For quite some time fans of Marvelous’ farming games were wondering just what happened to the Rune Factory series as the 2013 release of Rune Factory 4 on the 3DS saw great success, it ended up being the last game made by developer Neverland Co. who had worked on all previous entries. Now years later fans saw that not only is Rune Factory 5 in the works but the popular Rune Factory 4 would be returning for a Switch release in the form of Rune Factory 4 Special. So now that this fantasy farming/light-RPG has been re-released is it just as good as it was years ago?
Our tale begins with a young traveler aboard an airship on a mission to deliver an important item to the “god” of a distant town. Unfortunately a pair of soldiers have caught wind of the fact that this item holds incredible power and want it for themselves and in the resulting scuffle not only is this item scattered to the winds, but the traveler is sent off the side of the airship and plummets to the ground below. This traveler happens to be the player character who can be either a boy or a girl and upon landing on a large dragon residing in a palace, ends up with amnesia and can only remember their name.
Thanks to the fact that the town of Selphia was expecting a visit from the royal palace in the coming days, the dragon that turns out to be far friendlier than she looks immediately believes that the player is them and gives them access to a small farm plot and a room in the castle. It doesn’t take long before the real prince arrives and things quickly get smoothed out as not only does the dragon prefer working with the player, but the prince has his own matters to attend to, leaving players in charge of managing the town and far more as their adventures in the wild quickly reveal far more is at stake and that the way of life of those in Selphia may be coming to an end.
All isn’t doom and gloom however as the layer is encouraged to take the plot at their own pace with there being no time constraints as to when events need to happen by, both story wise or even character wise. This means players can spend a season or two getting working at their farm or getting to know the residents of the town should they please. In fact, the various residents of the town make for some of the more charming elements in Rune Factory 4 Special, especially as a number of them are introduced to the town only by progressing to certain points in the story and rather than featuring only single character specific events, many events feature multiple characters at a time that help make the town feel a bit more alive as characters interact with others besides the player.
It is also nice to note that players will be able to see some new sides to these characters even if they are returning fans from the 3DS release as Rune Factory 4 Special offers a number of additional scenarios for all of the bachelors and bachelorettes in the game. “Another Episode” features short voiced stories for each character that gives players an extra look at how they interact with the player while the Newlywed Mode is locked at the start but unlocks once players marry a character in-game, allowing for some additional scenes.
Rune Factory 4 Special continues to split players time between the crop fields and the battle fields as characters are given skills that level up for basically any task, this includes things such as watering plants, throwing items, swinging a sword, or even sleeping. Most mechanics in Rune Factory 4 Special are introduced slowly through the “Request” box that asks players to complete certain tasks that range from planting seeds and harvesting a certain number of vegetables to killing certain monsters and taming them for use on the farm. This drip feed of detail works great for newcomers to the series and even as a refresher for returning fans.
Farming in the game remains fairly simple as one may expect as players will find only a few seeds available at the start, with more unlocking via Requests, and these crops and flowers can be grown in the field over the course of a few in-game days as long as they are properly watered. When ready for harvest players can pick them up to sell, store and use to craft various recipes, or harvest with a sickle to gain higher level seeds. There are a wide array of plant types that players can plant such as trees, gigantic plants that dwarf the player in size, and even random dungeons that can be explored so what starts simple eventually evolves into being quite fantastical.
Outside of the farm and town players will find a land filled with different kinds of creatures and even some dungeons to conquer. To do this players have access to a variety of different weapons that include things like dual blades, swords, spears, and more alongside a variety of spells at their disposal. Most attacks, especially spells, require “RP” (stamina) for use and if the player doesn’t have enough it begins to drain their health and it is worth noting that even using a hammer or axe on the farm requires RP so players will need to balance their time properly to avoid fainting in the field or out facing monsters as a trip to the doctor’s clinic can be extremely expensive.
The actual combat in the game is fairly simplistic in nature and those looking for a challenge will likely want to play on a harder difficulty initially as the game’s first few areas, including the first boss, are very easy though expect a difficulty spike from then on but if things get to be too difficult then players always have the option of altering the game’s difficulty in the castle’s basement. That being said bringing along a friend from town is always an option, in fact, players can even bring a friendly monster with them should they choose as players can create a monster barn and place tamed monsters inside of it that will provide daily drops and can come fight alongside the player, eventually they may even help on the farm if they like you enough.
As mentioned before, players can form quick friendships and even build a relationship with various citizens of the town. This is done by completing various requests they may submit or by simply talking with them every day and giving them their favorite items. This means players can choose to marry one of the potential bachelorettes or bachelors, though there is no same-sex option in this game. One more feature that players have access to, as the “lord” of the town, is the development system. This makes use of points earned from defeating monsters, shipping items, and completing requests and allows for players to schedule town holidays, expand shop inventory, increase their farmable land, and more.
Visuals & Audio
In many ways Rune Factory 4 makes a fairly incredible leap to the Nintendo Switch despite originally being developed for the 3DS seven years ago. This is partially due to the character portraits and animated cut-scenes being incredibly detailed for their time and transitioning well to a higher quality platform. The character models have also seen a fairly solid transition as the details for the characters are still handled quite well. The same cannot be said about some of the game’s background textures however as there a number of areas that look incredibly rough, especially out in the wild and even some items that players can acquire suffer from a bit of a ragged looking appearance.
While the original 3DS release of the game only offered English voice work Rune Factory 4 Special now features both newly recorded seeming English voice work for many of the characters but also the original Japanese voice track as an option should players choose. Most of the game is unvoiced outside of certain bits of dialogue and the aforementioned bonus scenes but this is a nice touch for returning fans. As for the game’s background music, it is fairly standard in nature but goes well with the game’s twin themes of being a soothing farming game as well as a dungeon crawler at times.
Years ago Rune Factory 4 was a delight to play on the 3DS and now in 2020 Rune Factory 4 Special remains just as much of a delight, if not more, now that it has been released on the Nintendo Switch. It may not have added too much new content for those who’ve spent years playing the original but the content that is on offer is still an incredible delight to play. Be it the charming cast of characters that players can befriend, the fantasy farming that remains as enjoyable as before, or the simple but exciting combat and exploration, Rune Factory 4 Special remains a great time sink that we are delighted to see return.