Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rune Factory 4 - Review


Harvest Moon. Upon hearing these words, both gamers and non gamers alike will most likely know what you are talking about. The farming simulation series which started out on the SNES many years ago has really grown in popularity over the years, along with the genre itself. Since the release of the original Harvest Moon, many farm sim games have entered the market, and these games alone brought many non gamers into the world of gaming. While Harvest Moon itself continued to be released over the years on a wide verity of consoles and handhelds, other farming based games entered the market of social media, and they became a hit. Looking back on the whole thing now, it actually is quite strange how a genre of games based on hard work would do so well... Yeah, not really. When it comes down to it, something about the whole genre is just, addicting. Many people who start to play one of these games will find themselves with hundreds of things to do, and that alone will be enough to keep them busy for awhile. This is something that has never changed with the genre, and the massive amount of content alone is why many fans return to Harvest Moon, time and time again.

As the years went by, Harvest Moon continued to grow. With each new release new features were included, older features were refined, and some games even ventured out into new territory. Although some fans may have preferred to keep things the same, it was this experimentation which lead the series into what some fans may consider the better side of it all; a spin off game which was titled "Rune Factory." Despite originally being a side game from the main Harvest Moon series, this off-shoot actually became a series of its own, and things have never been the same since. After three releases on the Nintendo DS, a Wii title, and a multiplatform release (for the PS3 and Wii), the Rune Factory series took yet another step forward. Rune Factory 4 was a game released exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS, and it is a game that builds upon just about everything the rest of the series put in place, but not just the Rune Factory series, but the Harvest Moon side as well.

So, just what is Rune Factory 4? Is it a game worth checking out if you have a 3DS, or is it one of them games only fans of the series would enjoy? Well, how about we find out?

The Story of Rune Factory 4:

In previous entries of the "main" Rune Factory series (Rune Factory 1, 2, and 3), the main character always starts out confused and alone in a new land, and he always comes into possession of a farm. This is something of a staple for the series, and because of that; it is what most will expect going into Rune Factory 4. Well, that is no longer the case.

This time around the game opens up with you given the option to select between a male and a female character, which you can then name. Although this selection does not change the main storyline, it does change later aspects, such as the relationship sections of the plot. Even so, whatever option you pick, the very next scene will still play out the same.

When the game opens up, the main character will find himself/herself on an airship going to deliver "something" to some sort of "god." The game keeps the details very limited at this point, and things get even more confusing after the main character is ambushed. Out of nowhere two knights appear before our main character, and after a short fight, he/she finds him/herself falling overboard... Only to then land on top of a huge female dragon...


This dragon is named Ventuswill, and for whatever reason she mistakes you for the prince/princess of the land. According to her, she is the "goddess" who watches over the village, and you are the one who had been sent to help out the land. She decides to give you a room in the castle, and she even freely shows you her softer kinder side, which she hides from the rest of the towns people. Although the main character is not a prince or princess, after the fall they have lost their memory, and they have no choice but to believe what they were just told; that is, until the real prince shows up.

Although the real prince comes to the land, he tells you that he has something he wants to do, and that fulfilling his princely duties would just get in the way of it; so, you continue on with the job of helping out the town, and developing it. The whole ordeal is one you are simply sucked into, and you have no choice but to follow down that path; however, things do soon change.

The entire main plot of Rune Factory 4 mostly revolves around the towns people, and the mystery of what is going on in the areas outside of the town. Strange monsters are showing up who transform into people, there's an army out there up to no good, and there's still the mystery concerning you, yourself. What starts out as a simple (and rushed) plot, soon develops into a full fledged story, where you truly never know what will happen just right around the corner. One day you may be free running around the town doing whatever you want, but the next something big may happen which will force you into a new story arc.

Overall the tone of the story itself varies with each passing day. The plot is filled with crazy and funny moments, but it also has its fair share of drama as well. Compared to previous entries in the series, Rune Factory 4 tends to have a bit more of a mature feel too it (the game does have some mild language as well), but it does stay pretty light-hearted, and that's a good thing.

The Clock:

When it comes to the gameplay of Rune Factory 4, there's more than just one key aspect. The game is a massive open adventure, and it gives you complete freedom to play however you like. If you don't like one part of the game's gameplay, you can just ignore it and focus on what you do like. That's just one of the great things about Rune Factory 4's gameplay; however, everything does revolve around one core aspect. The real time clock.

Just like in the Harvest Moon series, Rune Factory too runs on a real time clock, which is almost always ticking away. While in the Harvest Moon series, as well as in early Rune Factory games, the clock only advanced while standing outside in the open, in Rune Factory 4 this is not the case. Rune Factory 4 tries to create a "living" world for you to interact with, and in order to achieve that goal, the clock almost never stops. When you walk through the town, towns folk will go about their daily lives (they'll go shopping, talk to other town people, go fishing, etc), and they will rarely slow down. If you're standing in a store looking to buy something, you will see others come in to shop as well. If you visit someone's house, their friends may come over at anytime. Just because you are standing in doors, it doesn't mean time will freeze, and that alone is a very helpful change. It makes things a bit more realistic, and it also means you will not have to walk around outside for a few in game hours bored, as you wait for either a shop to open, or for someone to return home. Instead you can stand inside that shop, or stand inside that house, and wait for the owner to step inside.


