Despite my best-laid plans, I ended up playing several games released last year. For all its problems, 2020 was a good year for video games. In this series, I will tell you about ten games released in 2020 that you should play, and why.
Sakuna is an action platformer with RPG elements. It is also a video game that rejoices in being a video game. Despite its colorful style, it goes against the current conventions of simplifying mechanics and structure to appeal to the broadest audience possible. This is a multifaceted game, one which presents the player with many concepts to master.
The most characteristic of such concepts is the titular rice. The main character can increase her abilities both by gaining experience through victory in combat, and by creating and equipping more powerful weapons and armor.
Her rice paddy, however, is what, year after year (in the game, a year only lasts about a dozen days) makes her power grow the most. As we play the game, the quality of the rice we produce is directly linked to the character's evolution.
This is where the game leaves a lasting impression, as it is not afraid to teach and guide the player through the myriad steps involved in the cereal’s production, from the preparation of the soil to the final stripping of the grain. All of this happens under the guise of mini-games that are not afraid to try and simulate the repetition and slowness of the process.
It is a pleasure to see such a game in 2020. Sakuna's producers decided that the game had to offer its players a specific experience, and focused on it with a minimum of compromises. A book can describe the process, and a film can portray the drama inherent in the farmer's life, but only a video game could make us feel, in a condensed way, the day-to-day toil of the rice producer.
Of course, just giving the player repetitive work is never a recipe for a good game. Sakuna manages to justify time and patience in many ways.
First, all repetitive activities make mechanical sense as they relate to each stage in the rice production process.
Second, they make structural sense; such tasks are intelligently distributed throughout each game year, so we are never performing the same task too many days in a row; they also fit into the player's game day routine, which includes fighting enemies to “purify” areas of the world, and collecting materials to make food and tools. These activities are influenced by the day / night cycle of the game, and we don’t always want to perform them in the same sequence.
Thirdly, the length of each task makes sense from a logical point of view, but it also fits the game's narrative, in a psychological and practical way; on the one hand Sakuna is being punished for the infractions she has committed; on the other hand, she and her companions need to eat, and the harvest is the only plausible way to meet their needs food.
These factors al compliment each other and fit together with the main gameplay goal: the end of a harvest represents a huge jump in the character's power level, and the player not only feels that such a jump is deserved, but can immediately see, in combat, the result of their efforts; enemies that proved difficult in the previous day are readily defeated after harvest.
Sakuna takes us back to a time when each game exhibited the eccentricity of its creators; in which it was common for a developer to take a genre template and add a mechanical or structural twist that gave each game its personality and distinguished it from its counterparts.
It is good to see that in 2020 there were still development teams that dared to do so.