Review: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (6.61 GB)
Release Date: November 10, 2020
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Edelweiss
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Three years ago, I saw Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin at E3 and was pretty impressed with the combat. At the time though, they only were demoing the combat, but the rep told me that rice growing would also be a big part of the game. I assumed that that meant there would be some small mini-game where you set up some rice paddies and maybe checked in on it once in a while. No, Sakuna goes full bore with the rice growing sim and then some.

The story begins with some humans finding their way to the realm of the gods, where they bump into a stuck-up, well-to-do goddess named Sakuna. After accidentally burning Sakuna’s offering to the head goddess, she and the humans are all banished to a demon-infected island where they are expected to determine where the demons are coming from and get rid of them.

Sakuna’s power is also tied to rice, so growing rice is pivotal in growing her power. From there, the story follows a pretty predictable route: Sakuna has to learn to grow rice with help of the humans, and they all have to start working together to make the most of the situation while exploring how demons came to live on the island.

Gameplay in Sakuna is pretty delineated between the farming sim and the action side scroller. In the beginning, you’ll largely be choosing which activity to do each day, though there’s always some weeds to pull or fertilizer to spread in the rice paddy. As Sakuna gets stronger and more experienced, you’ll be able to take care of more farming tasks in less time, leaving more time to explore.

On the farming side, this is a very in-depth game. As noted in the intro, I was expecting more of a mini-game, maybe some kind of mostly-hands-off thing where you only made a few decisions. But no, you take care of every task related to farming, from the tilling to the harvest and rice prep. Some tasks can be delegated to the others, but if you want it done right, you’ll have to do it yourself.

And Sakuna does not shy away from making the farming tasks slightly tedious, as they would be to a real farmer. You start off planting every single rice seed, managing the water level daily, picking weeds, etc. Over time, you’ll gain skills to make tasks a little easier-planting two seeds at a time, hulling more of the rice with each button press, and so on.

If rhythmically pressing up-down-up-down to hull rice is already appealing, Sakuna really gets into the weeds (pun intended) with caring for the rice. Things like how much water they have, what components are added to the fertilizer, the temperatures, even which helpful or harmful critters you allow in the farm all affects the various qualities of the rice, and therefore the stat boosts Sakuna will gain come harvest.

That last line is the one thing that I think bothered me the most about Sakuna, something I realized several hours in: Sakuna herself doesn’t gain exp from defeating enemies, so there wasn’t much point in fighting them unless I needed their items. This made me a little less likely to fight where it wasn’t required, and thus I started liking the combat side less.

Which is burying the lede a little bit, because I otherwise really liked the combat side of the game. For the most part, the side-scrolling portions aren’t too groundbreaking. The most unique part is that Sakura has a shawl-like cloth she can use to grab onto enemies or terrain like a grappling hook. This lends the platforming and combat a lot of mobility, and, when combined with a pretty fluid combo system, leads to a lot of enjoyable side-scrolling action.

Unfortunately, the leveling system ties in pretty heavily to the combat, such that several times I tried a boss while being even only a few levels too low, the boss would wipe the floor with me. Since you can’t even just go grind levels to get better, sometimes you’re stuck waiting until your next crop of rice finishes so you’ll level up. Admittedly, this was more a problem early in the game, but it still put a damper on my enjoyment.

Ultimately, the farming part, while not entirely my cup of tea (or bowl of rice), was very interesting, and surprisingly engaging for the first few years. And, the side-scrolling action is fast and fluid in a way I really liked. But, the marriage of the two just never quite gelled for me. Often, one would hold the other back, and it’s not really possible to focus on the one you enjoy more because they’re so intertwined.

Visuals:
Sakuna has a solid look and aesthetic, though I did feel like there are some individual parts that didn’t quite mesh with one another. The characters have a very chibi/cutesy style, while some of the environments aren’t as cutesy. They’re not really ‘realistic’ environments, just that they don’t have the same level of cel-shading, so the characters don’t fit just right.

Outside that issue though, I think Sakuna mostly works. The game runs smoothly, which is good for the fluid action combat, and there’s a good amount of detail present on the farming side to give the player all the info they need. Some of the menus can be a little much, particularly trying to find specific information about your crops, but I ended up getting used to it.

Audio:
The soundtrack is very good, using a lot of traditional Japanese instruments and motifs to help sell the setting and style of the game. I actually ended up buying the deluxe version of the game, which came with a full three discs of soundtrack, and they’re pretty nice to listen to even outside of the game.

The voice work is a little more mixed. On the whole, I’d say it’s decent for both the Japanese voices and the English ones. The one place where I didn’t care for it was when the characters sang a farming song. And while I got the feeling that they purposely didn’t pick voice talent known for singing, since the characters themselves are supposed to be lay-folk, the song really kinda bothered me. Fortunately, this doesn’t come up too much.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has two gameplay styles and it, surprisingly, fully commits to both. The farming is in-depth, and likely to appease those who like farming sims, while the platforming is smooth and satisfying for fans of side scrolling games. However, the game doesn’t stick the landing on marrying the two modes in a satisfying way. Instead, it forces players to do both on its own terms, and feels weakened by not giving more agency over which the player might prefer.

I still think there’s a niche for Sakuna. If you think you’d enjoy both parts of the gameplay, or at least tolerate the part you’re less interested in, then I’d definitely recommend it. But if you absolutely don’t want to farm or platform, there’s really no way around it, and I think that hurts the otherwise solid mechanics.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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