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Rune Factory 4

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To be completely honest, I had long ago given up on ever getting to play Rune Factory 4 on the Nintendo 3DS. With the development studio Neverland Co. closing its doors shortly after the North American release and publisher XSEED Games remaining quiet on potential distribution in PAL regions, my expectations were low. This is what made it so exciting when I received an email from XSEED Games and Marvelous Europe earlier this month confirming that PAL regions would no longer be left out. It may have taken more than a year to finally dive into the world of Rune Factory 4, but fortunately that wait was more than worth it.

When Rune Factory (1) was first marketed by Natsume back in 2007, it came with the subtitle “A Fantasy Harvest Moon“. This was true in the sense that it retained many of the farming and collection aspects from Harvest Moon games (or Story of Seasons depending on the publisher), but also managed to forge its own identity through a simple yet enticing RPG system that gamers of all ages could handle. The amalgamation of farming and RPG mechanics has been maintained to this day, and Rune Factory 4 manages to deliver an experience that obliterates all other instalments.

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Storyline

Rune Factory 4 refuses to give you even the most basic knowledge about your self-named protagonist straight away, opting to keep a level of mystique as the plot slowly unravels information about them. You take control of either a hero or heroine who is travelling to a destination by airship. At their destination they are set to deliver an important item to someone, an item that is apparently in demand by other parties. During the flight your hero(ine) is attacked by two individuals, which sees them thumped on the head and left suffering from amnesia. In a complete blunder on behalf of the invaders, the protagonist subsequently finds himself/herself thrown off the ship and hurtling towards their demise.

Rather than dying however, they find themselves almost completely unscathed after crashing into the chambers of a dragon known as Ventuswill. Unable to remember anything about themselves, the protagonist is mistakenly believed to be the Prince that is set to visit the town of Selphia and help grow it to prosperity. Even when the real Prince arrives, the player is put in charge of running the town and meeting its distinct and interesting residents. As they meet, greet and tackle dungeons with the town’s residents, alongside beginning to further grow Selphia; many more mysteries about the town, Ventuswill and characters begin to appear… including bosses that transform into human beings after being defeated in battle. The story retains many elements that you would expect to see in a Rune Factory game, while offering enough to help separate it from earlier games. More impressively however is that while players are able to progress at their own pace, the storyline didn’t drag on as much as it did in Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny, aided by its good incorporation of main and secondary characters into the plot. Rune Factory 4 jumps right into the action, and very rarely disappoints from there.

Alongside the traditional RPG storyline, you are also treated to the Harvest Moon set of festivals, character events and town events – several of which run depending on what time of the day (in-game time at approximately 1 minute per second) and what day it is. These events are there to help break up the more serious main storyline, and eventually allows you to get married to your favourite character and have children.

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Design / Music / Voice Acting

The highlight of Rune Factory 4 is clearly its selection of animated cutscenes spaced throughout the game, which are of a high quality and something you would expect to find in any video game that opts to use them. However asides from that the visual quality is average overall, with nothing that particularly stands out and separates it from any other Nintendo 3DS game that uses 3D anime-style visuals. If anything, I would have liked to see this on a PlayStation Vita screen with a bit more space to make the character models and environments bigger than they were. My first comment when playing Rune Factory 4 was “Geez, I can hardly see the character models!”.

Shortly after loading up Rune Factory 4, you are treated to the wonderful opening theme Kaze no Toraberā which has been retained from the original Japanese release and complemented by some fantastic animation. Once you begin to dive into the game, the original soundtrack is above average and suits  almost every moment on offer – from the simpler tracks when walking around town to a more heavy-hitting song when travelling through a dungeon and taking part in battles.  Not the best I have heard, but there are no complaints to me for what Rune Factory 4 provided in the music department.

This game only contains a new English dub commissioned by XSEED Games, and the English voice cast do match their characters quite well. Even if you prefer to game with Japanese dubbing, voiced lines are not prominent in Rune Factory 4 and most of the time come in the form of small dialogue snippets, grunts and laughs during dialogue and battle.

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Gameplay

As mentioned above, Rune Factory 4 accurately reflects its role as a “Fantasy Harvest Moon” by providing a merger of RPG mechanics with farming/town life/collection mechanics which are reminiscent of Harvest Moon / Story of Seasons. Fortunately, this game manages to forge its own identity through its approach to combat. Combat sees your character and other recruited villagers wield a wide variety of weaponry including swords, spears, magical spells and (my personal favourite) dual blades as they go up against a wide variety of foes during their journey. As players level up, they can learn a wider variety of skills and increase their stats and cover everything from different weapons and elemental types to doing simple activities such as farming, sleeping and walking. While fairly simplistic in their approach, the battles are often fast paced and at times will require you to shift between weapons and skills on-the-go. I would have liked to have seen more strategy required to tackle some of the more challenging bosses, however the approach Rune Factory 4 takes makes it more approachable to those of any skill level, and even when the eventual grind sets in, there is still plenty of other things to do which prevent the time spent being a complete bore.

To be honest, I am not a huge fan of Rune Factory’s insistence of including farming mechanics in each game, and would have personally preferred development time spent on that to to other aspects of the game. The farming system is simplistic, and sees you tending to a field, planting crops and then doing whatever you desire with the final product. It is more or less a watered down system of what Harvest Moon offers. Fortunately, you are once again able to tame and raise many of the monsters you find during your travels as pets. These come with a variety of perks such as helping manage the farm for you (The biggest perk in my mind) or even joining you in battle.

Like previous Harvest Moon games, you are almost always able to take a reprieve from farming and fighting through the various town events, character events and festivals that take even during each of the four in-game months. Taking part in these events can see you walk away with a bonus item, increase your relationship with characters or even just kill some time during a grind. Increasing your relationship with a character will eventually allow them date, marry and subsequently have kids with you – each with their own special events and benefits. There are six bachelorettes and six bachelors to choose from, and it is possible to build your relationship with every character and then marry one of them at a later date. Therefore, don’t feel immediately pressured into boosting your relationship with one out of fear of being immediately locked into their route. Each character has something to offer to the viewer in terms of story, and are not simply Generic Character #1-12.

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The final major gameplay mechanic in Rune Factory 4 is your role as pseudo royalty while the actual Prince does anything but his actual duties. During the game and via completing missions, you will acquire points which can then be spent on various improvements to the town, with the sole goal of building it up and growing tourism. These can grant you some nifty things like new festivals, additional facilities and other small perks; but nevertheless feels like a tiring way to acquire things you would otherwise expect to receive through standard gameplay.

Final Words on Rune Factory 4

If there are no future instalments ever released in the Rune Factory franchise, then Rune Factory 4 is an incredibly strong way to draw things to a close. There is so much on offer both through the main storyline and side events that you can spend several dozen hours trying to complete everything and still not coming close to 100% completion. Having waited more than a year in comparison to my friends from North America to play this game, it was well worth the wait.

Rune Factory 4 is now available via the Nintendo eShop in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

A download code for Rune Factory 4 was provided by Marvelous Europe for the purpose of this review.

Sam
Sam
Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.
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