The Rune Factory series has always been an interesting experiment in the Harvest Moon series, as it combines the qualities that the series is known for, such as farming and romancing, along with dungeon RPG qualities. However, for a while now both the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory lines have stagnated a bit with only minor alterations made as necessary to the existing formula. And while it's not perfect, Rune Factory 4 does manage to make the right changes to enhance the experience for newcomers and jaded gamers alike.
Rune Factory 4 takes place in the land of Selphia, a place filled with warm-hearted people who are protected by Ventuswill, Native Dragon of Wind. The protagonist (who can be either male or female, the latter being a first for the Nintendo handheld entries in the series) is in possession of a mysterious orb which armed soldiers hiding out on the protagonist's airship attempt to steal. After a scene where the orb breaks and the protagonist falls off the airship and loses their memory, they end up in Ventuswill's hall. After mistakenly assuming the protagonist to be of royalty, she urges the player to live in the castle and guide the town's citizens to prosperity.
This leads to events which reveal that the protagonist is an Earthmate, a person with powers that allow them to communicate with nature on a level that regular people cannot. This eventually expands into an over-reaching storyline regarding the decay of the land and how the four guardians had been keeping it in stasis for hundreds of years. It all sounds serious, but as players of the previous titles know the series has a more light-hearted tone which takes place in the silliness of the day-to-day lives of the town's residents. This helps to keep the story from getting too bogged down. The developers also expanded the story significantly as there's now three full narrative arcs each with their own ending and credit roll. After playing through them you might not be too enthralled, but XSEED's excellent localization does enough to make it somewhat worthwhile.
As par the course for a Harvest Moon and Rune Factory title, the player's day exists of actions such as tending to crops, raising monsters, chatting with the town's residents and exploring the numerous dungeons. One thing that separates this game from a traditional Harvest Moon title is that almost every action increases your skill level in one regard or another, so nothing ever feels like a waste of time. This approach also plays into other elements, such as items, where you can cook food into dishes, give them away to potential love interests or save them for use inside a dungeon when you need some extra healing. There's a few things that are required to progress the story further, but outside of that it's really up to the player as to what they want to do on any given day.
New to Rune Factory 4 is the "order" system due to the prince/princess status given to the protagonist early on in the game. By taking on requests from the townsfolk, the player can obtain prince/princess points which can be used to enable various options, such as holding festivals and obtaining licenses that allow the construction and use of crafting tools available in the player's room.
These requests help to build relationships with the townsfolk, which in some cases can let them tag along with you in dungeons as support or even let specific women (or men) become marriage candidates by the way of dating. Of course, like in Harvest Moon, the player can marry said person and eventually have a child together if they wish. This holds true for both the male and female protagonists, so the marriage candidate pool has effectively doubled over what was available in the Nintendo DS iterations of the Rune Factory series.
As far as the combat system goes it's your typical hit-hit-hit combo system with a finishing attack at the end. Sadly the companion AI in dungeons isn't the best as you will often find party members get stuck in an area of the map forcing. This makes them rather redundant. Still, at least the game makes it quick and easy to change items on the fly with a press of the L button. This is a nice change compared to some of the other Harvest Moon games whereby players were requires to jump into a full-screen menu. All in all it's clear that the dungeon RPG aspects are an addition instead of a critical piece to the core formula.
As far as the graphics go, it's satisfactory for the Nintendo 3DS, but it feels like the game was originally developed as a Nintendo DS title and ported over to the new handheld. This is most evident in the 3D effects as the game commonly relies in the stereotypical 3D trickery when it comes to effects on the screen. The music is similar as it's not unsuitable for the game, but it isn't memorable outside of it. Thankfully XSEED did a remarkable job on the English voice overs, although sadly certain characters are passed over in terms of their total recorded lines.
Rune Factory 4 is one of those games that works much better in small increments each day instead of marathon runs. It doesn't push the formula nearly as much as it could, and there are a few issues here and then, but it's still a worthy entry in the series. Plus, it doesn't have Runies!
|The player never feels like theyâ€™re wasting time thanks to the skill levelling system.|
|Great localization work by the publisher.|
|Feels like a Nintendo DS port due to the gimmicky 3D implementation.|
|Its flaws are more visible the longer you play.|
|Sometimes downright idiotic partner AI.|