Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a gorgeous, combo-heavy sidescroller

Sakuna caught my attention from across the room. It's that kind of game: Even when you're too far away to make out the details, you can tell it's a stunner. In this case, through the crowd at Japanese indie festival Bitsummit, I could tell someone was fighting a giant fish. When I got closer, I immediately hoped that Sakuna was a deep and fun action game, because it would be a shame if it looked this good but couldn't walk the walk.

Sakuna's 3D graphics have a bold, painterly quality, and I'd say the version at Bitsummit is prettier than this trailer from 2018, when the game was revealed. I've uploaded some off-screen footage from the demo I played above. The environments look sharper. More detailed. And they gel better with the anime character designs in the foreground. I later learned this demo is still an old build of Sakuna, but either way, I think it was the standout prettiest game of the show.

When I got to play Sakuna myself I wasn't disappointed: It's a responsive 2D action game, with just a few basic button inputs (light attack, heavy attack, special) but fun combos and more depth than first appears. Holding a direction changes up your attack animation, giving you neutral/forward/up attacks for both light and heavy. And then there's the scarf, which attaches to baddies and the environment like a grappling hook. Grapple onto an enemy and you can dodge through an attack, which is way cooler than a standard dodge roll. And naturally, grappling to enemies after knocking them into the air is the ideal way to rack up a stylish combo.

Sakuna seems like the kind of game that will have a wide range of weapons, tons more combos and new abilities and all that, but it was a relief that it felt good with just the basics. The scarf adds a pleasing speed and momentum to platforming, though I do wish the dash, from double tapping the joystick, let you hold a direction to keep running. Sakuna's demo didn't let me do much other than bash on a few monsters and fight a boss, a giant magical fish, which was just enough to make me want to play a lot more.

The 2018 trailer for Sakuna alludes to it being an action-RPG, to some extent, but the only sign of that I saw was the damage numbers popping off the monsters I hit. Publisher Marvelous didn't have anyone at Bitsummit who could tell me about the game, or any information about it in English at all. I was craving answers, so I went looking online.

According to XSEED's website (Marvelous's western branch), Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin combines "side-scrolling action with deep crafting and farming simulation. Players take on the role of Sakuna, a proud yet lonely harvest goddess who is banished to a dangerous island with a group of outcast humans. As she tames the island by defeating demons in gorgeous, mysterious natural settings, she will also find a home in a mountain village, proving herself worthy of her title by harvesting rice and bettering the lives of humans. In addition to serving as a love letter to Japanese mythology, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is an ode to the artistry of cultivating rice, and an engrossing simulation of the craft behind the agriculture."

So crafting and farming on top of a great sidescrolling action base. And it's seemingly only announced for PS4. But given how many Marvelous- and XSEED-published games are on Steam, I feel pretty confident in guessing Sakuna will also make its way to PC at some point, whenever it's finished. XSEED's website says 2019.

For now, I'm going to be keeping an eye on this developer's Twitter account to see more of Sakuna in action. They recently tweeted that they've been working on Sakuna for more than four years, and the demo I played is from last summer, so there's been much progress since then. If the farming and crafting are as fun as the combat, this could be a game I lose many, many hours to.