This oriental adventure combines side-scrolling hacking and slashing with labour-intensive rice farming and good old home cooking. A peculiar mixture, we’re sure you’ll agree, which only makes it all the more surprising that this ‘mange et trio’ of gameplay styles works so harmoniously.
The plot is quirkier than most, tying the whole shebang together. You play as Sakuna, a petite (and slightly stroppy) Goddess who accidentally angers her Deity peers. It wasn’t exactly her fault – a family of bumbling humans somehow managed to reach their holy realm, leading to Deity’s food pile being swiftly diminished.
Faced with the blame, Sakuna is punished by being sent back to Earth to vanquish an ever-growing legion of demons, all while replenishing the food supply by turning her hand at farm work. The family – formed of a bumbling father, a doting mother, and an equally stroppy teen – stick around to assist, each serving a purpose throughout the story.
How does it come together? Essentially, and ideally, crops are maintained first thing in the morning – requiring water and weeding – before heading out to the surrounding areas to explore, battle demons and gather resources. After a while Sakuna’s stomach will rumble, prompting a return home for a family meal formed from the fruits of her labour.
Certain meals bestow extra HP and attack damage, while a full stomach aids health regeneration. If you’re heading into a new or dangerous area, with some enemies being more powerful at night, it helps to have a full belly. A day and night cycle allows for some picturesque views, including golden sunsets and the shimmering moonlight, as well as helping to keep to a daily schedule.
The game world is wonderfully connected – meat for mealtimes comes from defeated demons, with the first batch being possessed hares, boars, and birds. Fail to incorporate perishable foodstuffs into a meal and eventually it’ll go bad and only be good for fertiliser. The way even the simplest of things serves purpose illustrates how skilfully intertwined the three gameplay styles are. A few things have been left for self-discovery too, which we won’t spoil.
Combat is of the hack and slash variety, with Sakuna using her long-reaching rusty farm tools as weapons. It uses the ever-pleasing ‘knockback’ mechanic, where enemies bounce off one another when hit. This also allows Sakuna to whack boulders into foes, sending them scattering like bowling pins. A grapple mechanic prevents combat from falling into the realm of ‘button bashy’, used not just to swing enemies around but to reach higher levels too.
Our only concern with the combat, after 2-3 hours of play, is that the AI is on the simple side – enemies will happily walk into spikes, for example. The level design (again from what we’ve seen so far) isn’t exactly masterful either – early stages are mostly caverns with a few alcoves here and there. Still, they manage to facilitate the focus on exploration; each location has a list of objectives to complete, some of which can only be achieved at night.
There’s even some pleasing, Harvest Moon style, repetition present as you climb the ridge to the ramshackle homestead each night, with the sun setting in the distance and the sound of insects in the background. You know – the good, homely, style of repetition.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has a lot on the table, yet all signs point to it being a moreish experience rather than one filled with filler. For Switch and PS4 owners, it’s one of the more promising third-party games due this winter, the former especially.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin launches 20th November on Switch and PS4. PC version due 10th November. Code supplied by the publisher.