I’ve been playing a large variety of games while I wait for my PS5 to come back from the war and land on my doorstep sometime in the next two years (seriously where are you?? come home, please. I’m worried). Let’s talk about them.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
Sakuna is a very interesting game. It’s a farming simulator crossed with Muramasa: Demon Blade, but if you’re expecting something like Rune Factory when it comes to the fighting + farming shtick, you’re going to be surprised. This is a game that takes farming to near Euro Truck Simulator levels of realism. Are the rice seeds properly aligned? Have you allowed the water to fill to your ankles after planting? How’s the fertilizer looking? These are questions you’ll find yourself asking in Sakuna, and the game does very little in the way of handholding. This can be a bit aggravating at first, but as time goes on you’ll be proud of the progress you’ve made with each subsequent year of crops, which serve to power up Sakuna’s stats.
This set-up makes sense narratively as well, because Sakuna is a big spoiled brat of a baby, who finds herself thrust into an island to farm and solve a mystery about a swarm of demons, despite having never done a lick of work in her entire life as the child of a harvest goddess and warrior god. She and her team of similarly crappy human farming mates must work together to survive. You learn to harvest with them, and along the way, come to see the cast grow and be less garbage to each other over time. It’s pleasant to see.
Sakuna is a very meditative game, despite its bursts of well-paced action-combat. The two skews of combat and farming go well together, but when I walk away from the game, I’ll be more likely to remember the moments where Sakuna and her friends sing farming songs as they plant one seed of rice at a time. This is a cutscene you can watch to the end. It’s skippable, and you gain nothing from watching it, but it’s there. And that’s what sets Sakuna apart from other farming games: it has a deep respect for the process of planting rice, and now, so do I.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon has me craving more from the developers, and my buddy Flynn was nice enough to shoot me a tip about Judgment going on sale. So I grabbed it and it was worth it! Judgment is set within the same universe as the Yakuza games, but stars a disgraced Lawyer-turned Detective on the hunt for a serial killer in Kamurocho. It plays like Yakuza 6 on the Dragon Engine, but is a lot more refined in terms of combat. The game has a much decreased scale — a feat given how small-scale Yakuza games are already — with a more intimate story in contrast to most Yakuza games and a smaller cast of characters. This works in its favor, although I find that the Reputation System to unlock side-cases is a little grindy.
The investigation aspects are mostly good and a nice change of pace, but the find-a-pixel nonsense can be a drag sometimes. On the other hand, tailing missions are unequivocally bad, and should be removed from every game posthaste.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
The OTHER Ryo Ga Gotoku game I’m playing, FotNS is also a blast so far. It doesn’t have the budget of Judgment and even feels like a PS2 game at times in its scale, but it feels real good to come back to the Yakuza 0 engine. Kiryu’s VA voicing Kenshiro is just chef’s kiss so damn good. I was hooked on my very first “Omae Wa Mou.” I’m not as far as I am in Judgement, simply because the story in the former is gripping me more, but I can’t wait to play further. One thing I can say though is that I’m worried the quick-time events will grate as time goes on, and I’m hoping Ken gets some secret techniques that take out groups of enemies to mitigate that fatigue. Right now I’m moving from enemy to enemy to do them and it’s getting just a tad on my nerves, depending on how long the sequence is for the technique I’m doing.
Even saying all of that though, FotNS is far and above better than most Anime game adaptations. At least it's not another goddamn Arena Fighter. Namco, please take notes. Or better yet, give all your IPs to RGG Studios. Sure they work for SEGA, but it'd be better for everyone.