So, Rune Factory 4. Or should I say, Rune Factory 4: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, but with this iteration of the series it seems to have dropped that subtitle. This game came out in October of 2013, and it got a criminally small amount of press. Off the top of my head, the only large publication that gave this game a review was IGN, which is surprising considering the beast of a game that this is, and also the sad news shortly following its release that its developer Neverland Co. declared bankruptcy and closed its doors.
But I digress. Rune Factory 4, despite its numeration, is actually the sixth Rune Factory game produced. It is the latest (and hopefully not the last) in a series that constitutes a unique hybrid of action RPG and farming simulation. But Rune Factory 4’s monstrous depth is a lot more than that. It’s an action RPG, a farming simulator, a dating simulator, a personal budget simulator, with fishing, talking, monster taming, marriage, child raising, cooking, crafting, competing and entrepreneurship for good measure. Your character has improvable stats for everything ranging from level, magic, and individual weapon skills to cooking, walking and sleeping. If you couldn’t tell, I’m merely trying to prove a simple fact: You will never, ever run out of things to do.
So what brings you to this place of agricultural and adventurous wonder? A simple plot begins with the protagonist (who can be male or female) aboard an airship on a mission to deliver some important magical… thing. Some bandits have stowed away on the ship, and they ambush the protagonist in an attempt to seize the magical macguffin, knocking him/her out and leaving them with amnesia. (Must’ve been a pretty bad concussion?) A scuffle ensues and the protagonist is thrown overboard, causing them to fall and miraculously land in one piece in a town called Selphia, where he/she is immediately mistaken for a prince by the inhabitants. You’re given a small dwelling and a farm, and you’re charged with executing princely duties while you adventure into dungeons and uncover clues about your previous past. It’s nothing deep or special, but it’s unoffensive and solid for what it is, giving you at least a little motivation for your adventure besides just finding some good loot.
Being the fantastical life simulation that it is, it courageously attempts to strike a balance between management and combat, and essentially succeeds. A typical in-game day for me would be to wake up, then check up on the farm, which constitutes clearing away weeds and debris (while keeping some of it as it can be useful), tilling the land, planting seeds, and watering them. The fruit, flowers and vegetables that grow from those seeds can then be sold for cash, which funds investment for more seeds, as well as more farming equipment, and perhaps more importantly, weapons and armor. I can then spend the rest of the day doing whatever I want, talking to villagers, fishing, or using some of those veggies I gathered for cooking. I often use the rest of the day to venture out into the wilderness to fight some monsters, which is a fun, top-down hack and slash-y experience, somewhat similar to a 2D Zelda.
Fighting continuously with a weapon raises its skill, and as its skill rises you’re rewarded with special techniques like charge attacks and finishing moves to pound more pain into your opponents. The farming and cooking from earlier allows you to make provisions to take with you on your journey, which restore your HP and RP. RP (Rune Points) are the stamina of your character, and it essentially governs how much you can do in a particular day. It’s restricting but not constricting, as your max RP grows with level and it can be replenished fairly easily with food, potions, and other things, but it’s a good check on your playstyle and prevents you from overextending in one particular area. For example, if I consume all of my RP digging for ores, I would be encouraged to either replenish my RP, or go and do something less tiring like talking to the townsfolk at the end of the day.
The townsfolk are lovely, with unique attractive designs and sympathetic personalities. There’s Volkanon, the aged but enthusiastic and energetic butler, Clorica, the adorably narcoleptic butler-in-training that wakes you up in the morning only to fall asleep afterwards while standing up, and Forte, the determined warrior girl who constantly reminds you that the rumors circulating about her liking sweets and being afraid of ghosts are false. Et cetera et cetera. Chances are, you’ll find one that strikes your fancy and you can pursue a relationship with them and eventually marriage, provided you give them enough attention and gifts, which takes you into a neat romance sub-quest where you investigate the development of that character, help them out with their troubles, and tie the knot with them, which makes the wedding at the end feel that much more gratifying.
If I had to criticize this game it would be for the atmosphere. There is little to none. The music is passable, but it’s just that, and though you and the inhabitants are 3D models, the town and environments are 2D, which constitutes a sort of flatness to the world. In addition, as one who is a fan of mainline Harvest Moon games (pure farming simulation) and Animal Crossing, the town of Selphia of RF4 is extremely tiny in comparison to the environments in those games. Walking around town feels cramped, and the openness of atmosphere is strictly reserved for the outside wilderness and dungeon areas. But despite those niggling problems, the game itself flourishes.
With my experiences in this game, I’d give a hearty recommendation to anyone who has a 3DS to get it. I daresay that it is one of THE top games for the 3DS, as its pure depth is unparalleled, and the lack of attention it has received from the mainstream is criminal. Consider this review one person’s feeble attempt at bringing some more attention of it to the world. If you like Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, and/or any kind of hack-and-slash RPG, I couldn’t recommend this enough.