Ever since I played Rune Factory on the DS half a decade ago, I fell in love with the series. Dubbed “a fantasy Harvest Moon”, Rune Factory was the perfect combination of farming sim and RPG. Each successive title has contributed to a series that only seems to get better with age, and Rune Factory 4 is no exception. Loaded with new features, innovative dungeons, and an intriguing storyline, Rune Factory 4 is by far the best Rune Factory game ever made.
For those of you not familiar with the series, picture Harvest Moon with a sword or Animal Crossing with an ending. The game begins, much like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, with the main character being thrust into a foreign city only to be mistakenly given a position of power with the blessing of the intended leader. Having forged a strong bond with the patron deity of the city by falling on her head, you are charged with running the city of Selphia as its prince while tending to the gardens of the royal castle you’ve taken residence in. Your duties involve planting and harvesting crops, running errands for your loyal subjects, and unraveling the mystery that surrounds the town. In between your daily farming chores such as tilling the soil, harvesting or watering crops, and taking care of your domesticated monsters, you can break the monotony of farm life by exploring the monster-infested lands that surround the town or completing tasks for the locals.
Many parallels have been drawn between Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Rune Factory 4 in that they both offer you the opportunity to play mayor and get a kick out of completing what, on the surface, seem like monotonous tasks. However, Rune Factory has an ending and a story which, in some ways, makes it more rewarding than Animal Crossing. While there comes an inevitable moment in Animal Crossing where you question whether your efforts are really worth the repetitive grind, Rune Factory’s story and multitude of dungeons to explore make running a city seem like an exciting adventure rather than a tedious second job. The fact that the story ends, despite providing some welcome closure, does mean that Rune Factory doesn’t provide the intrinsic value of a game like Animal Crossing that technically lasts forever, but I’ll take completing a story over the prospect of playing a game without end.
The gameplay is surprisingly entertaining and affords the player a lot of choice in how they decide to enjoy their experience. Whether you enjoy farming, dungeon crawling, or getting to know the townsfolk, there’s something for you! The game offers very little guidance in terms of what to do next, and the game is far from linear. Although, ultimately, some aspects of the game are unavoidable, there is very little in the way of restrictions guiding you one way or another, and you are free to indulge in the parts of the game that strike your fancy and skip the parts that don’t. The controls can be a bit awkward, especially when it comes to equipping and holding items, but it doesn’t really hurt your enjoyment of the game once you get used to it. The game follows a calendar year; as the days go by, seasons change, bringing with them new crop-growing opportunities and occasionally making former staple crops unviable. Should you need a certain season to grow a particular crop, there are four fields found outside town which not only offer nutrient-rich soil, but are also permanently stuck in a given season (one for each). Veterans of the series will appreciate some of the new features of the game, including the Airship, which allows you to instantly warp to various locations you’ve already explored, saving you ample time when using the various outside fields. Another new feature is the ability to move almost anything on your farm or in your room to virtually anywhere in town. You can set up your various units (forge, crafting table, stove, frying pan, supply box, etc.) wherever you want, and move them at any time.
The monster-taming feature of the game has stayed relatively the same over the various titles, and this one doesn’t really stray from tradition; monsters befriended with items in the field can be put to work on the farm watering crops, clearing weeds and rubbish and, if they like you enough, even automatically spending your money on seeds to plant haphazardly across tilled tiles of soil. An exclusive feature to this title is using your princely title to set and cancel festivals in town in order to attract more tourists and raise the profile of the city. The dungeons have also seen an overhaul; while previous titles offered short, somewhat gimmicky dungeons, Rune Factory 4 offers dungeon crawlers more excitement, with longer, more complex dungeons than ever before. This title has also greatly expanded the dating scene, and there are more ways to “adventure” with your chosen flame or your eventual family than ever before. Being a central theme of the game, you are given ample choice in the personality and appearance of your groom/bride in the local townsfolk and how you spend time with them.
Over the course of the series, the visual style of the game has remained relatively unchanged. Although there are some clear improvements such as the short introductory cutscenes that play every time you meet a new character, there isn’t anything revolutionary or particularly impressive about the visual presentation of the game. Veterans of the game will recognize the graphics and style from the previous titles, with added complexity in certain dungeons and fields. The game’s anime style and partially pre-rendered graphics help a lot. The game’s musical score is excellent, and complements the game well without becoming irritating or noticeably repetitive. One of the selling points of the game is the quaint and at times funny writing that keeps the various interactions with townsfolk entertaining. Overall, the game’s presentation is familiar and quite good while not being breathtaking.
The game offers radically different characters to romance and a variety of weapons, giving you good reasons to play through the game again. The game is a bit short on difficulty (I breezed through hard mode), but given the niche appeal of the game, I don’t think it holds the game back that much. Value-wise, the game is a solid buy and (depending on how impatient you are) the game can last you a long time if you take your time with the story. Comparatively, I’d say Rune Factory 4offers some of the best value of any farming sim on the market based on the richness of content it offers. If you are a fan of the series, this game is a must; it’s not hard to justify the price tag.
If you’ve ever played a Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing game and enjoyed it but thought “Man, this game would be so much better with some action and intrigue in it”, then Rune Factory 4 is for you! With a stand-alone story and tons of new features to keep veterans interested, Rune Factory 4 is by far the best title in the series whether you are new to the genre or already a fan. Despite the niche target of the genre in general, Rune Factory 4 is a game almost anyone can enjoy.
This review is based on a retail copy of Rune Factory 4 for the Nintendo 3DS.