JRPGs play such a big role on the Nintendo Switch with the likes of Dragon Quest Builders and Ni No Kuni among my and many others’ favourites. The Switch is the perfect home for them. I must say though, I’ve never quite experienced a JRPG like Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin.
Sakuna is a game of many genres that centres around a goddess named, you guessed it, Sakuna. Sakuna is a spoilt girl who finds herself banished from her celestial home — after again finding herself in a spot of trouble — to an island, home to many demons. Sakuna is told that she can’t come home until she solves the island’s demon problem and, along the way, rediscover her birthright as the daughter of a Warrior God and Harvest Goddess with the help of a group of outcast humans, and her Guardian, Tama.
Sakuna isn’t just your simple JRPG. It also has farming sim aspects, cooking elements, side-scroller elements, and hack ’n’ slash goodness. This game combines 3D simulation with 2D platforming and it works. When you leave the main camp, you will enter a 2D side-scrolling section and this is where all combat and exploration is performed.
The combat plays out very well. It feels very solid and fluid. Sakuna uses farming equipment as weapons and you have fast attacks and heavy attacks for greater damage as well as being able to unlock numerous combo attacks that will help in various ways. You are able to assign these to buttons of your choice. The game has a knock-back mechanic in which, when you hit an enemy, it can fall back into another enemy, causing that to be damaged as well as fall back, too, which is extremely helpful. This same premise applies to hitting boulders and rocks too. Sakuna also has a grappling mechanic known as the “Divine Raiment” which allows her to swing around enemies and reach great heights.
The AI isn’t exactly great though. Enemies are almost like clones of each other, looking and moving in exactly the same ways at times. Yes, there are different types of enemies but when you have four demonic rabbits all hopping at you in perfect time, it’s a little strange. Enemies aren’t unique in the way they attack you either, and you can easily judge when an attack is coming.
Farming in Sakuna is extremely in-depth. Although you will only be tending to rice, the way in which you do so is unlike any I’ve seen in a game. First things first, you need to plow the field, removing any obstacles in the way. Then plant the rice, allowing enough space in between each grain. After that you must water it appropriately throughout each day, you don’t do this with a simple watering can though. You have a lock at each end of the field that you open or close to let water in or out which collects when it rains. It’s important to take notice of the weather when doing this, if it’s too hot then you will need more water. Just like the watering, weeding is something that will consistently need doing throughout the process. When the rice is ready to be harvested, you use the sickle to collect it. The collected rice must then be hung out to dry. The final parts of the process are threshing and then hulling the rice. It’s a long process but you are guided through each step. As Sakuna is learning, so are you.
The purpose of growing rice is ultimately to keep you and your human accomplices from starving. Rice provides a staple for your recipes (which one of the humans cooks each night) of course; you will collect various other ingredients by defeating enemies and searching the island. Meals provide Sakuna with boosts such as extra HP and attack damage. Keeping yourself full allows your health to regenerate when needed — which is often.
Sakuna features a full day and night cycle which was quite nice to experience and see. You will see sunsets but you will also see how enemies change from when it’s daytime. During the night enemies become significantly stronger and certainly, at the start of the game, undefeatable. Usually, night time is the time to head back home, eat and rest up until morning.
Each day plays out pretty much the same so it can get repetitive, but it’s still a lot of fun. Wake up, tend to your crops then go out and kill demons whilst exploring the areas before returning for a family meal when it gets dark. Rinse and repeat. Mostly. The prospect of having a family meal each night is adorable — it was perhaps my favourite part of the day simply because this is where your characters would communicate and share secrets. Giving you some more back story to the people you’re now living with. It’s nice to think that, as you are learning about them, so is Sakuna.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin looks great. It has such a welcoming art style that you just can’t help but be in awe of it every time you load it up. I would have liked to have seen a little more detail in the 2D parts of the game as they are mostly just basic caves with the odd alcove or hidden room, but the fact that this has been made by such a small team is incredible in itself.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin £34.99
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is an extremely ambitious title that delivers on most aspects it sets out to. JRPG fans will love how in-depth this one is. If you want something that is vast and intriguing, this is a must-play.