Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin E3 preview: A thinking man’s action platformer

E3 2019 Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin preview for Nintendo Switch

As we’ve previously reported, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is an action platformer that also doubles as a 3D farming simulation. It comes from publisher XSEED and developer Edelweiss, a uniquely two-man team. At E3 2019, I got to preview just the platforming aspect of the game on Nintendo Switch; it looks like I’ll have to do my rice farming on some other day.

E3 2019 Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin preview for Nintendo Switch

Methodical action

Since Sakuna is basically a ninja, I was expecting the action to behave like that of Ninja Gaiden. Instead, it’s actually a bit more methodical and action RPG-flavored. There are light and heavy attacks, and there are delays between combos. So it pays to know in advance exactly how you want to attack your enemy, and you might get punished if you mess it up. Numbers appear on the screen with each hit too, to tell you what is effective and by how much. You can even knock enemies into each other for additional damage, or knock enemies into traps.

Basically, the combat in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin didn’t feel particularly fast to me, but it did feel logical. I didn’t blame the game whenever I got beat up. Indeed, I did die in a very close match against the boss, a horned skeleton monster that summoned cronies to help it.

However, I stubbornly replayed the level, this time just jumping over enemies and almost completely avoiding combat. There is a chain grappling mechanic for clinging to walls and ledges too. It might be a problem if it’s possible to just run past every enemy like this in the final game. But then again, maybe the problem is self-correcting. For instance, it could be that skipping enemies leaves you with not enough materials to craft better items or perform the rice farming. Crafting and farming weren’t in the demo, so I didn’t learn anything about them.

One more notable thing about the platforming was that Sakuna’s health regenerated gradually when outside of combat. I don’t remember ever seeing that in a platformer before. I later found out in an interview with developer Edelweiss that the healing was the result of rice that Sakuna had grown and consumed with her farming. That’s a pretty cool idea.

E3 2019 Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin preview for Nintendo Switch

Graphics are a question mark

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin looks positively beautiful in screenshots and trailers, but I played the game strictly handheld on Switch, where everything looked a little messier. That’s not to say the game looked ugly by any means, but it certainly didn’t look as gorgeous as in promotional materials. It leaves me wondering if graphical fidelity is lost in handheld mode, or if the whole game just looks less pretty on Switch compared to PlayStation 4.

Regardless, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is off to a promising start. Without getting hands-on time with the farming, I can’t say how well it really jells with the platforming. I also can’t say if the ease of running away from enemies will be a problem. But the combat is uniquely cerebral and timing-based, and the overall art direction is stellar. I’m feeling good about this one so far.

Sakuna releases for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 this winter. Stay tuned for our interview with developer Edelweiss later today!

John Friscia
Head Copy Editor for Enthusiast Gaming, Managing Editor at The Escapist. I'm a writer who loves Super Nintendo and Japanese role-playing games to an impractical degree. I really miss living in South Korea. And I'm developing the game Boss Saga!