Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Preview
My final stop at E3 was the XSeed/Marvelous booth. I was exhausted, my whole body hurt and I was eager to be done. Yet the bright colours, upbeat music and smiling faces all suggested otherwise. Maybe I had enough energy for a little more after all.
While there was a healthy selection of games on display, I spent most of my time with Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. I played the titular character, a harvest goddess pulled straight out of Japanese folklore. The demonstration encompassed the combat portion of the game, while the final product will include a healthy dose of rice farming. Sakuna has a pretty robust fighting system. Not only do you have your standard moveset (regular, strong, special), but there’s also parrys and throws and environmental takedowns. The stage available for the demo had me smashing my way through waves of rabbit ninjas before a tense encounter with a giant toad.
The game has a ‘hand-drawn polygons’ look to it. Thick black lines encase fluid animation and vibrant colours. The music is a charming variation of traditional Japanese tunes blended with a little action and energy. The overall aesthetic evokes a painting come to life, an appropriate comparison for a story rooted so deeply in traditional Japanese mythology and folklore. I saw little of the story in the demo, save for a set of short exchanges between Sakuna and her tiny advisor. For me, the dominant narrative was my own journey to pull off the parry as many times as I could during my time with the game.
Sakuna’s parry system works thusly: you move Sakuna towards her opponent just as they let loose a blow, negating their attack and driving them slightly back. The process is simple enough to explain, but tough enough to execute that I was immediately consumed with the need to master it. Perhaps this is a strange thing to fixate on in a game that aims to convince you that rice farming is cool. For me, the parry system is a perfect example of how deceptively deep this game is. Under the light-hearted tone and soothing visuals lies a nuanced action game. I have high hopes that the farming and harvest portion of the game will be equally nuanced, once the full game is released next year.
All told, Sakuna has a lot to offer for fans of simulation, action and folklore. While I couldn’t get a sense of the game’s complete feel in the short span of the demo, the depth of the combat tells me this game has promise. If nothing else, Sakuna should afford players the chance to fight like a tiny harvest goddess. Hopefully it’s equally fun to farm like one, too.