Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin E3 Impression and Interview
This year marks the third time I’ve seen Edelweiss’ upcoming Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin on the E3 show floor. Over the years, the demo has changed somewhat in content, though I think the basics of the game’s combat have remained pretty much the same, as they were this year. I had the chance to play through the demo level, check out the enemy types, and test my mettle against the new, harder end-level boss. Spoiler alert: I didn’t beat it. After the demo had me test out combat, I had the chance to sit down with Nal and Koichi, the game’s director and CG artist from Edelweiss about some of its other aspects.
The bulk of Sakuna is spent in combat-centered side-scrolling levels. Combat is fast-paced, with Sakuna using her Divine Raiment, a long scarf-like garment, to stylish effect. She can use it for mobility in combat, as an actual armament, or simply to aid in traversing the level. It can cling on to surfaces and enemies, letting Sakuna pull herself to higher ledges or towards foes. Visually, it adds a great flair to movement, and is surely going to be one of the aspects that make Sakuna stand out from the crowd.
Best of all is the Divine Raiment’s usefulness in boss battles. Getting to the end of the demo stage, a colossal boss appeared, filling almost half of the screen, with regular stage enemies continuing to fill into the boss arena for good measure. Considering the boss’s size, and the fact that his attacks take up even more space and are thus harder to avoid, it’s handy that Sakuna can use the Divine Raiment to latch onto the boss and briefly break the stage’s 2D plane to literally swing around the boss and pop back into place behind him, to continue the assault. This is a great strategy that instantly makes boss battles so much more dynamic. Sadly, the boss was programmed with this in mind, and still made short work of me after I’d only reduced him to half health. After several fruitless attempts, I walked away, defeated.
Pascal Tekaia, RPGamer: OK, so I played the demo two times; I played it a couple of years ago and again today, and I wanted to ask about any new features that have been added to the game during this time.
Edelweiss: I believe the E3 demo has only consisted of the action sections, but this game consists of action sections and rice-farming sections. The rice farming is something we would like to emphasize.
(At this point, the developers loaded up a gameplay segment not seen during the demo, of Sakuna in a three-dimensional mountain village, able to walk around, speak with villagers, and cultivate several traditional Japanese rice paddies.)
This wasn’t part of the demo. These are the humans that Sakuna lives with, in this village.
PT: The humans that summoned her, that she has to help? I love that; I love the way this looks, and it’s in 3D!
EW: So those five humans that you saw on the world map were humans that were lost in heaven’s capital that Sakuna used to live in. She was the harvest goddess, so when she was in the capital, those humans got lost in the capital for some reason.
PT: And now they live here?
EW: Yeah, they live here. So these humans and Sakuna made a really big mistake and got into a lot of trouble in the capital, and they were banished to this dangerous island together. She’s not a big fan of living here with these humans; she liked being in the capital and being lazy, and now she has to work. So this is where she does the rice farming. There’s rice crops growing, and she’s removing all the dirt and unnecessary stuff from the rice. She can also add water. This guy has some knowledge of the rice farming, so Sakuna tends to talk to him to get some advice.
PT: What are the different steps you can take to grow rice?
EW: She can actually choose the seed, then she plants it, and she can bring the water and take care of it, so it’s like a really old-school, ancient Japanese style of rice farming.
PT: So it’s very authentic, and you do all of it?
PT: Can I ask what the reason was for combining growing rice and action? Why those two gameplay styles?
EW: We released a game that is specifically an action title, and we really liked it, so we wanted to sort of make a sequel to that game. But we also wanted some kind of farming element, and in addition to that we wanted some simulation; all of that combined.
PT: Is the character Sakuna made up for the game, or is she a traditional piece of folklore?
EW: She’s actually completely original. We chose her name because she is a harvest goddess, and saku is blooming in Japanese. So that reflects her being the harvest goddess.
PT: How does the rice growing connect with the other elements of the game?
EW: Sakuna is a child of the god of war and the harvest goddess, so as she grows better rice, it reflects her strength. So if she can make high-quality rice, she can level up more.
PT: Do you eat it for health?
EW: There is an element where Sakuna can dine together with her human friends, and depending on what she eats during the dinner that reflects her condition for the next day.
PT: So is that how the levels go: action, farming, action, farming?
EW: Yes, that’s right.
PT: We saw some rain begin to fall on the village. What other environmental factors can happen?
EW: There can be snow, or you can have a windy day, and that all affects the rice farming. Snow doesn’t actually affect much, because you have to harvest the rice before snow season. But if it’s raining, that can affect you. You have a certain quality of rice you want to grow, and you have to maintain a certain amount of water to maintain that quality. But if it starts raining while you’re in a dungeon, you might have to go back to maintain your water level.
PT: Does the game teach you how to grow rice? Is it okay for beginners to jump in?
EW: There are tutorials. For the beginner, we recommend they just grow however they want. But if the player is really into rice farming, then they can set themselves a goal to make it to a higher quality, and those people have to worry about the weather changes?
PT: Is there an option to only grow rice and not any action segments, skip one or the other?
EW: Players can’t really do that; they have to do both because it’s kind of a linear game. But the rice farming part is not that difficult, so if they don’t really want to spend their time on it, then they can just actually leave it as it is. They can still grow something, maybe low quality, but they can still grow rice. But if you spend a lot of time on rice farming and take really good care of it, then you can make a really good-quality and high-strength rice. Players can actually just stay in the village and take care of the rice, and not go into dungeons, though that’s not really productive since the story won’t progress. But you can still do it for fun.
PT: Does the village change because of your farming? Do the villagers change if you do a good job?
EW: Each villager has issues or something that they have problems with right from the beginning, but as the story goes along, they will share their issues.
PT: Thank you for showing me the farming gameplay. Since I only have a few more minutes, I’d like to talk about the action sections. When I played it it feels a little bit like a Metroidvania game; is that an accurate description of the gameplay? Do you get to backtrack and access new areas once you gain new abilities?
EW: It’s not really like that. As Sakuna levels up or increases her skills, you can go back to a dungeon that was really hard to defeat. So that type of element may be similar.
PT: So is there a new level, new boss every time?
EW: There are going to be some enemies that will be the same in different dungeons. Depending on the dungeon or the scenery, there are going to be some specific ones that you can only meet there. So those enemy’s strengths are going to be different.
PT: What was the inspiration behind the Divine Raiment?
EW: The inspiration was The Legend of Zelda‘s hookshot.
PT: Are there any other abilities, tools, or items that you get in the game, from Zelda or elsewhere?
EW: I believe the Divine Raiment is the probably the most unique weapon or tool in this game. Our previous game has more complicated weapons and skill sets. We still wanted to add something unique to it, and that’s how we decided on the Divine Raiment.
PT: Last question: what’s the balance between farming and action?
EW: I think the action parts would probably be about 70% of the game.
PT: That is my time; thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. When is it coming out?
EW: It will be this winter, for PC, Switch, and PlayStation 4. Thank you very much!