I’ll be honest with you. I have not played a Harvest Moon game for years, the last being Harvest Moon: It’s a Wonderful Life on Gamecube back in 2004. Since that time there have been no less than ten Harvest Moon games released for various systems which is part of the reason I’ve left that particular fandom. Marvelous Interactive was pumping out spin-offs and half-baked sequels at an astonishing rate and while some were good, none of them managed to capture the fun of the original SNES game or its enhanced port of Harvest Moon 64. I didn’t pay any attention when Harvest Moon: Rune Factory and its sequel were released on the DS. I brushed them off as lame attempts to jump start the franchise by mixing unrelated genres (Life Sim and Dungeon Crawler?).
So why did I go out and buy Rune Factory Frontier? I don’t know. I saw it in a store and the fond memories of HM64 came flooding back. I guess needed to satiate my newly rediscovered need to farm some turnips, so I picked up RFF on a whim. Would I regret my decision to jump back in to the Harvest Moon franchise?
The game begins with your character (with a default name Raguna) exhausted from a long trip. He spots a building in the distance and ventures towards it, ultimately collapsing just short of the front door of what turns out to be a church. The nun living there brings you in and you wake the next morning to tell her you are looking for a girl. At that moment the very girl you were looking for walking into the church. She is an old friend from the first Rune Factory game (Of course, having not played the first game, I asked her who she was before being berated for forgetting.) named Mist. She claims to have been drawn here by a mysterious voice that seems to be coming from a giant whale-shaped island in the sky.
It’s at this point you decide to stay in the village until you unravel the mystery so both you and Mist can go back home.
Overall, it’s a charming storybook tale that fits the setting but isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. You have the option of completely ignoring it and just mill about the village of Trampoli fishing, farming or flirting.
All of the characters (and especially the thirteen marriageable ladies) have some sort of back story or event that relates to you somehow and can be influenced by you in different ways. This means your village will end up being slightly different to someone who plays the game differently than you.
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
I think by now we all know the Wii isn’t a graphical powerhouse. I’d wager a guess that 90% of Wii games can be played on the Nintendo 64, so props to Rune Factory Frontier for at least looking good enough to be on Gamecube.
Harvest Moon was never a Final Fantasy or a Gears of War type of title that pushes its system to the limit, so I’m not surprised that Rune Factory doesn’t give Madworld a run for its money. However, what Rune Factory does have is good art direction.
The village of Trampoli is a genuinely pretty place to look at, with rivers, beaches and green forests. It does genuinely look like a rural frontier town, as the plants grow over all the stonework and obscure some of the dirt paths that crisscross the tiny village.
The character designs are also well done in an attractive soft anime style and have a decent range of emotion animations. The game also has some short anime cutscenes to introduce you to many characters (mainly the eligible bachelorettes) though they are unfortunately VERY short.
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
Rune Factory doesn’t stray too far from classic Harvest Moon type music. Expect a lot of gentle acoustic guitars when you are tilling your fields. Of course, this being a fantasy version of Harvest Moon , the dungeons do have some different tracks that shake up the formula a bit. Some characters also have their own tracks like the carpenter Kross, whose music fits him perfectly (ie depressing as shit).
As for voices, XSEED did pretty well with the localization. There isn’t a whole lot of voice acting but what is there is top notch. Most of the voices fit their characters perfectly (Selphy the Librarian is a hoot) and your character Raguna sounds pretty much like what an androgynous anime male lead should sound like (that being a pussy-whipped wimp BTW).
Unfortunately some voices fall flat, usually when portraying Japanese anime stereotypes such as the gloomy goth guy (Kross) and Lolis, but they do their best and decent enough to avoid being cringe worthy.
Sound Rating: Good
All the unnecessary extras added to Harvest Moon from the beginning of the series has been removed and RFF goes back to the basics. You have a field full of garbage and some basic tools. Get cracking and start planting seeds in 3×3 formations, water them and then dump them in a box to cash in.
Really, if you’ve played Harvest Moon before you’ll find many familiar aspects, such as the bath house that replenishes your stamina and the concept of bombarding your favorite girl with gifts to get her to love you.
Speaking of the girls, you have 13 to choose from and you’ll find one to please your particular tastes in women (including you weird loli lovers though pretty much none of the girls look older than 15…..). As a bonus, Neverland has switched around the personalities a bit. Selphy the Librarian isn’t your average Harvest Moon shy girl. She’s half crazy and hyper ALL THE TIME. She, and many of the other characters, managed to always bring a smile or chuckle during my interaction with them.
The major difference is the dungeon crawling, and this is not such a strange addition as you might think. In previous Harvest Moon games, there would always be a mining cave or similar place where you went and banged on rocks all day long in a randomly generated maze. Neverland took one look at this boring monotony and decided on the following additions to spice it up: 1) Remove randomness and 2) Add in monsters and beasts for you to kill and capture for your barn.
Neverland really hit the jackpot when they bet on the fact that gamers like to kill things (oh and mine rocks too) and farm loot from monsters. It adds an additional RPG layer on an already fun farming/life sim such as adding HP meters and levels to all your skills even farming, cooking and fishing.
