Rune Factory 4
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Neverland Co.
Genre: Fantasy RPG
Release Date: 10/01/2013
I’ve played and enjoyed Harvest Moon, but I never really picked up Rune Factory. Too many games, too little time and all that. When I heard XSEED Games was going to be bringing it over, however, my attention had been grabbed, as I’m a fan of some of their other published games, namely Solatorobo and the Ys series. (Other highly-rated games, like The Last Story and Corpse Party, unfortunately seem to be eternally in my backlog.) I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as I’d heard both positive and negative reviews of the series in general. On the one hand; Rune Factory has great romances, I’d heard, and awesome character design and fun gameplay. On the other, I’d heard, it’s basically a Harvest Moon clone (like that’s a bad thing), which makes some sense since did start off as a spin-off. So, was I going to enjoy the game or not? I wasn’t sure. I figured, if nothing else, I was going to say the game was “fine.” It turns out I enjoyed it a bit more than that.
The game begins with Lest (the male protagonist) or Frey (the female protagonist) riding an airship toward an important mission. The airship is attacked, causing him/her to fall off the airship and land on a dragon named Ventuswill, or Venti, as you like to call her. It is then discovered that you have developed amnesia from the fall (it is here you can rename your character, though you only get six letters, which limits what you can name him/her). Venti tells you that you are in Selphia and suggests that you might be the royalty that’s expected to visit. Of course, this turns out to be false, but Venti and Arthur (the actual royalty that later shows up) lets you stay in the castle, where you’re taken care of by Vishnal, Volkanon, and Clorica. As the game continues, you get wrapped up in a relatively complex plot that keeps you guessing, all while doing things like farming and fishing and also being an honorary prince(ss), which gives you abilities and responsibilities (because it makes sense to give someone who just got there power).
Norad (the nation you’ve landed in) is based on magic (as opposed to on industry), which is important to the plot. There are four elemental dragons who have done much damage to the land through war, as well as helped to rebuild what was lost. The dragon’s names are Terrable (the earth dragon), Fiersome (the fire dragon), Aquaticus (the water dragon), and your town’s very own Ventuswill (the wind dragon). Selphia is located in Norad, which is close to the industrialized Sechs border, which may be the reason for the monster invasions in nearby areas. You’ll be responsible for sending those monsters home by defeating them (you don’t kill them) and for solving other mysteries that have cropped up in recent times.
For the most part, this game is a life simulation situated in a fantasy setting. Daily activities include farming, fishing, crafting, monster hunting and taming, dungeon exploring, romancing, and giving orders. Most of the stuff on this list is self-explanatory. Your responsibilities as prince(ss) allow you to give orders that will make the town a better place and attract more tourists; for instance you have the ability to hold festivals or increase the items available at the shops. You’ll also have the ability to increase the capacity for various types of storage you’ll come across, like a refrigerator and monster barn. Monster taming involves giving items to monsters so they like you and decide to be your friend. If you manage to tame them, you can take one out with you to go exploring (where it helps in battle) or do chores on the farm behind the castle in Selphia. This said, what you do on a daily basis is, for the most part, up to you. You don’t have to participate in any festivals that crop up, or give people birthday presents, or anything really. Time does go by pretty quickly, however, so you’ll need to make up your mind fairly early each “day.”
The plot itself feels standard for a fantasy game, and while it is relatively complex and interesting, it wasn’t as big of a focus for me as completing requests, fishing, taming monsters, and romancing. I understood what was going on and took the necessary steps, but the main fun for me was in interacting with other characters and exploring the world. While the plot isn’t the strongest aspect of the game, it does what it needs to do and moves on with its day.
There’s quite a cast in this game. I’ll explain who the characters are while trying to remain as spoiler-free as possible, leaving to some vague/superficial descriptions. There are nine villagers that you can become friends with. Bado is a lazy blacksmith who is obsessed with money. Blossom is a sweet older woman who runs the general store and takes care of Doug, her adoptive grandson, in a sense. Illuminata is a hyperactive elf detective who runs a flower shop. Jones and Nancy are a married couple who are doctor and nurse, respectively; Jones has a fear of blood (odd for someone who’s a doctor) and Nancy is incredibly talkative. Lin Fa is gentle, clumsy innkeeper who has a daughter, Xaio Pai, who helps out. Porcoline is a chef who eats almost all the food he makes, and yet somehow still manages to run a restaurant. He is an adoptive father to Margaret. Volkanon is one of the butlers. He is incredibly emotional and exudes positive vibes; he’s always cheering you on. Finally, Ventuswill is the dragon that protects the town and surrounding land.
There are also two characters who act as visitors from other Rune Factory games who make a cameo appearance: Barrett (from RF2) and Raven (from RF3). (Technically, there is another character who shows up from a previous Rune Factory game, but to mention it might be considered a spoiler, so you’ll have to figure out who it is for yourself. You cannot initiate a friendship with this person.) There is one other villager who you can’t level up your friendship with: Pico, a ghost that follows Dolce around and tells people intimate details of Dolce’s life. You only hear from Pico through talking to Dolce.
