You have to be patient with some games. You might have to deal with an unlikable protagonist that takes some time to become more humble and human. It could take a while to figure out how to succeed. Maybe you have to learn how to deal with a presentation issue that keeps you from always clearly seeing what’s in front of you. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a game where all three of those things are happening at once. There’s something good and fun here, especially since the combat system is smooth and made for fun combos, but it can take a while to like Sakuna and get things right.
Sakuna isn’t a good goddess. She basically coasts on her riches, doesn’t pay attention and is selfish and superficial. Which is probably why her haughty behavior and arrogance leads to humans getting in the celestial realm and a storehouse of goods being destroyed. As part of her punishment, she and the humans she didn’t stop are banished to Hinoe Island, the demon-infested place her mother and father once called home. She can’t come home until she tames the place. But why are the demons there? Why do the gods care about the island to begin with?
Completing your goal involves dealing with two different sorts of gameplay in balance that is sort of comparable to the Rune Factory series. Sakuna has to provide for her new minions/villagers by planting and caring for rice. Since she’s a harvest goddess, this can make her stronger. (So can aiding allies requests and keeping up with the area.) This allows her to head out around Hinoe, defeating enemies and collecting necessary food stuffs and crafting materials to ensure they all survive and she can reap better harvests and have better equipment crafted.
The thing about Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is that the player is oblivious going in as Sakuna herself is. Story of Seasons didn’t prepare you for this sort of farming simulation. Sakuna (or one of the villagers you might assign to the task) will have to till the soil, prepare the fertilizer, plant the seeds, weed the patch, adjust the water levels, harvest the rice, place it on the drying racks, thresh the plants, and hull the rice. Eventually, you get inventions to aid in the process and duties can be delegated, but I found the highest quality crops came from a more hands-on approach. And you’re going in blind, with only hints from Tauemon about how you’re doing.
Which makes sense, when you think about it. At the same time, it was a bit frustrating, because I worried about the eventual harvests and if I was doing enough. Sakuna does learn additional skills by doing, One of the more helpful abilities appears very early into your second season on the island, as she’ll learn Planting Instincts. This adds a green grid to the field. But even with that and attempting to plant one seed in each box, I would still sometimes get the dreaded “too far apart” spacing warning. There were times when I wanted to ask Tauemon and Tama, “How do you expect Sakuna (or me) to succeed if you won’t even show us an example?” Oh, so the water should be ankle high? Well, since it is pretty difficult to reasonably see such details, it would sometimes be at Sakuna’s knee before I caught on.
Which brings me to another issue with the game that can make Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin unintentionally challenging. It’s so difficult to see anything for a number of reasons. The font is incredibly small, especially when the Switch is in an undocked mode, and is written in such a way that it can be difficult to read. There’s yellow text set against a pear-colored background. The items in the Item List are near-illegible in Handheld mode. The in-game lighting system makes it difficult to catch some nuances unless it is a specific time of day and you’re in the right position.
Even if sunlight is in your favor, where you’re standing can mess things up and shadows can completely obscure people. Good luck completing any tasks that might involve fighting enemies at night, because it is practically impossible to see anything aside from the opponents’ orange health bars. Even during daylight hours, determining the difference between, say, a rabbit with a bow and a normal rabbit can be impossible until it fires an arrow. Sometimes, I even had trouble telling the colors apart due to the shading, which can indicate if an enemy is stronger than usual.
Also, it isn’t just the whole farming element that takes the “toss someone who can’t swim into a lake and hope they learn by doing” approach. How do you advance the story and unlock new places? Sometimes, they show up as part of the story. Which is great! But other times, I felt like I needed to be vigilant about tracking Exploration Objectives for each area to build up your exploration level and visit the Quests tab. How do you get new skills? I hope you kept an eye out for boxes with scrolls in areas. Are you feeling a bit weak? Then you probably haven’t been checking in with Kinta to have him forge new equipment or been collecting, processing and customizing your dinner menu with Myrthe to be certain you’re eating properly.
This isn’t to say Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin isn’t satisfying. As you do learn skills, complete quests and sidequests and figure out how to properly farm, you might begin to feel very accomplished. It also helps that the combat feels incredible. The fights, which involve hacking and slashing with items like hoes, sickles and sledgehammers, are great. Using her divine raiment lets you zip behind an enemy or perform in-air juggle attacks that make a 10 or 20 hit combo feel like you’re fooling around. And, since the special attacks get more effective and level up as you use them, it’s like the game rewards you for relying on the moveset that works for you.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a game that grows on you. People accustomed to farming simulations like Story of Seasons or even Rune Factory will find themselves forced to suddenly pay way more attention to the process of growing crops than before, then be patient since it will be in-game years before you “get good” at growing crops. Folks coming in because the combat seems satisfying will have to understand this is a game where constantly revisiting areas and keeping up with farming will be necessary to make any sort of significant progress. And everyone will have to deal with the fact that the lighting system and fonts will sometimes make you strain your eyes as you try to get things done. It definitely builds into something enjoyable, but it takes its time getting there and makes you work for it.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC on November 10, 2020.