When Rune Factory was first created; it was literally called ‘A Fantasy Harvest Moon’ in the West thanks to the fact that Harvest Moon has been a relatively well known game series since it started back in 1996. Now seven years after the first Rune Factory was released, there is no longer a need to refer to the game as a fantasy version of the Harvest Moon series as it has managed to establish its own identity. Now with its own signature style heading to the 3DS for the first time, does Rune Factory 4 do its part in making the series worth remembering?
While Rune Factory 4 is all about dungeon crawling, slaying monsters, crafting items, and farming there is also a storyline that helps hold the package together. Players take the role of a male or female character as they are traveling aboard an airship to deliver an important item. However the trip doesn’t go very smoothly as two attackers throw the main character overboard, sending him/her plummeting to the earth below only to land headfirst on top of a talking dragon.
The fall from the sky has caused the player to lose their memory, creating a very standard amnesiac protagonist. This is of no issue however as the dragon, named Ventuswill, is very friendly and not only thinks that the player happens to be a prince/princess that is meant to be arriving in the kingdom, but also is the only one that she can reveal her calmer nature to.
Even after the mistaken identity with royalty is wrapped up after the proper prince appears the next day, everyone gladly accepts that the player should still take over the role of leading the town of Selphia as the proper prince simply wants to take some time to study business and form a trading company. As such, players are given the city of Selphia to work with.
However not all is right in the area around Selphia as powerful monsters have begun appearing within dungeons and these are causing issues with the productivity of the land, leading the player to have to hunt them down and eliminate them. Though doing so may end up revealing not only new friends, but also a deeper side to Ventuswill’s connection to the town and the world itself.
While far from original, Rune Factory 4’s storyline has its fair share of nice moments with a great feeling of progression. Players can choose to move at their own pace through the story, though new areas with more products to ship and enemies to defeat are opened up as the story advances. It also helps that the cast of characters that make up the town of Selphia are wonderfully charming. To be fair, there are a number of stereotypical character types but these characters are rather sparse amongst the community of different faces and races.
As mentioned earlier, while there is an enjoyable story set alongside the numerous gameplay options, the focus of Rune Factory 4 is the combat and simulation aspects. Players are capable of wielding numerous weapons such as spears, swords, longswords, fighting gloves, magic staffs and more as real weaponry as well as farm tools if they feel like. The combat is pretty standard for the most part, with players having only a number of specific attacks per weapon type when they start out.
However there are numerous skills that level up through playing Rune Factory 4 and by using weapons on enemies, players grow more adept at wielding them and also gain stat increases at the same time. This means that it actually is best to sometimes vary up your style as your character will be stronger thanks to the jack-of-all-trades style set-up the combat system has. As players learn to use weapons, dash and charge attacks are unlocked as well as a final ultimate attack that can be unleashed at the end of a combo.
Outside of melee weapons players are also capable of using a number of different spells and skills at the same time. These weapon skills are most effective when paired with the proper weapon type, but can be used on their own while magical spells such as fireball or cure rely on the players’ magic skill. Mixing and matching your fighting style is very useful in the game as element types can play a role and sometimes stronger opponents need to be dealt with speed instead of brute strength.
All actions, whether it is fighting, casting spells or simply fishing, crafting, or farming lower the players RP (Rune Point) meter which, when empty begins to sap at the player’s health and can even send them to the hospital if their health bar reaches zero. Thankfully, combat doesn’t always have to be a solo affair since the player has the option of bringing two allies along with them wherever they go.
First, there are monsters that can be tamed in the game and raised as pets. Many, not all, of the monsters you will come across can be tamed by giving them items and they can be kept in the player’s Monster Barn where they will provide various items once a day and if the player manages to get their monster pet to like them enough, they can even help out on the farm by clearing out weeds, stumps and rocks or watering and planting seeds. However they also can come along with the player where they can fight alongside the player or serve as a mount for the player to ride on.