There are many skills to level up partially because there are so many things you can do to pass the time and I commend the developers for adding this amount of activity into the game. The other addition is small forest sprites called “Runeys” that can be captured and traded to certain character to influence the weather. For example,you can trade in 12 water runeys for a week of rain (alleviating the need to water your plants). Runeys come in four flavors and they all have a rocks-paper-scissor relationship where one eats the other in a certain area, necessitating that you keep moving specific numbers of Runeys around to keep them in balance. Doing so will greatly increase the fertility of your farm and decrease growth time. If you can’t be bothered to do this then you don’t have to worry as it’s entirely optional.
The only criticism I have is that Trampoli is quite small, even by Harvest Moon standards (not counting the dungeons of course) and somewhat feels empty at times as most characters don’t have a large amount of dialogue.
There’s always something you can do differently each time you play through Rune Factory Frontier. There is growing different crops, capturing different monsters or managing Runeys differently. There’s plenty of ways to play the game differently.
The most crucial factor is the girl you marry. With 13 candidates, you’ll have to go through the game multiple times to marry the girls you want (No polygamy in Harvest Moon land it seems…) and the sheer amount of things to do should keep you happy for multiple playthroughs.
However, the storyline isn’t really branched in any way. While some characters are affected by your actions in the game, most aren’t. You’re getting roughly the same town every time you play the game and since the dungeons aren’t randomly generated (a good thing in my eyes) you’re getting the same dungeons as well.
Replayability Rating: Good
Previous games in the Harvest Moon franchise had ways they can be broken to collect easy cash. In Rune Factory Frontier, the only real way to make money is to plan well and work hard.
There are also incentives to play every part of the game. Although you can get by without dungeon-diving, you won’t really be able to upgrade your farming equipment without it. If you just dungeon-dive, your equipment (more important than your level by far) will lag behind in level and you will die a lot. To upgrade your equipment, you’ll need to craft a lot, and to fund upgrades and crafting you’ll need money (in addition to the materials from dungeons), which is best made by farming. And to last long in a dungeon, there’s no replacement for cooking, which also requires a well-tended farm.
If you’re smart though, you can find ways to make the game a bit easier. Weapons have a bar to level up, like all skills, but weapons in the game’s definition only include swords and spears. Hammers and axes are considered tools and can be leveled up in and out of dungeons (cutting stumps and breaking rocks), but weapons can’t be leveled up outside of a dungeon. This means using hammers and axes is preferable to wasting time and money on weapons.
Also, you have special attacks that do far more damage than your normal attacks and cost only slightly more RP (“Rune points” which represent fatigue) to use than normal attacks. You can go deep into dungeons and whack a few high level monsters with special attacks to get a quick succession of levels easily.
This is balanced out however by the fact that the quality of your weapons is more important than your level.
Balance Rating: Great
Harvest Moon is a series without any real competitors. How many other farming/life simulators can you name out there? What about if you add in an RPG and dungeon crawl experience? The list will be approximately zero.
However, Harvest Moon is an old franchise with dozens of entries in the series. Even Rune Factory Frontier is the third game in a spinoff series of Harvest Moon. . Many things have also been brought back to basics such as farming to give a more retro experience and overall while it brings things like an RPG twist into the mix, it isn’t anything new in the RPG genre itself.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
It’s almost as though Neverland took the most addictive genres known to man (Dungeon Crawler RPG and Life sim) and mashed them into a single series already known to suck gamers in.
You’re never pressured to do anything and can take the game at your own pace. You can easily play 10 minutes and finish up some chores or play for hours on end to get to the bottom of that dungeon and face off against its boss.
The sheer amount of options and activities you can do and events you can participate in will always have you busy with something or preparing for an upcoming festival or dungeon raid, creating the classic “One more turn” syndrome you see in games like Civilization.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
9. Appeal Factor
Harvest Moon has a hardcore and niche audience and the flooding of substandard entries into the series means many gamers have been turned off the series. Combine this with the fact that the game doesn’t really have a deep tutorial can make it a little hard for newcomers to get into the game.
The timing of the release is also awkward and most “hardcore” gamers won’t pick up a game that isn’t “gritty” and “Mature” (and looking at Madworld’s sales figures, they don’t pick those games up either). Mainstream gamers don’t even recognize the Harvest Moon title and…oh wait, they dropped the Harvest Moon from the title as well.
The only thing that might get it noticed is the cute anime style. It’s certainly going to attract some people as anime is pretty popular right? (I don’t have my hand on the popular culture pulse) and the good reviews it has been getting might tempt some Wii owners as well.
Appeal Factor Rating: Poor
Ever since Harvest Moon’s arrival in the United States way back in 1996, one company has been in charge of localization: Natsume. To be fairly frank, their localizations are bad, just bad. Typos are everywhere and they have a poor grammatical structure that renders entire sentences incomprehensible. It was just a poor showing all round.
Rune Factory Frontier however is localized by XSEED games who have a good track record in this regard and it shows in Rune Factory as the dialogue is natural and error free. The voices as mentioned earlier are also well done.
I don’t know if Natsume or XSEED games is going to handle the rest of the Harvest Moon series but for the love of god XSEED, please take this series away from Natsume.
Miscellaneous rating: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Very good
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
If you’re a fan of Harvest Moon then Rune Factory Frontier is a must buy game as I consider it the best game in the franchise since Harvest Moon 64 and perhaps it even dethrones the long reigning champion. I’d easily recommend this to anyone with a Wii, from soccer moms to veteran gamers