Rune Factory 4 3DS Review
The future of the fourth numbered “Harvest Moon where you wield a sword,” as the creator calls it, was in limbo for European fans. Marvelous AQL had stated that technical difficulties, probably due to the bankruptcy of the game’s creators, Neverland, Co., had caused issues with having access to the game’s code, so it seemed that Europe would yet again not receive a translated game on its shores. Luckily, Xseed looked for another partner to localize the game for PAL countries, so that they could release it as a download only title, albeit over a year later than the initial North American release. The fun farming/RPG hybrid is here at last, and the game is once again ready to sap all your free time.
Rune Factory 4 begins with the player, male or female, on an airship about to deliver an unknown item to somebody. It’s only a few seconds before a bunch of soldiers pop out of barrels to skyjack the ride. These dudes know the player is an Amazon same day delivery man carrying a precious item, so the soldiers give you a smack on the back of the head, rendering yourself unconscious for a while and inducing a favourite illness of the genre, amnesia. Not knowing who you are, you forget what you are carrying and who for, leading to the soldiers accidentally kicking you off the airship, leaving you to fall to your doom, thankfully, the fall is broken by the Native Dragon of Wind, Ventuswill, allowing you to recover, but still lacking any memories but your name. Mistaken as royalty, the player takes the role of a prince or princess and must help Ventuswill with running the town of Selphia, cultivating a farm and adventuring the lands outside of this little thriving community.
There are clearly two acts that make up the complete story of Rune Factory 4, supplying a lot of content. In fact, it’s said that this instalment has the biggest story of any Rune Factory game. The first act is based on going into the dungeons and fighting the bosses to find out that there is something strange happening with them after they are defeated. This leads on to a journey to collect the Rune Spheres. Act two involves a person representing the Sect Empire and is threatening the village, leading onto a plot that involves fighting an enemy outside of your local map. For your reward, a bonus third section opens up that acts as post game content with ridiculous hard bosses that will give you the smack down unless you have the best gear in the game. While there is this entire story to do, it’s rather thin and forgettable overall – a simple plot designed to get you moving. What makes the journey enjoyable is doing the activities themselves and interacting with the villagers, all whom stand out with their unique personalities and charming art.
Selphia is littered with plenty of activities to do, reminding me of the similar scale and addictive nature of Animal Crossing, except with the inclusion of RPG elements and friendlier villagers – people in Rune Factory 4 won’t guilt trip you or be angry at you for not playing after leaving the game for a few weeks. Introduced early is the back garden of the castle grounds, which relates to turning a weed infested patch of land into a flourishing field of scrumptious crops. Growing food becomes the main source of income, as fully developed harvests can be picked and thrown into the shipping box for cash, which means spending money on future food investments and gear to help you fight the nasties outside the village.
Once you have mastered the art of hoeing, planting, watering and harvesting, your selection of seeds will increase, opening options for your grown crops to be used in cooking recipes, creating medicine and crafting items, but while that is an important cycle of the game, there are other jobs to do as well. I ended up assigning a time slot to deal with my farm, normally first thing in the morning when the character wakes up at 6am. But the great thing about Rune Factory 4 is that you never really feel under the pressure of time, so you can casual go about your farming and adventuring freely.
Wandering into the wilderness means meeting a lot of enemies that need to be killed. Combat is simple, and focuses on quick action, with the player able to equip a variety of weapons, such as swords, axes, staffs and fighting gloves, while armour can be worn to protect oneself. The more the player uses a specific weapon, the more skill the character gains with it. Hitting certain levels will unlock additional attacks, such as being able to dash attack or charge up an attack to let go for a more powerful hit.
Battling is done in real-time, but lacks true depth, this is a combat system that anyone can learn, and for a game like this, it makes sense that the combat isn’t a thorn in the player’s side that stops them enjoying the game. Even though each weapon category has its own set of attacks, what I found is that fighting can become monotonous from time to time, as enemies can either be hacked to death furiously by tapping one button or require a magic element to take advantage of their weakness, such as the turtles having high defence, but are feeble to fire attacks, but again this is just a player tapping one button to spam a wave of fireballs. The real challenge is the boss fights, which require timing and the ability to dodge incoming attacks to stay alive, but also keeps the combat interesting after all the fighting with the minions leading up to the boss. If you happen to be defeated, you’ll be stung with a doctor’s fee for patching you back to normal.
The addition of a friendly companion means you can enter the fray with one computer buddy. This helps keep the enemies off you, and surprisingly, the AI is good at helping in battle. It made a few of the boss fights easier when my knight friend Forte would gain the boss’ attention by running up and giving it a good few pokes with her sword, but this doesn’t help with the actual combat itself. It would be more interesting if the dungeon level design was better, because fast combat doesn’t have to be monotonous if it has some depth behind it. The Ys series is a good example of this, a game that blends in fast action, magic, defence and solid level design to make encounters stimulate the brain, but as I mentioned earlier, this is no doubt done to keep the game simple for people who aren’t generally into action RPGs.
Selphia is filled with small activities to take up if you’re not feeling in the mood to nurture the farm or go on an adventure. Once you have experienced the introductory quests given from the talking quest box outside the castle, you can jump into fishing to catch sea life to use for cooking (another spare time job to do) or selling, capture monsters to grow a ranch on the farm, using them to produce eggs, honey, milk or sell their fur, or do some forging, chemistry or crafting. The last option is doing requests that villagers have sent to the castle, acting as small quests that range from the simplest of chores, like cutting wood, to growing a special flower that is actually a dungeon. Yeah, I was just as baffled when I first came across it.
Lastly, dating and marriage has been a thing in Harvest Moon for some time, but Rune Factory 4 is the first time this series has given players the ability to build their friendly relationships into something more. Firstly, you’ll want to become friends with everyone, as this offers benefits, such as gaining new seeds and gear, but you can keep chatting with them to get to know them better, offer gifts that are tailored to their likes and then if you’ve managed to build up a good relationship with the character, ask them for marriage and become man and wife, maybe even have a kid if you agree to it. For me, my time in Selphia meant that I was a dude who was taking his wife, a person who was once a friend helping me in the boss fights, on couple adventures.
With all the tasks and jobs to do, there will be times where excitement will dwindle – not all the events are as good as participating in as others, and while you don’t have to max all the job roles out, some requirements, such as unlocking secret town events, require you to have met conditions that will mean taking part in these various activities to level up your skills to be able to access the higher level items that come from being a quality chef or blacksmith. This is the same for combat as well, grinding enemies that respawn on the map to level up each skill area. It’s one of the reasons why Rune Factory 4 makes a great bite size play for a train trip or a 30 minute session before bed, because it stops the boredom from creeping in that I sometimes felt from five plus hour sessions I would do occasionally.
Rune Factory 4 is a game with some issues that thankfully don’t stop it from being enjoyable. The combat is on the shallow end, I would have liked more exciting dungeon designs, and it doesn’t come across as a title that is designed to pace well, but with so much to do within the game, and not being forced to progress against a time clock, Rune Factory 4 becomes an addictive title that has options, even if some of them aren’t exciting as others. This is a solid upgrade for fans, while offering people who enjoy something similar, maybe through the latest Animal Crossing game, to come to Rune Factory 4 with the same mindset of a pick up and play experience, but be met with rewards for all their hard work.