The dialogue with any character changes often (daily or so, unless they’re tied to specific in-game events, like Doug is at one point), so it’s difficult to get bored with talking to people. If they have something new to say, the speech bubble that appears over their head will be yellow. The localization team for XSEED has done a wonderful job of bringing out the individual personalities while not bogging us down with too much text. It’s fun to interact with the various players and learn about their quirks and motivations.
If you’re male, you have the option of romancing the following characters (along with a brief and somewhat superficial summary of their character):
- Amber – Cute and cheerful girl who can sprout butterfly wings
- Clorica – Always-tired stewardess-in-training who somehow manages to hold conversations while sleeping
- Dolce – Sarcastic lolita with a soft side
- Forte – Serious and somewhat self-conscious knight; Kiel’s sister
- Margaret – Caring elf musician who performs at Porcoline’s restaurant
- Xaio Pai – Clumsy but hardworking innkeeper who looks up to (and sort of envies) her mother
If you’re female, you have the option of romancing the following characters (along with a brief and somewhat superficial summary of their character):
- Arthur – Laid-back noble who loves glasses like there’s no tomorrow
- Doug – Hotblooded dwarf who loves pranks and harbors a serious grudge
- Dylas – Moody-bordering-on-tsundere wolf(?)-boy who likes to fish
- Kiel – Smart yet naive nerd; Forte’s brother
- Leon – Lighthearted fox(?)-boy who likes to fish
- Vishnal – Naive but determined steward-in-training
As you can see, there’s an equal number of romance options for men and women, though the relationships are strictly heterosexual and result in a child, whose gender you can choose or leave up to chance. (Luna and Noel are the child’s possible names.) There’s also a pretty wide range of personalities to choose from. No two characters are similar enough, with the possible exception of Lin Fa and Xaio Pai (and you can’t romance Lin anyway), that I would say that romancing one is like romancing any other. Romancing itself is fairly easy; just give the person stuff they like and talk to them. Just like real life! (Or something…) When talking to someone with whom you can start a friendship or romance, a “BTW” option will pop up. Press L or R so the “BTW” option is sort of dancing around, and once the conversation ends, your character will have the option of asking the person to hang out with them (a good way to have a partner in battle) or admit their love for the person. If the love level isn’t high enough (level 7+), an admission of love will likely result in the villager thinking you’re joking around. You can theoretically date all six of the romanceable characters at once, but it’ll be difficult, as the more significant others you have, the less likely that person is to believe you. You also run into the problem of making your partners jealous. Once you’re dating someone, if you want to marry him/her, you’ll have to somewhat-randomly trigger an event where that character deals with an issue. If you turn down a proposal during these events, you can still propose to them later. You can break up with someone you’re dating, but you can’t get divorced.
The voice acting is superb, which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who looks at the VA list. With actors like Erin Fitzgerald, Matthew Mercer, D.C. Douglas, and Cassandra Lee Morris confirmed as voice actors, and characters that sound suspiciously like they’ve been voiced by Laura Bailey, Vic Mignogna, and Yuri Lowenthal, you really can’t go wrong. It’s difficult not to like either the voice acting or the soundtrack, which boasts a variety of songs suited to each situation. Since the game is lighthearted in nature, it would make sense that the soundtrack would generally be more upbeat and fun, which is what you see happening here. The music changes appropriately for more serious or dangerous situations. The sound effects are nice as well, though there is one pair of shoes you can get that squeak when you walk, which is kind of annoying after a while.
The opening sequence is fully animated and shows the characters you’ll interact with, as well as a few moments from the game. In-game, the colors are vibrant and the character design fun and attractive. Sometimes, however, the sprites look more jagged than they should, especially once tamed monsters get larger or the camera is closer to your character. Oddly enough, there’s an easy fix for this if this bothers you: just play the game with 3D on all the time. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends with 3DSes don’t actually tend to do this, and it’s true that I find myself splitting my gameplay pretty evenly between 2D and 3D, but with this game I actually spent most of my time in 3D because it makes the game look smoother.
The controls are fairly simple. Use the control pad or circle pad to move around, A to interact with things, B to eat/equip items, X and Y to use rune abilities and magic spells that you’ve assigned to those buttons, start or select to bring up the camp menu, L to open your inventory, and R to jump ahead. After a certain point in the game, you can hold down R and press X or Y to use other abilities, giving you easy access to four separate abilities that can be used during battle. In the top left of the screen, you’ll see your HP (hit points) and RP (rune points). The camp menu allows you to view your backpack, or inventory. It also allows you to check up on your skill statuses, recipes, party member statuses, friendship/romance levels, and a settings page. There is no save option, as you only have the ability to save through save points. Normally, this is annoying; however in this game you can press a button on the touch screen to escape to the closest save point that you’ve interacted with. Press escape a couple more times, depending on where you are, and you’ll be transported back to town and eventually to your room, where there’s a save point.
