Developer: Neverland Co.
Rune Factory 4 marks the first entry for the series on the 3DS, and while this might not be a huge overhaul for the series, it certainly stands out as a unique RPG on Nintendo’s handheld. It’s also been a couple years since Rune Factory 3 hit the original DS, and I’d imagine that fans are more than ready to hop back into the unique blend of roleplaying action, farming, and romancing that the series is well known for.
At the onset of Rune Factory 4 you’re given the option of choosing the gender of the lead character, which can lead to some slight plot changes and most noticeably impacts relationship options. Like the Rune Factory titles before it, your character ends up losing his or her memory, after falling from an airship and landing smack dab in the middle of your hub town. You’re quickly mistaken for royalty, scheduled to arrive around the same time, and despite having that particular confusion cleared up quickly, you’re left in charge of the town’s affairs and tasked with a number of goals.
One nice addition for this entry is the Request Box, located just outside of your room. This box will give you various tasks to complete daily, starting off with one task a day and slowly expanding the number of requests you can complete as you advance through the game. This serves as an extended, mostly optional tutorial for new players, which will get you accustomed to everything Rune Factory 4 has to offer. While there’s an overall plot to unravel, and a lot of dungeon exploring, hack and slash monster killing to engage in, the more mundane tasks will become equally important. The Request Box breaks down these various activities, like farming, crafting, and cooking, and does a great job of explaining why these activities are useful.
And while not an addition to the series, fans will note that relationships and the continued growth of those bonds play a pretty important role with Rune Factory 4. Like previous entries, you can bestow gifts and other items upon various characters in town that will build your overall affinity levels with an NPC. And again like previous entries, you can marry various characters. But there’s a slow build to that proposal point that feels like a nice touch this time around, and allows you to really feel out the personality of a potential mates before jumping in. There’s also a number of NPC’s you can interact with, including some that are gained after exploring dungeons and defeating bosses.
Combat feels pretty similar to previous entries too, and hasn’t seen much in the way of any significant change. Everything is still action focused, with a number of weapon types and armor at your disposal as you explore. You’ll have a pretty open map that gradually reveals itself, with different areas cordoned off until certain story events have been hit. You’ll have the option of shortcuts via Save Points and Airship travel, which will cut down on the need to speed through low-level areas that bear little benefit the further into Rune Factory 4 that you get.
Monsters, while providing the major source of experience for leveling up when defeated, can also again be befriended in Rune Factory 4 as well. You can take your friendly monsters and put them to work your farm, and even harvest material directly from them, like fur to be used in crafting. The sheer number of day to day activities you can engage in by the midway point of the story is pretty staggering, and while you’ll struggle to fill a day with things to do early on, that will become less of an issue after a handful of hours have passed.
One thing that really stood out to me with Rune Factory 4 is how great the game looks at 60 frames per second. This isn’t what I’d label a graphical showcase, but we rarely see 60fps titles on the 3DS and it really stood out to me here. On the downside of things, the 3D effect in Rune Factory 4 isn’t good. Most games are content to push menu items to the foreground, along with speech bubbles to show depth, but Rune Factory 4 manages to screw even that small effect up more often than not. It’s one of the few 3DS titles that clearly has no idea how to use the 3D function well, and you’ll be better served by having the slider turned all the way down with this one.
But from a content perspective, Rune Factory 4 can’t be beat. It’s lightweight, upbeat story is just engaging enough to keep you moving along, and the day to day activities are addictive enough that you’ll keep coming back. The combat isn’t particularly deep, and won’t stand out as a major strength, but there are a surprising number of dungeons and zones to explore, along with bosses to fight. The biggest offence outside of the poor 3D use comes from some awful menu designs, which makes weapon and tool switching tiresome, but all in all that’s a fairly minor complaint. I definitely think Rune Factory 4 is worth a look, whether you’re a fan of the series or not, as it offers up a pretty unique experience on the 3DS.
Rune Factory 4 marks the return of the popular ‘Harvest Moon’ spinoff that combines farming with dungeon adventuring. For the first time in the series, the player can select to play as a male or female hero, and potential suitors of either gender are also available in order to pursue love, marriage, and possibly a child. As the newly-appointed prince or princess, you can fulfill your royal duties of protecting the town from invaders, or take a more rural approach to governing by raising your own fruits and vegetables and helping townsfolk. Should some dungeon adventuring be on the day’s itinerary, you can select from the castle’s vast armament of swords, spears, and staffs along with magic for battle against dangerous foes, or even bring along a companion or friendly monster to aid you during your travels.