Cute farming sims are all the rage for those in the market for a relaxing, wholesome game but if, like me, you also like your action and crave a combo, then Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is the best of both worlds.
Set in a heavenly realm based on ancient Japan, with visuals reminiscent of Ōkami and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, you play as the titular spoiled harvest goddess who’s banished from her carefree palace life and tasked with taming an island cursed with demons. Setting up base in a small hut and also re-sponsible for a band of trespassing humans, the bratty princess is finally forced to get her hands dirty in honest living.
It’s a relief then that she turns out to be more than just talk.
Exploration of the island is split into small and often cavernous 2D levels where Sakuna proves an adept fighter. Stringing attacks together from a mixture of farm tools and magic, she can learn a range of mappable skills using a single button and different directional input akin to Super Smash Bros. – each getting more powerful the more you use it.
More interesting is how her extendible garments can also be used for climbing environments as well as grabbing enemies and using them as weapons. Much of the joy of combat comes from smashing enemies into each other for maximum damage, which becomes a vital tactic for taking down tricky bosses early on.
You can’t just sate your appetite with the meat of demonic rabbits, boar, or deer though, so you also spend half the game farming rice, which is way more in-depth than you’d imagine. Across the seasons, albeit condensed to a few days each, you’ll plant rice seeds, water the field, and pull out weeds.
During harvest time you’re drying, threshing, and pounding the rice, and before you know it, you’re tilling the soil to start the cycle again. Each of these minigames is mundane yet utterly ab-sorbing and immersive, and like the combat, you also gradually learn more advanced techniques or can craft new tools to work more efficiently. As someone raised on rice – and who still eats it on a daily basis – I really learned to appreciate each stage of how it’s actually made.
Things can get repetitive, especially as progress is often gated until you’ve raised your exploration level to an arbitrary amount, done by replaying stages and completing not-so-optional objectives. Some boss fights will also take multiple attempts as, despite being able to get stat buffs from the previous night’s dinner, any health regeneration properties only work when not in combat.
Still, farming remains a therapeutic pleasure, and it’s lovely watching the seasons change, which even carries over to the action levels. It’s a surprise combination of genres, resulting in a satisfying-ly balanced diet.
Dinner is the perfect time for Sakuna and her misfit human charges to get together for some lively conversation, sometimes uncovering the island’s lore or each other’s backstories. Myrthe, a mis-sionary from a foreign land who also cooks the meals, provides a fresh outsider perspective to an otherwise very Japanese game.
Sakuna will fill your appetite for fun action combat as it does with in-depth rice-farming.