In the game, you’ll have the option to tame monsters, who act like a combination of livestock, pets, sidekicks, and farmhands. In order to befriend a monster, you’ll have to give it something it likes. These are fairly self-explanatory gifts; for instance, to recruit a cluckadoodle (a chicken), you’d give it an egg, and you’d give honey to any of the bee/wasp/hornet-type creatures. Once befriended, they’ll live in a monster barn that you can upgrade and can water the farm behind the castle while you’re away. If they like you enough, they’ll even plant seeds for you. They do get tired, though, so you should check up on them occasionally. Some of the creatures produce an item each day that you can pick up in the barn as well; cluckadoodles lay eggs, while buffamoos (cows, essentially) produce milk and woolies (sheep) produce wool.
As far as battle goes, you’ll start off with only a few basic attacks, but as you level up your skills with each weapon (by using it a bunch), you’ll be able to do more complicated attacks. Sometimes the more complicated attacks made things more difficult on the player, due to how easy it was to go the wrong way while attacking. To that end, my favorite weapon was the dual blades and my favorite magic either fire or dark. Beyond that, though, this is standard fare real-time battling that manages to pull a balance between ease of use and challenge after a bit of handholding. The only problem I had during battle was if there were a lot of monsters on the screen and I was doing very fast attacks; sometimes the game felt like it slowed down, and not in a stylistic sense. This would only last maybe a second or two, but it was noticeable. It also would have been great if your monsters were better at attacking, as I saw that most of the time they just stood there. Human companions were a bit better; I remember a few times Forte and Vishnal saving my hide by healing at the right time or killing off a monster at my back. Still, there’s a little to be desired there.
You’ll also be able to complete requests from either Eliza (a talking request box) or directly from villagers. I found the quests to be quite fun, but was somewhat annoyed by the number of quests I’d do before they were assigned (for instance, buying various crafting tables or leveling up skills to a certain level). While in theory this is great, because all I have to do is talk to Eliza and I’ll get an award, it’s annoying because you can only do a certain number of quests per day, and if you spend your time clearing out quests you’ve already completed, you’ll lose a few days’ worth of quests in the process.
One of my favorite aspects of this game is that you level up skills doing just about anything, and it actually helps you to do a variety of things. For instance, leveling up your skill with fire increases your max RP while keeping RP consumption low for fire skills. It also raises your intelligence, fire magic attack, and magic defense. Similar stat boosts occur for water, earth, wind, light, and dark magic, and there are six physical weapons you can level as well (axe/hammer, dual blades, fist, spear, long sword, and short sword). But these skills aren’t what’s interesting to me. What’s interesting to me is the crafting and farming skills. You see, unlike many games where a higher crafting skill nets you… a higher crafting skill (and the ability to make more complicated stuff, I guess), you actually get stat boosts from those activities. Mining nets you more HP, RP, and a higher vitality. Cooking gets you more RP and higher vitality. Heck, walking and sleeping net you some decent bonuses as you level them up (more HP and RP, higher vitality, for both; sleeping adds increased strength and intelligence). Getting hit gnets you more HP and higher vitality; being poisoned/paralyzed and poisoning/paralyzing others make you more resistant to poison and raise intelligence and vitality.
The only error I came upon in the game comes from when you talk to the monster expert. If you ask for anything other than a basic summary of the monster that is in your party, the text runs off the screen and is sometimes incomplete. For example, when I showed my newly-caught Clucky (a cluckadoodle) to the monster expert and asked for status-altering and defense information, the text looked like this:
Next, I shall details its status
ailment attacks! Mmmmrrrnnnngg!
Psn:Not so bad at, Seal:Not so bad at, Par:
Slp: Not so bad at, Ftg:Not so bad at, Sick:
Faint: Not so bad at, Drain
And its resistance to status
Psn:Okay with, Seal:Okay with, Par:Okay wi
Slp:Okay with, Ftg:Okay with, Sick: Okay wit
Fain:Okay with, Drain:Okay with…
Note that the ends of the lines are cut off, drain is missing any information under status-ailment attacks, and the unnecessary “s” on “detail.” Since talking to the monster hunter is not mandatory in any sense of the word, it doesn’t affect gameplay, and it’s the only area where I noticed any issues like that.
I found myself playing this game a lot longer than I expected to each play session. I’d tell myself I’d want to do just one or two more days, then lo and behold, I’d done a whole week before I remembered I needed to get up early the next morning and should really turn the game off. There’s replay value for those who want to romance multiple partners, though I don’t know that the plot gives any incentive for replay. There are plenty of places to explore in the game, but it can still feel a bit linear at times. I enjoyed the experience and plan on continuing my journey to save the land of Selphia, get married, and have a kit. After all, who doesn’t want to go hunting monsters as a family with their five-year-old child in tow?
Short Attention Span Summary
Rune Factory 4 is a cute addition to the Rune Factory franchise, though despite its polish in some aspects–namely character design, localization, music, and romance–it does leave something to be desired in terms of some of the visual aspects and gameplay. You’ll likely find yourself unable to put the game down because you’ll get hooked on completing requests, talking to people, and participating in festivals, but it’s not likely you’ll be swept away by the complexity of the plot. Fans of Rune Factory should definitely pick up the game and those who are new to the series might be surprised at how much fun they have.