In many ways the wait for Rune Factory 5 has been a rather long one. Not only has it been almost a decade since Rune Factory 4 consumed hundreds of hours on the 3DS but at one point the thought of another game in the series seemed impossible due to its developer being shut down. Still, after a few enhanced releases of Rune Factory 4, the time for the next entry in the series has arrived with Rune Factory 5 making the full switch to 3D gameplay and introducing a number of new elements to the classic formula. Have these changes made this release a worthwhile entry in the series?
Players begin their story in standard Rune Factory fashion as their male or female character wakes up in a forest where they have no clue where they are let alone who they are. Despite their confusion, the player hears a girl screaming for help and finds a wereanimal girl being attacked by monsters. After saving the girl who introduces herself as Hina, the player once again loses consciousness only to find themselves brought back to the nearby town of Rigbarth and introduced to the local ranger corps in charge of keeping the people of the town safe, SEED. After a quick test to make sure that the player isn’t a threat, the leader of Rigbarth’s branch of SEED not only invites them to use the upstairs as their new home, but also takes them on as a new recruit to the organization.
Players being inducted into something of a defense force is something new for Rune Factory and does help establish a bit more about the world around Rigbarth earlier than usual as players are initially sent on missions to investigate nearby threats that lead to story progression rather than simply traveling into a newly unveiled dungeon and advancing the story as it has been previously. That being said, the SEED element may be new but all of the classic elements of a Rune Factory storyline are still here, such as the balance of nature and Earthmates, including a number of new surprises with the core storyline and the various reveals that it has throughout its numerous arcs. This leads to a fairly satisfying overarching tale that is supported by some of the best characters the series has seen in some time with most of Rigbarth’s villagers standing out in one way or another.
When it comes to games such as these, the personalities of the townsfolk plays a significant role in making sure that players have plenty to enjoy when not pursuing a core story event and, as mentioned before, Rune Factory 5’s characters do an exceptional job of making sure that players will want to check in with nearly everyone as they go about their daily routine. This is due to the fact that not only do characters have a significant amount of different dialogue that changes from day to day and comments on various things such as weather, the player’s skills, and more but also that many of them are given interesting character traits and personalities that players will really want to engage with. This includes the bachelorettes and bachelors as well as most of the non-marriage candidates as well. In fact, the inability to marry a few certain characters is rather surprising and a bit disappointing considering the dialogue and interactions they have with the player.
Rune Factory 5 is ready to let players have every option available when it comes to marriage as the Western release of the game has seen the addition of same-sex marriage. Not only does this come as a great way to be inclusive but also gives players twice as much content to enjoy when it comes to character events. These events revolve around one bachelor or bachelorette and reveal more about their past and personality and now players will have access to all of them as long as they raise their friendship with the characters properly. It is also nice to note that, rather than having to hunt down a mysterious trigger or simply hope that an event will trigger on its own, events will be marked on the map where they will occur.
Although Rune Factory 5 may have made the switch to being more 3D based, the game is really still quite similar to past entries in the series with a few new additions and revisions here and there. Farming is still handled the same way with players making use of an initially small field where they must pull weeds, break stones, and chop logs to clear the way for tilling the dirt and planting seeds that must be watered every day. Growing plants still works the same as usual as well with crops, flowers, etc. taking a certain amount of time before they are ready to harvest or be scythed to potentially obtain higher level seeds of that crop while players will also need to keep an eye on soil quality to ensure their crops won’t wilt or provide smaller yields.
Where things do change a bit however is the addition of a certain type of field that players will continuously unlock as they progress through the story. These fields happen to be on the backs of “Farm Dragons” that float above their designated area and can be warped to for fast travel between locations. Farm Dragons serve as giant pieces of living land and the largest plots of tillable soil that players will have access to. Not only will monster barns be built on Farm Dragons where they can help tend the fields when not producing items or coming with the player to fight but players can also make use of a new crystal system to provide some temporary and permanent boosts to the dragons’ soil.
