In the past few years, the Rune Factory franchise has been able to distinguish itself from its parent series, Harvest Moon. Attempting to expand the series beyond its farming roots, Rune Factory allows players to also enter into the world of combat, and dungeon exploration, something that players have come to enjoy. This is the first title to appear on the Nintendo Wii, and the first title to not officially bear the Harvest Moon name, but does it help to further take players away from the world of being a simple farmer?
Players take the role of Raguna, a young boy who's searching for a girl. Oddly enough, he actually manages to find within the first few minutes of the game and he then gets convinced to stay in the village, known as Trampoli, and occupy a recently vacated homestead. Naturally, this homestead is in need of repair and it also comes with its own plot of land, perfect for farming. From here, things are pretty much up the player. They can indulge in attempting to grow up their farm and homestead, or try to delve through the minefield that is the story progression.
It's a minefield because players are given next to no direction. If people play the game expecting hints to be given about what to do next, then they will be sorely disappointed. There are numerous hidden objectives, which must be met in order for someone in the village to suddenly change their tune. Players can talk to an individual for a week straight and then will say exactly the same thing, then all of a sudden change their tune and ask for some help with something. This in turn cannot be achieved as the player lacks a certain tool, which they then have to try and figure out how to obtain. It can be rather annoying and it really relies on players wanting to actually spend each day going around speaking to every individual, and doing everything they can in the hopes that something new and unique will happen. Not the best game design.
The gameplay, fortunately, makes a lot more sense. Tending to the farm is mostly common sense. Players must plot their land, plant seeds and water their crops until they mature. Different crops have different maturity times, and obviously, fetch more money when sold. It does get a little bit more complicated than this though, as there are four seasons, which affect the crops that can be grown. The Runey system also adds some depth, but also highlights a pretty big flaw. There are four types of Runey and they float around Tampoli village. They may initially seem insignificant, but their presence is actually quite important to the prosperity of crops. Because of this though, should they become extinct, crops take considerably longer to grow, which makes one of the main facets of the game become a chore through no fault of the player. Luckily there are other avenues for making money, like fishing, but it's still a bit of a pain.
Raguna can also try his hand at crafting, which mainly involves cooking and the forging of items through some home expansion. This allows Raguna to prepare himself for one of the more defining aspects of Rune Factory Frontier, the dungeon crawling. Raguna can enter several dungeons, and explore. Combat is relatively simple, as Raguna can only really perform an attack and special attack. Progression in the dungeons can take some time though, as the monsters get significantly harder as Raguna delves deeper, and barriers can only be broken by weapons of a high enough level. Here's where the catch comes in though, literally everything Raguna does in the game, aside from walking, consumes Rune Points (RP). And when his RP is gone, his HP is consumed instead. Having a huge bag of food is essential for survival, as is tending crops inside the dungeons - something which can take a lot of time. This means though, that a day in Rune Factory Frontier can become quite tedious.
The game has a relaxing soundtrack, and the graphics are also suitably toned. Everything just purveys a sense of calm, and it's a quality that's certainly necessary if continued playing is to be endured. This is probably a good thing though, as the game has plenty to offer, for those who want to invest the time. Aside from the dungeon crawling and story aspects, it's also possible to build up individual relationships with the town's citizens and even marry, should the relationship grow strong enough. Building up relationships is a bit basic, but it still serves as an extra incentive to become more involved with the virtual community.
Despite the problems mentioned, there's something about Rune Factory Frontier that makes it quite endearing. The game should be tedious and boring, but for the sake of progression, these things are set aside. Everything has a nice relaxing feel and for those who want to invest the time, there is plenty on offer.