It’s hard to really pin down what exactly, Edelweiss’ new game is similar to. Sure, its direct influence by Japanese folklore could be easily compared to the likes of Okami and Muramasa, yet its 2D exploration punctuated by blistering action to Odin Sphere, its central gimmick to Bionic Commando. But those are all a bit of a stretch. From what I’ve seen, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is very much its own bag, and despite being very early on in development, what I got my hands on is already shaping up to being a very special, unique experience.
Players take the role of disgraced harvest goddess Sakuna, banished to a dangerous island by a celestial being. Down but not out, Sakuna and a ragtag gang of humans make the hard choice to push back against the strange monsters and untamed plant life on the island. Together, they vow to take back the landmass, oversee a bountiful harvest, and create a paradise out of their prison.
Luckily, Sakuna has just the tools to make that goal a little more feasible. She may be a harvest goddess, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know her way around a fight. In fact, she’s a veritable killing machine, armed with a deadly sickle and magical scarf to help her slash her way through hordes of mythological beasts. From imps to oni to hulking toads, nothing seems to be too much of a match for Sakuna.
Players really get to feel this power, too, as Sakuna’s controls are buttery smooth and responsive to a T. Jumping around and slashing through enemies should feel pretty familiar to anybody who’s picked up an Igarashi Castlevania title, albeit a bit more combo-heavy. It’s a particularly rousing round of that sort of gameplay, especially with its novel hook—Sakuna’s scarf. This impressively durable bit of fabric can be used in a wide variety of ways, but the one that stood out to me most was as a traversal device. Similar to Nathan “Rad” Spencer’s robot arm or even Attack on Titan’s maneuver gear, players can fling the scarf in any direction to send Sakuna flying. She can grapple onto enemies and swing around them, swing up to the ceiling and cling to it, use it to jump from wall to wall, and other ingenious ways. It’s a neat gimmick, and better yet, it’s a neat gimmick that works in a snappy, intuitive way.
Visually, the game is kind of gorgeous. While some might note that it doesn’t have a lot in the way of graphical horsepower behind it, there’s a gorgeous cell-shaded aesthetic layered over the 3D models that’s very reminiscent of the aforementioned Okami. That said, there’s definitely more of an anime influence to this game, though thankfully nothing as low hanging and low-effort as the Jell-O breasted monstrosities that star in lesser anime-styled titles. It’s all very cute, and the monster designs evoke classic Japanese folklore without feeling too unoriginal or derivative. The whole title looks great on top of feeling great.
There are other facets to Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin that I didn’t get to see, as the game is very early on in development. These include farm management and gauging Sakuna’s hunger, which I’m interested in seeing factor into the generally action-packed experience. But even without seeing those bits, I walked away from Edelweiss’ game with nothing but excitement. This is a doujin developer who has made good games for years, but never quite had a true international hit. From what I’ve seen, I truly think their latest has the potential to be that hit. I can’t wait to see how the whole experience pans out when it launches in fall of 2018.