Over the years we’ve gotten many chances to play Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin and each time, it showed it has a lot of potentials. Good combat and a unique farming system gave it a different feel and built towards a more interesting experience. Now that we have it, it’s exciting to see just how much of its promise it lived up to. After such a long wait, will it be a worthwhile yield or will poor techniques result in a poor yield?
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin makes surprisingly good use of the simple premise. You play as spoiled princess and goddess Sakuna, who basically coasted on her family’s status and accomplishments. She makes a mistake, destroys a tribute, and is sent to dispatch demons on a remote island with some humans that made their way into the divine realm. Armed with a goddess that increases her power through harvest, an inept farmer that knows everything about the process, and a crew that each have a specialty relevant to their survival, it falls on Sakuna to turn her situation around.
Following the initial introduction of the story, most segments are centered on her development. Sakuna slowly learns the value of hard work, teamwork, and other such concepts, it’s just a long journey with a character that is often insufferable. Given she is a spoiled brat, there is plenty of entitlement and tons of complaints stemming from even the most basic amount of work. This improves over time but it’s a large investment to progress in a story that is thinking far into the future. For some, it might be engaging, though it hinges on how much you like the gameplay.
As mentioned above, there are two types of gameplay in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. Half the time you’ll be farming and the rest is hunting demons. Farming is, in a lot of ways, rather rough. You need to go through every phase of growing rice and your ability to do so directly impacts your power. At first, you’re given a rather poor understanding of how to do things but overtime there are tips, explanations, and skills that make it easier. You can also opt-out of bothering entirely but it will make progression harder.
For those curious, over the course of a year, Sakuna needs to till the land, plant the rice, control water levels as they grow, pick weeds and create fertilizer from various resources. Unfortunately, one massive negative I ran into is related to anyone who prefers Japanese voices. Sakuna will tell you what needs to be done by examining rice, but it is not subtitled. With Japanese voices, I could not find a way to know what she is explaining to do, so expect a distinct disadvantage if you swap languages. That said, most of this is just really tedious.
The issue with realism, something that Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin seemingly captures, is that it can often be rather mundane. There are a lot of tedious routines of making fertilizer, selecting resources to burn, going to eat, building up your rice supply, and so forth. It can be fun, though you always have the option to, again, skip it at a reduction, it is unfortunate that it has a direct impact on your combat ability.
Fighting is relatively straightforward. Sakuna has a light and heavy attack, with a couple of special skills that use resources. Progression will unlock more skills over time, as will resources for additional perks and abilities, though most of the fighting is mashing a single button and occasionally using the raiment to get behind enemies. It’s super easy to learn but takes some time to master.
During these stages, you’ll also collect resources and stages have a variety of tasks you need to complete. Doing most of them unlocks the next stage and each one has useful items and hidden treasure if you’re willing to look for it. Though, most of the time it’s just jumping a certain way or being able to play smart. Most stages opt-out of complex mechanics for overwhelming you with enemies. Often times it comes down to your ability to dodge or building up your harvest to overpower the threat.
As you progress, more options will unlock and this is where Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin really starts to expand. You’ll gain the ability to forge new weapons, create clothing, and really build out your base. It’s the type of experience that gradually grows on you, assuming you get past the initial rough patch.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Review – Verdict
Where Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is difficult to comment on is the whole experience. Making farming such a critical part is going to turn off a lot of people and even skipping it makes things more tedious than it needs to be. As for combat, it’s fun, though not overly deep. I found myself having fun and easily knew what to do to prevent dying, even if I still occasionally got overran. Unfortunately, a lot of this hinges on how much of a deal-breaker farming is. Even if you can skip most of it, things just get harder or you need to devote different amounts of effort to it. For some that is fine but you need to make that call for yourself.
[Editor’s Note: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin was reviewed on PlayStation 5 console and a copy was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]