Rune Factory 4 (3DS ) Review
- Highly addictive game with a vast array of things to do, including farming, monster-taming, mining, cooking, exploring and battling.
Not so much?
- In-game menus can feel slow and fiddly.
When your airship is attacked in the skies above the town of Selphia, you are struck on the head and sent hurtling to the ground. Lacking any memory of why you were travelling or what you were supposed to be doing, you are instead roped into being the town’s prince(ss). Now, a busy life awaits […]
When your airship is attacked in the skies above the town of Selphia, you are struck on the head and sent hurtling to the ground. Lacking any memory of why you were travelling or what you were supposed to be doing, you are instead roped into being the town’s prince(ss). Now, a busy life awaits you – you have to make friends with the townspeople, build up a farm, fight monsters and explore dungeons. Stick around long enough and you might even get married and start a family. There’s a whole fantasy life just waiting to be lived!
From its inception, the Rune Factory series has been about blending the farming game style of Harvest Moon with dungeon crawling and monster taming, and Rune Factory 4 is no exception. The latest, best and possibly last in the series (the developers having filed for bankruptcy before Rune Factory 5 was made), Rune Factory 4 has been out in Japan and the States for a while, but it’s only just now fetched up on European and Australian shores. And for those who choose to take the plunge and check it out, it will turn out to be a real time sink.
The world of Rune Factory is filled with plenty of choice as to what you can do with your calendar. You can plant and raise crops, craft tools, armour and weapons, mix medicines, cook tasty dishes and even go adventuring. In town, you can chat to the NPC townspeople, give them gifts to try to increase their affection for you, and even try to catch the eye of one of the six available bachelors or bachelorettes (depending on what gender you chose for your character at the beginning of the game). Venture outside of town, and there are dungeons to explore, plus monsters to either defeat or, if you so choose, tame and bring back home with you. These monsters can either work in your fields or accompany you as party members on your adventures – as can townspeople with whom you’ve become friends.
Everything you can do in the game – yes, even sleeping and running around – is given a skill level, and the more you do it, the more you’ll level up in that particular skill. Whilst it’s hard to fathom what your sleeping and eating skills actually gain you, levelling up other skills such as cooking and farming is important – as you level up, these actions take up less of your precious stamina, plus you’ll be able to learn new recipes for cooking, forging and crafting. Whilst the game sells itself on letting you choose which skills you want to focus on, ultimately you find that they’re so interlinked that you might as well master them all. Want to be a great cook? Well, first you’ll need to become a good farmer so you can grow more crops. Prefer to dedicate your life to battle? Well, in that case you’ll want decent weapons and armour, so forging and crafting are the way to go.
Despite this open-endedness, Rune Factory 4 does actually have a story, which you can proceed through at your own pace. Plot-wise, the story isn’t that amazing (the usual legendary hero stands up to evil empire stuff), but as progressing through it will open up new areas and dungeons to explore. Dungeon crawling feels a lot like Zelda-lite, with real time battles, a variety of weapons and magic to choose from, and some simple switch puzzles to solve. You can also take a few moments out of battle to do a spot of fishing or mining when the opportunity presents itself, although wading through the menu to switch your equipment between weapons and tools is just tedious enough to put you off wanting to do that.
As you spend time in the game, your good deeds will also enable you to accumulate Prince(ss) Points, which can be used to further develop your farm and your town. By issuing orders, you can expand your living space, attract more tourists, open new shops and generally upgrade everything you might conceivably want to upgrade.
As far as graphics go, Rune Factory is definitely a cute looking game, with detailed character models, environments and even animated introductions for all the named characters. The game is able to handle large numbers of NPCs and monsters onscreen without any slowdown. Background music is unobtrusive, whilst sound effects and voices are well done – NPCs will often spontaneously shout hello to you as you go about the town. In fact, the NPC characters are very well programmed overall – unlike in many Harvest Moon games, where interaction with townspeople is frustratingly repetitive, the Rune Factory NPCs have an amazing amount of dialogue, and it really does feel like your relationship with them evolves as the game progresses.
Unfortunately, whilst much of the game is so well done, there is one niggle. Many of the game menus feel more tedious than they need to be. Often you have to scroll through dialogue to get to what you want to do, or navigate submenus in the hopes of finding what you’re looking for (with the tedious cancelling out and starting over if you get it wrong). True, there’s a lot to do in the game, so making it all available was never going to be easier, but it feels like it must be possible to design a more streamlined menu system.
Despite a few nitpicks about the interface, Rune Factory is a very enjoyable game. It’s the kind of game that sucks you in, as you vow to just play a little longer so you can harvest your next set of crops, capture that Silver Wolf you always wanted, cook a new dish or try to catch the eye of that boy or girl you like. If you fancy being addicted to a cute and surprisingly deep virtual life for a while, then this is the game for you.