Developer: Neverland | Publisher: Xseed Games | Played On: 3DS | Price: $39.99 | ESRB: E10+ [Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol]
I can’t tell you how many times I played Harvest Moon and thought to myself, “Man, growing crops, starting a family, and helping out around town is great, but what this game’s really missing is monsters, dungeons, and battle axes.” Thankfully for all of you who share my concern a brand new Rune Factory game is here and it delivers on all your turnip-growing, monster-slaying desires.
Officially dubbed a ”Fantasy Harvest Moon”, the Rune Factory series is much more than simply running a farm—and Rune Factory 4 is no exception. After getting into a scuffle on an airship, you fall overboard and land in the quaint town of Selphia. Suffering from amnesia due to the fall, you are not entirely sure who you are or what you were doing on the airship. After mutually striking a deal with a kind-hearted dragon acting as the town’s guardian, you decide to stay and help the townsfolk until you regain your memory. With a field to grow crops, dozens of people to get to know in town, plenty of requests to keep you busy, and monsters outside the city gates to slay (or tame later on), there is a lot to keep you busy in Rune Factory 4.
Every action consumes Rune Points (RP): Simple tasks like watering your plants can require little to no RP, but greater feats of strength like swinging your axe to chop wood or perform special attacks with your weapons require a higher amount. Run out of Rune Points and you start spending your Health Points (HP) instead. If your HP hits zero it’s back to the town doctor and a hefty fee to get you back on your feet.
At first you will only be able to perform a few tasks each day before you’re too exhausted to do anything else. But as you work you increase your skills: the more you fish the better your fishing skill, and a higher skill means you’ll spend less RP doing that specific skill, as well as increase your performance to yield better results. No matter what you spend your day doing you are constantly rewarded. At the beginning of the game it seems like you can’t do anything at all but as the game progresses you’ll have so much to do that the days will never seem long enough! The system works wonderfully and ensures no matter what you decide to do in the game you’re always progressing forward.
What easily sets Rune Factory 4 apart from the Harvest Moon series is combat. In traditional action RPG fashion, you dodge incoming attacks, strike back with devastating fury, and level up. Battling monsters is simple and rewarding: not only do you increase your attack prowess with whichever weapon you happen to be using, you have a chance of finding ingredients and items you can use back in town to create better weapons, finish requests for other townsfolk, or sell for some extra cash. For the most part combat is overly easy and oftentimes regresses to button mashing until your foe is defeated. The occasional boss battles diverge from this pattern, offering up the most interesting encounters, but even these bouts leave something to be desired.
By offering gifts to a monster you can persuade them to join you. Gifts can literally be anything, from a piece of wood to a freshly baked cake. Monsters on your side can help you in battle or stay back at your farm and perform fieldwork like tilling the soil or watering your crops. After you’ve built a Monster Barn to house them, finding and convincing newer, more powerful monsters to your side can become as addictive as the rest of the game.
The farming portion of the game is nearly identical to Harvest Moon. Collecting enough money and supplies allows you to upgrade the size of your storage bins, gain access to higher level items, and allow the shops in town to expand among other enhancements. You can strengthen your relationships with each person in town by helping them with requests, giving them gifts, or simply talking to them every day. Should you find that special someone, you can ask them to be your spouse and even have children together. Special festivals like a cooking showcase or fishing contest allow you to enjoy the company of your neighbors while indulging in some friendly competition. In short, there are a lot of activities to eat away at your time, and if you’re already a fan of Harvest Moon, all the better.
For all that there is to do in Rune Factory 4, the game can get somewhat monotonous. Every new day brings the same tasks again and again: water/harvest your crops, check the request board, buy new items, go out investigating any strange occurrences outside of town, etc. After the story wraps up a couple dozen hours in, the game focuses more on life in town. The transition away from the story and action might turn some gamers.
There are a handful of minor nuisances, such as switching between all of your weapons and tools requires opening up the menu and manually equipping the item you want. This means stopping the action every few seconds just to hold your shovel instead of your claymore. Although there are usually several requests from villagers each day, you can only perform one at a time, meaning you’ll be doing a great deal of backtracking through previously explored areas. Unlocking the highest upgrades to your farm and village require a significant amount of resources which become tedious to find and collect. Despite this, Rune Factory 4 always remains fun to play thanks largely to a constant stream of rewards and added incentives to keep playing.
Visually Rune Factory 4 is the best looking game in the series to date. The overhead viewpoint allows for the world’s beautiful backgrounds and colors to standout. Lush greenery is complimented by the wet, dank underground dungeons. Monsters also share in this diversity, ranging from cute little apple creatures to more frightening and traditional ogres and goblins. The beautiful anime art style gives each character portrait a unique and detailed look as well.
Rune Factory 4 certainly isn’t a game for everyone. The intended audience is rather niche, but if you’ve enjoyed past games in the franchise or are looking for a solid RPG to hold your attention for several days you can rest assured your time with Rune Factory 4 will be well spent.
+ Improving your skills is addictive and rewarding
+ There is always something to occupy your time, but…
- … repeating the same duties day after day gets overly repetitive
8 / 10