Reviews// Rune Factory 4

Posted 19 Dec 2014 12:00 by
Over the years I?ve played a lot of Harvest Moon games, but Rune Factory 4 is my first experience with its fantasy-based spin-off series. I?m sure the idea of farm management games has always been baffling to many gamers, but I?ve always had a bit of a soft spot for them.

At its core the Harvest Moon series has always been about time management, and how to maximise your profits based on how productive you can keep your farm running on a day-to-day basis. The Rune Factory games just take that and add a healthy dose of fantasy adventuring, slaying monsters and exploring dungeons in between harvests.

Rune Factory 4 is certainly a good-looking game overall, though it has some rough spots and isn?t really anything above or beyond what?s been seen before in the genre. The character models are fairly detailed and the environments look pleasant enough. I imagine to most people the animated scenes would be considered more impressive, though these are very few and far between. There?s the lengthy intro movie that plays from the main menu and then short animations that play when you first meet important characters. They?re smoothly animated and quite energetic and will no doubt appeal to fans of lighter anime.

Ugh... if Rune Factory?s anime aesthetics are unfortunately wasted on me then its generic JRPG plot is doubly so. After choosing your gender you are introduced to the generic hero/heroine of the game, though nothing is revealed about them before the airship they?re riding on is attacked by pirates and a blow to the head causes them to lose their memory. The pirates, frustrated that their victim can?t answer their questions, accidentally toss them overboard.

Fortunately our hero miraculously survives the fall and lands in the temple of a dragon goddess who happens to look over the small town of Selphia. While initially concerned, she soon decides you must be the visiting prince she?s been expecting and immediately puts you in charge of the town?s farm. Because that is apparently how things work in these parts.

Considering the only memory the hero has is their name, which doesn?t match the name of the prince the town's expecting, our hero ponders whether or not they?ve got the right person for the job. Everyone in town seems completely convinced of it despite there being no evidence whatsoever that backs this up.

But, can you really blame them? Don?t we all just always assume mysterious strangers are secretly royalty? Although in this instance ?prince? doesn?t seem to mean royalty so much as it does ?person who has to single-handedly run our farm, fight off monsters, and pay for town festivals?.

Almost immediately the real prince unexpectedly arrives in town, however, only for him to decide he?s not interested in running a farm and looking after the town and that his accidental imposter can keep the job. Of course everyone in town is fine with this arrangement, including the dragon goddess who seems to have taken a liking to you. Maybe the prince just didn?t want to have to get his hands dirty looking after a farm and saw you as the perfect patsy.

That?s a lot of nonsense to swallow just to establish you as having a farm to look after. Fortunately at this point you?re freed up from the relentless onslaught of ridiculously-contrived plot long enough to actually start getting into the meat of the game. And despite all my grumbling so far, I do find the core game itself quite entertaining. Unfortunately the plot will continue to raise its ugly head from time to time, but there?s little pressure on you to actually follow up on it, instead leaving it alone until there?s a suitable gap in your schedule to fit in uncovering your mysterious past and saving the world or whatever?s going on.

Like its many predecessors, the heart of Rune Factory 4 remains in the farming aspect and everything else tends to link back to it in some way. Growing and harvesting crops is your main source of income, and no matter what other ventures you choose to pursue you?re still going to need that money to fund your efforts.

At the start of the game using your farming tools will use up your stamina quite quickly, but as you increase your level and skills you?ll become much hardier and capable of completing your farming tasks with little physical cost to yourself.

And while we?re on the subject of skills, the whole levelling up system is pretty neat. Each of your skills level up as you use them. Sort of like Skyrim, but with 90% more farming and mining. And there are skills for just about everything.

There are skills for the different weapon types you can wield while you?re out dungeon-crawling. Or you can level up your elemental magic types if you find melee combat beneath you. Then there are all your farming skills - ploughing, sowing, watering and other agriculture-related verbs. There are even skills that level up as you walk and run around, when you bathe in the local bathhouse, and even when you sleep. I?m almost surprised you don?t have a breathing skill. The end result of levelling up your skills is that those skills require less of your stamina to use, allowing you to work harder and accomplish more each day before needing rest.

Once your farm is running smoothly you can start spending your free time in other areas. Perhaps the best thing about Rune Factory 4 is that it provides you with plenty of options on what to do. Most of this is pinned together by the extensive crafting systems. By purchasing the necessary workstations and licenses to use them you gain the ability to cook food and create new weapons and tools. Before you can pull this off you?ll need to gather the needed ingredients and materials however, either from your farm or your trips into the wilds outside of town.
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