What I'm Playing - No. 98
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Be warned, minor spoilers may be contained within. Generally, I do try to keep things spoiler-free but this isn’t always possible/practical! If you want to totally avoid all potential spoilers so you can play these games yourself in a blind run, you shouldn’t continue reading! Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Oxygen Not Included (PC)
On a whim, I started playing this space colony management sim a bit this week. I had played it before about 2 years ago, and since then a significant number of free content updates have rolled out. I thought the simulation felt pretty feature complete before, but now there are even more fun layers to the experience! Plus, I think the achievements are new - I don’t remember those existing last time I played, so that’s pretty cool!
Rather than jump back into my old save and struggle to remember all the mechanics, I started a new colony. It had the random name “Trainwreck,” which is about how I expect things to end up in the colony sooner or later so I kept it. You start with just 3 duplicants, the humanoid residents of the colony. They do your every bidding, and execute orders to dig through dirt, build new structures, sweet up debris on the ground, and all other manner of tasks. Every few in-game days (called “cycles”), you’ll be able to print a new duplicant with a fancy machine that’s basically a 3D printer. You get a few options to choose from, or you can instead choose a resource care package if you’re not ready to expand your colony just yet, since more duplicants means more mouths to feed and more lungs consuming oxygen. I think the skill trees that each duplicant has are new since I last played too.
The depth of the simulation here is pretty awesome. You need to lay down power infrastructure, as well as plumbing, airflow, hygiene, food production…the list goes on. There are tons of aspects to tweak to maximize colony efficiency, so if you’re into that sort of thing this game will be a dream come true. I like the gameplay and visuals are 2D too, they’re quite charming. I didn’t play for that long, but I managed to make it to cycle 15 and I only caused 1 duplicant death along the way, so despite the colony name I’d say things are going pretty well so far!
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin (PS4)
This game released on PC, Switch, and PS4 this week. I picked up the physical collector’s edition for PS4, because the game looked interesting and the collector’s edition was priced at only $60. At that price, I couldn’t pass it up! This netted me a copy of the 3 disc soundtrack, an art book, a lucky charm, and the game. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a combination of farming sim and 2D action platformer, and since I’ve enjoyed games from both genres in the past, I definitely wanted to try this one out!
The premise here is that Sakuna, a harvest goddess who’s become lazy and self-centered due to years of living off her inheritance, is exiled from her home in the capital of the Lofty Realm after a run in with some humans who stumbled into the realm of the gods leads her to accidentally burn down the storehouse. She is banished to the Isle of Demons, along with the group of humans involved in the incident, and tasked with investigating the source of demons on the island.
Her mother and father once had a homestead on the Isle of Demons, so Sakuna and her group of human companions quickly make that their base of operations. To avoid starvation, they begin growing rice, with Sakuna (and therefore the player) doing most of the work. While the rice grows, Sakuna is tasked with going out to hunt demons, yielding meat and other materials. Though initially adverse to both tasks, over the years spent on the island, Sakuna develops a sense of duty and compassion, though she still retains her ego-centric demeanor.
Before I go into a huge essay on how cool and deep the rice-farming mechanics are, here’s a quick example of what combat is like. You have light and heavy attacks at your disposal, as well as a multitude of combat skills that cost SP. Furthermore, you can parry enemy attacks with proper timing, and using Sakuna’s Divine Raiment, swing around behind enemies to dodge attacks and gain the upper hand. A large part of combat with regular enemies also consists of knocking enemies into each other to cause a chain reaction and deal major damage. What’s interesting is that you don’t level up from defeating enemies. You can increase the level of your combat skills by using them, but you don’t increase your stats by fighting demons. Since Sakuna is a harvest goddess, she only gains power one way: through successful harvests.
There are a lot of phases during a rice crop’s life cycle. Luckily, they’re not all introduced at once, and the game has tutorials that help you get started and keep you on the right track. Naturally, you start by planting the rice, and once it’s planted, you’ll pull weeds as it grows, and adjust the water level in your field as the rice grows. Then you’ll learn about creating and applying fertilizer, and work that into your routine. Eventually, you have access to a variety of in-game scrolls that teach you about the finer points of rice farming, and help you to maximize either the size or quality of your harvest.
Once the rice has matured and ripened, you harvest it, dry it, then move it to the storehouse for threshing and hulling. As you perform these tasks, you gain farming experience, and eventually learn new farming skills that allow you to complete tasks faster, making it easier to handle the larger harvests you’ll likely be seeing after a few years. Like with other farming sims, you’ll settle into a satisfying and relaxing routine after enough time. It may seem like there’s a lot to manage, but you can make mistakes and still have a successful crop, and make incremental improvements to your process as you go.
After you finish hulling the year’s rice crop, the harvest is added to your food stores, and Sakuna’s level will increase to match that of the rice, with her stats increasing in relation to the attributes of the rice as well. You get a nice summary of the status of your crop at this point too, helping you plan for your next year. The rice continues to benefit you after harvest, as it makes for filling meals at dinner, and can be used in many dishes.
I’ve really enjoyed my time with Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin so far. The way the rice farming directly benefits your prowess in combat is really satisfying. Having trouble with a boss? Just focus on your rice for a bit, have a bountiful harvest, and come back stronger than ever before to destroy the demons. Combat also ties into the farming mechanics nicely, as some of the materials you find can be used to make better fertilizer. In addition to this, you also have standard action RPG mechanics like forging stronger gear, which is also done using materials gathered during exploration. The gameplay loop gets a bit grindy from time to time, since you’ll sometimes be visiting the same set of areas over and over to complete exploration objectives in order to unlock the next area, but even then it’s still fun, because you’ll be gathering materials that help you back on the farm, or that help you craft stronger weapons.