‘Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin’ Developer Interview at E3 2019
Edelweiss is an independent Japanese game company best known for Astebreed, a well regarded sci-fi shoot em up released on PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC. The studio is comprised of two developers: Nal, the director, and CG artist Koichi. The duo is currently working on Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, which combines 2D side scrolling action gameplay with third person rice farming simulation. Sakuna features a striking aesthetic inspired by Japanese mythology and a moving story that takes place during the Warring States period.
Players assume the role of Sakuna, a harvest goddess who’s been exiled to a Hinoe Island, a place that borders heaven and earth. Sakuna is forced to work with a group of outcast humans to reclaim the island from demons and cultivate the soil with a rice harvest. Her path to redemption not only involves slaying demons, but also bettering the lives of her new companions.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin promises to be Edelweiss’ most ambitious title to date. CFG had the opportunity to chat with Nal and Koichi at E3 2019 courtesy of XSEED Games.
Interviewed by William Hong and Davies Green
Translated by Mai Okuno
Sakuna is quite a departure from your previous sci-fi themed titles. How did you come up with the concept?
Nal: The game is a combination action and Japanese farming game. It is very different from our previous game, Astebreed, but this game is based on a previous action game we made called Fairy Bloom Freesia. We wanted to add farming elements on top of that.
How does Sakuna stand apart from other farming games on the market?
Nal: Compared to those other farming games which have a lot of craft systems, Sakuna only has the rice farming part. In terms of the rice farming system, it’s very detailed and in depth.
Why did you decide to focus exclusively on rice farming?
Nal: Being Japanese, we’re close to rice farming but not too many actually know about the process. So I thought the contrast was interesting: we’re so close to rice yet we don’t know how it’s made.
In terms of aesthetics, was it a challenge going from anime inspired sci-fi to a more traditional Japanese look?
Koichi: It does have a bit of a fantasy element, but we also wanted to make it more grounded in reality, too.
Are the enemy designs inspired by Japanese folklore?
Koichi: We mainly use animals for enemies. There’s not a lot we referenced for that. We created enemies as needed.
What aspect are you most excited for players to experience?
Koichi: It’s been in development for over 4 years, so we just really want to bring it to market so players can actually play the final product, not just the demo. We want them to enjoy the game’s action and farming cycle.
Which feature are you most proud of in this game?
Nal: For an action game, I’m proud of how fluid the controls are. Edelweiss has always been praised for well our games handle in terms of controls. For the rice farming part, it has a lot of depth, so it might make people interested in rice farming.
What is Edelweiss’ game design philosophy?
Koichi: We mostly prioritize game controls. We tried out a different type of game engine, but we realized it would be difficult to handle. So we went with this particular game engine to ensure it would control well and the game benefited from it.
Did you encounter any technical challenges bringing this to the Switch?
Nal: There wasn’t any difficulty bringing it to Switch because we’re using an engine that my friend worked on that’s already optimized for Switch.
Does Sakuna feature a time/season system?
Nal: There’s just the season and date. The seasons factor more into the farming side. Items and food you can pick up vary from season to season. The enemies are the same year round.
Koichi: There’s a weather system that’s displayed on screen. Like if you’re in a dungeon and it’s raining, you might want to return back to the farm to make sure your crop isn’t ruined.
Is there a lot of time management involved?
Koichi: Casual players won’t need to worry about the time. But if you want to make high quality rice, you’ll have to pay attention.
The main heroine uses her scarf to navigate through the stage. Can it be used for combat as well?
Nal: You can also use it to grab enemies and throw them.
This game is making me hungry. Is there cooking in the game? Can you make fried rice?
Nal: [laughs] So there’s not going to be fried rice as we know it today, but everything on the menu is based on meals from the romaji era. There’s going to be something similar to fried rice from that time.
So you both must have done a lot of historical research.
Koichi: We put so much time into researching the rice farming, how to make rice, and the menu. So if you’re familiar with the romaji and Sengoku period, you’ll recognize a lot of things.
How long is the game and is it story intensive?
Nal: The playthrough time is about 20 hours. The action part is about 70% of the game.
Koichi: The rest of the game is RPG and story elements.
So the gameplay loop is mainly split between fighting enemies and the farming?
Koichi: The game cycle will have you check the crops in the morning, then go to the dungeons, bring back items from the dungeons to cook, and then check on the crops again.
Is there an ideal time to fight to get the best rice harvest? Does fighting stronger enemy yield better results?
Nal: There’s not much association between fighting enemies and the quality of the rice. The quality of the rice will affect Sakuna’s rank.
Koichi: In Japan there are parameters that determine how high quality rice is in terms of appearance and other attributes. Those parameters play a role in Sakuna. There’s quite a lot of detail in terms of soil, pesticides, nutrients, and other factors.
Do you have any plans to bring your previous games to current consoles?
Nal: We’ve had people suggest we bring Freesia to current consoles, but the game is outdated by modern standards. It would take time to update it for other consoles and we had already started working on Sakuna. So at the moment we’re not really thinking about it.
Any thoughts on creating sequels to Freesia and Astebreed?
Nal: In terms of Freesia, Sakuna is a sort of spiritual sequel.
Koichi: Probably not a sequel to Astebreed, but we’d like to make another shooting game after having made two.
What game developers do you admire?
Koichi: Masahiro Sakurai.
What are your favorite games?
Nal: Tenchi Sōzō * on the Super Famicom. *Terranigma in PAL regions
Koichi: Rainbow Six! [laughs]
Are there any games you’ve enjoyed at E3?
Nal: Not yet! Our schedule is busy. [laughs]
XSEED Games will release Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin this winter in North America on Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.