna herself starts off as a lazy goddess and constantly laments the situation she fell into, but she does develop into a better person throughout the game.
Like the plot, her character development isn’t anything special, but it was nice to see how she matures as time goes by.
Outside of Sakuna, the other villagers develop their budding relationships with each other. I found them all to be likable even though one in particular was on the bratty side. Unlike Sakuna, they don’t grow nearly as much as characters, but with a game like this, I didn’t expect much to begin with so I wasn’t really disappointed.
The game’s graphics and art direction look nice overall. The lighting in particular makes certain areas stand out whether it’s at night or during the day.
At times, the game looks quite pretty, especially during some of the battle stages. For a low budget indie title, the graphics have definitely exceeded my expectations.
Many of the game’s music tracks range from relaxing and calm to more energetic and intense. The calm tracks are usually found during the cutscenes in the village, while the intense ones are heard during the boss fights and some of the exploration stages. My issue with the music is that despite having over 40 tracks, I cannot recall a lot of variety in them. Many of them sound very similar to each other—so much so, that I could easily have mistaken one track for another.
Regardless, I enjoyed the music and I thought it fit well with the tone and style of the game. There are very few tracks that I would actually listen outside of the game, however.
The basic gameplay loop includes tending to the rice field, exploring battle stages for items and then returning to sleep at night. However, you are free to choose how you want to go about it. While Rice Farming is mostly optional, it is important to consistently devote time to it because it is how Sakuna’s stats improve, and levels come from rice harvesting.
Exploring stages serves two purposes. The first is to gather ingredients and materials that you can use as fertilizer for the Rice Field, crafting equipment such as weapons and accessories, or to use as ingredients in meals. The second purpose is to unlock new stages and progress the story.
Combat and exploration in the stages are done in a 2D side-scroller style, similar to Odin Sphere. The stages themselves have decent variety ranging from caves, forests, water areas, volcanos and castles to name a few. Platforming is a core part of the exploration, which is fairly fun in part due to Sakuna’s magical sash that acts like a grappling hook or rope.
Time constantly moves while you explore and fight. When it becomes dark, not only is your visibility significantly hindered, but enemies’ stats dramatically increase, which provides a challenge for those that want to explore during this time. The benefit of exploring at night is that you get different item drops during this time period. Fortunately, Sakuna never becomes fatigued so you can choose to stop exploring on your own terms. However, she will eventually become hungry and will lose her meal and health recovery benefits.
Sakuna has two main weapons that she brings into battle. She has a light one-handed weapon and a heavier two-handed weapon. Each weapon corresponds to a specific attack button, but you can mix them up for a different attack combination. Her magical sash can also be used in combat, whether it is to drag enemies towards her or fling herself at them.
Along with basic attacks, Sakuna has access to special moves called Fighting Skills. The skills consume her stamina gauge which will refill over time. Early on, the skills she has are limited, but as you get further into the game and unlock more, battles become very thrilling as you can chain them and you can be more creative in your approach.
Each weapon has passive effects that can be permanently learned and equipped outside of the weapon by fulfilling certain conditions (i.e. collect x amount of y, or defeat x amount of y). It gives more incentive to use other weapons, even if some of them have poorer attack stats than the ones before it.
I had a lot of fun with the combat; being able to juggle and stun lock multiple enemies with various attack combinations was very satisfying. The bosses provided a good challenge when roughly around the same level. Though, it is possible to over level and turn the fights into a cakewalk.
With all of that said, I found the combat kind of stiff and not very responsive early on. The lack of Fighting Skills available also made a lot of standard fights feel too basic at times.
While Rice Farming is technically an optional function, it is not recommended to skip it at all. Rice Farming is tied to Sakuna’s level and innate stats. At the end of a harvest, once per year, she will level up and increase her stats based on the quantity and quality of rice she harvests.
The Rice Farming aspect is not overly complex, but there are a lot of layers to it that are above a typical farming sim game like Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley. A brief overview of a Rice Farming year looks like this:
At the start of spring, you remove rocks and then till the soil manually (you eventually can use a cow to help). After applying fertilizer, you cultivate rice seeds by making your preferred balance on quality and quantity. Lastly, you plant the seeds into the soil and place the appropriate distance between each seed.
Until fall, the daily care of the field consists of adjusting the water level. The weather and rainy days will affect that amount. You can add new fertilizer using materials obtained in exploration and pick out any weeds and insects that are harmful to the rice field. Newly obtained ducks can also help deter insects.
After you harvest the rice, you dry it, thresh it and then hull it. The final stage allows you to make white, brown or mixed rice. White gives you the most stat growth, but gives less food benefits when used as an ingredient. Brown rice gives less stat growth, but more food benefits. White rice is also worth more as trade currency.
It is important to note that there isn’t a time limit in the game. Whether for the rice farming or a story time limit so there’s less stress than you might expect.
Unlike other farming sims, you don’t actually spend that much time on the field itself. Most of the work is done on the first day of spring and on the day of harvest. The daily care work in between amounts to only a few minutes before you continue with outside exploration and battles.
I found the process to be relaxing for the most part, and informative since I didn’t have any knowledge of the rice farming process prior to the game.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a lighthearted JRPG with a charming story and characters. The battles are fast paced and fun. The Rice Farming mechanic is surprisingly interesting. There are very few side quests in the game, however, the post-game does have a dungeon with hundreds of floors for those that want more from the game after clearing it.
I recommend it to JRPG fans looking for something cozy, light hearted, different and fun.