Now while it is possible to bring two monsters with you into combat, players can also take another character from the town, or two characters, with them as well. Now residents of Selphia won’t blindly follow you immediately like tamed monsters will, requiring players to make the effort to at least befriend them before venturing out of town. Now in Rune Factory 4 the player builds relationships with the townspeople in a manner similar to any other Harvest Moon/Rune Factory game, giving them presents (with each character having various likes and dislikes), talking to them and partaking in events.
As you interact with people not only do you get to know more about them, and sometimes partake in group conversations when characters are gathered together, but there are also a few unique events that will occur in town. These events serve as minor distractions but are a nice way to provide some extra content and interaction with the townsfolk. Now while obviously players will be looking to the characters they want to marry first, any character can become your friend and join you in combat, not just the romance option ones.
As for the romance and marriage in Rune Factory 4, not much has changed on this front as there are still various events that have to take place but now rather than simply jump right into marriage, players can enter a dating phase with a girl or guy before they decide to tie the knot. This means that there is a bit of depth to the system that does allow for the player to actually date more than one girl or guy at a time since players may find that they like one of the other characters more before the big decision.
Outside of fighting and dating, farming is the third gameplay pillar in Rune Factory 4 and it is rather simplistic and easy to get a hold of. Players can plant various vegetables and take care of the plants as they would in any other game in the series, though it is interesting to note that harvesting and gathering can be accomplished much quicker in this game because players are able to stack nine items of the same type on their heads at one time, speeding up the process immensely.
Finally there is the crafting section and the “PP” that is used to develop the town and the player. “PP” which stands for Prince/Princess Points are gained by completing various tasks around town for the residents and also drawing in tourists to visit your blossoming city. These points can be used to earn licenses to craft various item types, establish new festivals and build facilities for the player to use, giving players a chance to flex their rulership ability a little.
Almost every item in the game has a recipe and players are able to learn these recipes through, ironically, eating bread that suddenly inspires them with the knowledge to mix medicines, forge weapons, and create new food dishes. Creating your own equipment is always cheaper than buying it and food can not only heal the player but also give various stat bonuses for that day, plus giving characters home cooked food is a nice way to earn an extra bonus in a relationship.
One could say that there is almost too much to do in Rune Factory 4 and that is actually a good thing. Players can easily find themselves lost for hours at a time as they take care of their farms, interact with the townsfolk and work on their relationships, and delve into dungeons to fight monsters all while enjoying how great the game controls and how easy it is to switch between farm tools, weapons, items and spells even in the midst of combat.
Rune Factory 4 features a number of gorgeous looking anime cut-scenes as well as highly detailed character portraits of all of the named characters in the game. Unfortunately while the title is vibrantly colored and gorgeous looking at times, Rune Factory 4 has a number of graphical issues.
Outside of the dialogue sections, character models are jagged looking and although the levels are nicely designed, almost everything in the game outside of its cutscenes and character portraits feel dated.
It is worth noting that Rune Factory 4 does not have a dual audio option but this isn’t too much of an issue since there is little voice work in the game. What is provided by XSEED are a few small phrases and expressions that have been given to each character. There is enough variety here that despite being only small snippets accompanying a lot of text, they manage to get the point across and help nail a few of the characters’ personalities.
As for the game’s soundtrack, it can easily be said that the background music for the game is wonderful. The music often fits the mood of the game at the time, with various calming tunes playing while the player works in the field or travels through the city and some harder fast paced music when facing down enemies or bosses in a dungeon. It is also worth noting that XSEED has elected to keep the opening Japanese theme song for Rune Factory 4, which is a nice touch since many companies choose to abandon it in favor of basic orchestral music.
The hardest part of reviewing Rune Factory 4 was putting the game down to write the review. Thanks to the abundance of things to do, whether it is explore a dungeon, talk to the wonderful characters in Selphia, or handle things on the farm, there is always something to do in the game. While the game’s visuals may be dated, XSEED has done an excellent job bringing this entertaining game to the West and giving gamers an amazing game packed with enough content that will make it difficult to put down.
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