Farm Dragons will see things such as improved soil quality, more tillable land, faster growth rates, and more when fed crystals and while these fields do not appear to feature any specific season like previous games, different dragons require different numbers of crystals to obtain certain benefits. These crystals are obtained either in full form when located while exploring the game’s world or through fragments that can then be traded for a full crystal. These fragments are obtained through another new mechanic that plays into combat in the form of the “Seal” mechanic.
As a SEED ranger players will be given a seal that can be used out in the field to primarily target “Wanted” monsters that are more challenging than standard foes and provide small rewards when captured. Outside of this players can use their seal on standard enemies as well as bosses to temporarily stun them and potentially obtain a drop item or crystal fragment each time. If fully charged, a monster will be temporarily tamed for that day and fight alongside the player though certain actions, such as riding or obtaining produce items, cannot be performed with monsters that aren’t tamed by players. That being said, using the seal does require RP which is used for every other action in the game, be it skills, magic, using tools, fishing, or crafting anything so players will want to be careful of using it or risk damaging their health as a result.
The place where most changes may be felt is when it comes to combat and that is primarily due to the new third person view that players will usually be in while playing the game. Encounters with enemies in a 3D field, especially in larger areas, is a bit more hectic feeling at times compared to previous games but that is for the best as not only does it encourage the use of the lock-on system but also helps make the combat feel a bit more exciting as a result. Players will still have access to a variety of weapons and moves that can be unlocked for each weapon type, the ability to use two skills/spells at a time which can be upgraded after a bit of progression, and a dodge button to avoid incoming attacks.
While combat can still feel fairly easy at times, there are many moments that players can find themselves underprepared for what they are encountering. Not only are dungeons a bit more lengthy in this game but they also can feature a variety of traps that can put players on edge in later areas. It is also worth noting that while most dungeons are locked behind story progress, the whole fields outside the town of Rigbarth are not. This means that players can end up walking into groups of enemies that are far stronger than they are, dealing zero damage a hit and nearly killing the player with a single strike so exploring too far can be dangerous. Of course, since Rune Factory 5 allows players to venture out with upwards of three party members, being able to bring any mix of townsfolk and tamed monsters, there are always options available to try and level the field, outside of leveling up everything from dual blades and mining to sleeping and eating to improve the player’s stats of course.
One thing that unfortunately has suffered from the game’s shift to being 3D is the title’s performance and whether or not it is the fact it is a Switch exclusive is questionable. Players will find that Rune Factory 5 can feel great when it is running smoothly but the game begins to suffer performance drops quite quickly even when entering places like a full monster barn room or even spinning the camera at times. Traveling down the town while villages are walking around often brings some stuttering to the game, especially during festivals, while actually fighting only stays smooth when fighting solo. Bringing a larger party or even some tamed monsters can slow the game’s performance down in fights and is a real disappointment at times considering what players can bring with them to fight. Other issues such as the game taking a fairly lengthy time to load between areas as well as a pair of sudden crashes out of nowhere drag Rune Factory 5’s performance down heavily.
Visuals & Audio
The transition of the series to complete 3D is a mostly painless one visually as the character models are detailed just enough that they match their highly detailed character portraits well enough and there are now more monster types than ever before. Where the transition does hurt is the open field exploration as many areas appear fairly empty including parts of the town. Thankfully the actual dungeons themselves are nicely detailed and feature a nice level of variety between areas to keep things feeling fresh.
The Western release of Rune Factory 5 comes with a freshly recorded English voice track featuring a fitting cast of voice actors for every character, though it is worth noting that not every line in the game is voiced. In fact, there are scenes in the game that will fluctuate heavily between voiced and unvoiced lines which is a rather strange choice considering how important some of these scenes happen to be. There are also a number of great tracks mixed into the game’s soundtrack that change with the seasons as well as during festivals and dungeon exploration.
There is a lot to love about Rune Factory 5 as it offers more content than ever before between monster and crop variety as well as some solid combat that offers plenty of ways to take enemies down. The core storyline is enjoyable enough on its own but the cast of characters that help make up the town of Rigbarth really bring things together with more than enough to enjoy long past the story’s finale. Unfortunately long loading times and incredibly rough performance issues put a damper on just how fun and engrossing this game can be.
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