Last year XSEED revealed that they would be publishing Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin in North America for both PlayStation 4 and PC; this year we got a chance to sit down with both of the game's demos to get a feel for how side-scrolling action and growing rice tie together. The answer is a little complicated.
Sakuna's gameplay is split into two sections - players grow rice, and depending on both how well you grow the rice, as well as how you choose to treat it while harvesting, determines whether the rice will boost Sakuna's stats (whiter rice does this), or will go towards her stash that will regenerate her health whenever she reaches a screen transition in the side-scrolling segments of the game. Sakuna's side-scrolling segments certainly invite comparison to Vanillaware's Muramasa: The Demon Blade, though the addition of the scarf mechanic that allows the player to both hook and swing across the map/stun enemies helps set the game apart.
Combat consists of alternating between different equipped weapons, each attached to their own button. Last year's demo featured a set of weapons that admittedly flowed together better than this years weapon set, but regardless the games combat felt fast and fun, even if the tools that we were given might've felt a bit rougher compared to last year's arrangement. The star, and ultimate showcase of the game's combat came in the form of the combat demo's boss fight with a catfish boss. Players are tasked with utilizing their scarf to avoid the catfish's various attacks and deliver consistent damage.
Sakuna's rice growing segments are entirely different in comparison. In these sections, players take control of Sakuna throughout the process of cultivating rice. The objective? Well, growing rice not only increases Sakuna's strength, but how you choose to cultivate the rice (whether to have the end product be brown or white) determines how much rice that you'll have in your stash to replenish your health between area transitions mid-stage.
Actually growing the rice itself is pretty complicated. Players till the land, plant the rice, flood the paddy, wait for it to grow and then complete a myriad of other minigames to actually harvest and tend to the rice once it has finished growing. All the meanwhile how well you manage each objective has an impact on your yield, the quality of the rice, and more. Admittedly, the system doesn't demo very well - it took me a few goes through the demo as well as talking with an XSEED rep to make sure I had a good enough grasp of what rice growing actually entailed. The cooking and weapon crafting systems that take place during these sections of gameplay weren't available for us to test.
Besides for the addition of the new rice cultivation demo, I can't say that Sakuna feels that different from what I personally played of it last year. The rice cultivation is certainly interesting, but taken just on its own it's hard to visualize how it'll tie in to the rest of the game. We'll have to see, when it releases later this year.