Years ago, I played Rune Factory on DS. Then the sequels, and I adored each and every one. I believe firmly in a concept where games don’t have to be amazing to be something really special, and with my true love of Harvest Moon-alikes, that’s where Rune Factory squarely falls.
You play as a prince or princess, and once you’ve picked the basic details of your character you’re thrust into complete pandemonium as the airship you’re flying crashes and you fall into the town of Selphia. You’re mistaken for royalty, and even when that’s corrected, the actual royalty is happy to let you assume the identity for them.
If you’ve never played one of these games, here’s the basic rundown: farm veggies, form relationships, kill mobs, craft up gear. There’s a few spins on this formula, like the ability to befriend monsters and take them into battle with you, with them levelling up as you do. They don’t just help in battle either, they will happily run your farm and grab crops (for better or worse) so you can focus on dungeon diving or making friends in town. You could also spend this time foraging and fishing, as in-town requests will ask for specific items to be handed in for rewards. There is also a little shop you can run to sell items to townspeople, if they should require them. Sometimes you rip them off, sometimes they try and rip you off. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
I have my gripes with the game too. Trying to make certain events happen can be a huge pain. One time, I couldn’t progress to the next act until I walked out of town, which took me a few days to realise as I had always been teleporting around. Another time, it took me months to actually start dating my potential paramour because the chance of dating decreases with the more people you have at high heart ranks, which means as you befriend the entire town, your suitee is a lot less likely to take the next step with you.
I do love a tonne about this game though. The story is decent, but the character writing is really good. Everyone is quirky and I enjoyed talking to them all. Festivals are plentiful and NPCs have no shame in beating the absolute snot out of you in competitive festivals such as fishing. This competition though, is what makes it all a bit more spicy.
Still, my favourite things are still smacking monsters and pushing forward in the main story. This is helped by the fact that nearly everything you do raises your myriad of stats in some way. Walking around raises your walking stat, sleeping helps raise sleeping, magic, combat, farming, all stat reliant. Level doesn’t quite matter as much as your gear, but raising these stats and your actual combat level is still a really fulfilling feeling.
Another thing. I also loved the way crops work. As crops grow, you can choose to either harvest them normally and sell the reapings, or you can use a scythe and harvest the seeds instead, which can be used to grow better, stronger crops worth more. You could also plant a small square of the same crop and use a gigantizer, turning the crop (with some luck) into one big one, some of which can be used to tame boss monsters. So good.
Speaking of crops, I still really like how silly your character looks carrying a stack of anything. In a very Disgaea feeling, you can carry stacks of up to 9 of any item, and they wiggle around and wobble as you move. It’s a really pleasing thing to see.
Whilst all of this is true, there’s definitely a feeling of how old this game is. I’m glad it’s back, mark my words, but it does feel aged. When they announced years ago that Neverland were shuttering and there was very little chance for new games, I was devastated. Now they’re back, and with a new one coming I’m giddy. This one very much feels like introducing new players to the series, and whilst the visuals are a bit “eh”, it’s still a really enjoyable game and I hope lays the groundwork for more for years to come.
Rune Factory 4 Special is amazing, honestly. I recommended it to everyone on the DS/3DS, and will continue to do so now. It really is something special, and despite a few gameplay quirks and old visuals it’s still a true cinnamon roll of a game. The way it mashes all its mechanics together in a way that still remains not overwhelming is great, and there is so much content here that it feels like a steal at its price.