Rune Factory 4 for Nintendo 3DS
Pros: Fun gameplay mechanics, nice mix of combat and leisure
Cons: Unimpressive graphics and sound
Harvest Moon is a video game series that began on the Super Nintendo console. This title put you in the shoes of a farmer who had to raise crops and tend animals. Generally these aren’t fun activities, but bear with me. I was a fan right from the start, and though the series has never been particularly popular it has gained a cult following over the years. This is what led the developers to try something different, and try cultivating a spin-off to the franchise which was more focused around traditional role playing and fantasy elements. This came to be known as Rune Factory, and the latest installment just happens to be the topic of this review. Part 4 is the series’ premiere on the Nintendo 3DS, and while it’s still fun it’s disappointing that the developers didn’t take advantage of the new hardware.
Rune Factory 4 takes place in the same world as the previous installments, but in an entirely different region called Selphia. This setting is based around swords and sorcery as well as a large cast of anime inspired characters. The game begins as the protagonist (your choice of a boy or girl) falls off an airship on which they were apparently being held captive. This character survives the fall and winds up in a small village protected by a guardian dragon. Unfortunately the trauma has caused the protagonist a severe case of amnesia, and they are immediately mistaken for a visiting dignitary. When said member of royalty does arrive all is cleared up, but you’re given charge of their day to day responsibilities of running the village and farm as a measure of good will. As the story unfolds you come to learn that Selphia is in turmoil as four local guardians are in danger, and the quest to save the people of this land unfolds over the course of three different chapters. Rune Factory 4′s story is easily the most complex and involving across the entire series.
Rune Factory 4 is a mix of several different genres. The first part of the game has you managing a farm behind the guardian’s sprawling estate. You must til soil, plant seeds, and water them daily. Crops grow at different rates, and are worth varying amounts of money. Farming is your primary source of income in this game, and it’s a great means by which to purchase new items and upgrades. It’s kept fresh by the day and season systems which run off of a shortened in-game clock which allows you to grow certain crops only during specific times of the year. Monsters met within dungeons can be brought back to your farm and serve three basic functions. They can help out with chores, produces milk/eggs, and they can accompany you to dungeons and help with combat. The farming/ranching aspect of this game is fun, but it hasn’t been upgraded in any meaningful way in a very long time.
The second, and probably least important element of this game is its social system. Selphia is populated by a host of quirky characters, and you can befriend any of them. This is done by speaking with them on a daily basis as well as delivering them gifts. Everyone has different tastes and unless you want to consult a guide you’ll have to find out through trial and error. In an interesting twist your character can also court select members of the opposite sex. This is done in the same fashion as making friends, but once their affection ratings hit a certain point you can marry them and even have children. It’s typical Harvest Moon stuff, but there is one significant upgrade to the system. After befriending a character you can bring them along with you to help fight enemies within dungeons. This is my favorite addition brought to the series with this game.
The best element of the game is its combat. Selphia features numerous dungeons full of monsters, and it’s up to you to fight your way through each one and lay waste to the various boss characters. Your character has both HP and RP stats. HP is your life, and RP is strength. Every hit you take from an enemy drains your life bar, but each weapon (or tool for that matter) drains RP, and when it’s done continued use will instead drain your life. Fans of the genre will love the RPG mechanics incorporated into dungeon exploration. You’ll find tons of loot as you play, and defeating enemies rewards you with experience points (which allows you to gain levels thus becoming stronger.) The enemies are often challenging, and the boss fights are extremely well done and are very frantic.
Action occurs in real-time. You press the directional pad to move around, the A button to use your currently equipped weapon (or tool), and the Y button to cast magic. Enemies spawn from portals and will do so infinitely until they are destroyed. Gameplay is very smooth and combat flows better than it did in past Rune Factory titles thanks to smoother animations with significantly less clipping. What’s really cool about this game is the different types of weapons that you can use. You’ll begin with a choice of either a short or long sword, but eventually you’ll find battle axes, hammers, and spears. You can increase your defensive capabilities with new armor and clothing that is either found or purchased. Combat is surprisingly fun, but it can get repetitive. Thankfully this game features so many different activities to participate in that you’ll never get bored.
The game features some pretty good customization options as well. For starters you can organize your room any way you want by purchasing and placing furniture at your leisure. Additionally you are tasked with scheduling all festivals in Selphia via the order system. With specially earned points you can schedule holidays and even participate in them which is really cool. You can earn the points required by completing missions given to you by the townsfolk. These are answered by accepting notes on the request board located right outside of your house. The only problem I have with this is the fact that you can only accept and complete a certain number of quests per day.
Unfortunately this game features some pretty sub-par graphics. Marvelous, the developers behind it, opted for 3D characters against hand drawn backgrounds. Unfortunately it doesn’t come together particularly well. Characters look clunky, and the scenery is generally very bland. The enemy designs are very uninspired and most were just ripped from the previous titles. Not even the framerate is solid; when several enemies are on-screen the action slows down noticeably. The 3D effects aren’t even very pronounced and I opted to not take advantage of them. Rune Factory 4 is a pretty ugly game overall.
The soundtrack is also pretty unimpressive. The music is pretty standard with slow music with vague instrumentation. There’s heavy use of the mandolin which is nice, but for the most part the soundtrack is pretty forgettable. The game features a decent amount of voice over work that’s not particularly well done but adds a certain charm to the atmosphere. Controls on the other hand are pretty decent. The circle pad makes maneuvering around extremely painless and easy. Other controls are focused mostly around shortcuts and hot keys, and while it does take a little memorization these are implemented well and streamlines gameplay.
Rune Factory 4 excels at immersion. You really feel like Selphia is a living breathing world, and there’s enough content here to keep you busy for a long time. This is a fantastic game, but it just doesn’t expand on the previous games enough which holds it back from the elusive five star rating. Fans of RPGs, or of Harvest Moon in general will absolutely love this game; I know I did.