Since the game does run on a real time clock, you really do need to plan out your days. There are a lot of different aspects to Rune Factory's gameplay, and you only have so much time in the day to get everything you need done, done. Different events will also happen on different days of the week, so you constantly have to look toward the future, and plan out just how you want things to go. Maybe one day you'll have time to go to a dungeon, but the very next you may need to focus on competing in a town event. Overall, it really just comes down to what you want to get out of Rune Factory. You don't have to do anything you don't want to, but it always is better to plan out your future.

Besides having a clock which even runs in doors, there is one other major change to the Rune Factory time system. While Harvest Moon features the standard 7 day calender, Rune Factory groups Saturday and Sunday into a single "Holiday." While the game still has the four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), and while each season still has around 30 days, there are extra weekdays to make up for there being only one "weekend" day. Although this isn't a major change from Harvest Moon, it is a very noticeable one.

The Farming:

Just like in the Harvest Moon series, Rune Factory 4 has a strong focus on farming, with some changes of its own that is.

At the very beginning of the game, you get your first farm. The land you have is broken up into squares, and on each square you are able to plant a single crop. Since each bag of seeds takes up a single square, you are free to plant your crops in any order that you like. If you want to make a line of turnips, and then a line of strawberries, followed by a line of corn; you can, or if you want to just go the crazy route and plant everything in a random order, you can do that as well. Considering that past games in the series actually required you to plant crops in a 3x3 grid, even the randomness can be a good thing; especially if you have a single spot left, and you don't want to waste 8 seeds just to fill it.

To take care of your farm, you have a wide verity of tools. You have an axe to chop up wood (which can be used as material to expand your farm, house, etc), a hammer to break rocks (which can be used as material as well), a hoe, a sickle, and a watering can as well. In order to keep your plants alive and healthy, each in game day you have to actually go out to the fields and tend to them. You have to water your crops each day, you have to harvest that which is fully grown, you have to till the ground, and if you want to go the extra mile, you can even fertilize the ground so that it produces better crops. If you want to have the best farm out there, and really start raking in the cash, you truly do have to care for it.


Before you can actually get started with your farm however, you do need seeds. By going to the town's local shops you can buy a wide verity of seeds. These seeds range from different types of lowers, to different types of crops, to even grass which you can turn into fodder to feed your monsters (animals). You aren't limited to what type of seeds you can plant on your farm, but you are limited by the seasons. As seasons pass in the game, different crops may not fair as well. What may grow well in the summer may not grow well in the winter, and what grows in the fall, may not grow in the spring. Even so, there is a very easy way around this issue.

Although the main farm is where you'll be doing most of your work, there are smaller patches of farmland outside of the town as well. Outside of town there are areas which are based on all four seasons, and by going to them you will be able to grow that season's crops. Since the season never changes in these areas you do not have to worry about your plants dying, but you will have to head out there each day to take care of them, and that is something you also must do alone...

Back at the main farm, you do not actually have to farm alone. By befriending monsters out in the fields, or by having a family, you can give out field chores. If a monster of family member is given such a chore, they will help you work on the farm each day, either by watering crops, clearing rocks and wood, or even by planting crops when the farmland becomes open. By having help on the farm, this really helps free up the rest of your day to do whatever you want.

Overall, despite being a spin off from Harvest Moon, Rune Factory 4's farming system is actually one of the deepest the series has ever seen. Sure it doesn't have all of the features seen in later entries in the series, but it does have a wide verity of things you can do, and it is sure to keep you busy. If you want to even mess with it that is.

The Stats and Combat:

Unlike Harvest Moon, the combat and stat system is a major part of Rune Factory, and it actually makes up the majority of the game. It is how you progress the story, it is how you unlock more in game content, and it is a feature you will be spending a lot of time with.

In Rune Factory 4, unlike in other RPGs, every single thing can level up. Every time you take a step, you get walking exp, every time you talk to someone, you get exp points toward your social skills, and every time you swing a hammer in the field, you get better at using the hammer. There is a stat level up system for just about every action in the game, and leveling these up give you a wide verity of bonuses, many of which make sense and work how it would in real life.

For example, if you want to get your stamina up in the real world, running is a great way to do so. It is a good way to keep your body healthy, and the more you do it, the less likely it is you will get tired. The same goes for in Rune Factory 4. By walking/running around you can actually level up your walking skill, and in return it will increase your health. Also in real life if you get sick, your body starts to build up an immunity toward that illness; the same can be said for in Rune Factory 4. The more you get poisoned, or the more you receive any other status effect, the more your character's body will start to resist it. When it comes down to it, just about everything about the stat system adds up with how it works in real life, and that just helps give the game a more realistic feel. This is also how you unlock new moves and abilities for weapons; the more you use them, the better you get, and the less energy you use while using them.

Monsters:

Monster catching is another major aspect of Rune Factory 4, but once again, it isn't something you have to do. There are a wide verity of monsters in the game's world, and each one has their own stats and skills. By going out into the world, and by giving them gifts, you can actually talk these monsters into joining you. Once a monster has been "captured," you can then ask them to be a part of your party, and they become another NPC for you to interact with. Monsters themselves will live at "monster barns" you can build on your field, and they too can become your friend. By giving them gifts, and being nice to them daily, you can form a bond with them, and in return they will be able to help you out with your farm.


Although there are no "standard" farm animals in Rune Factory, the monsters do make up for this. You can find chicken/duck/bird monsters to take the role of chickens, you can capture cow monsters to take on the role of cows, you can get sheep monsters to supply you with wool, and you can even capture other types of monsters to use as horses for faster transport. Even though they aren't your standard farm animals, they still do the job of them, and they serve more than just one purpose as well. Now even the chickens can help you farm, and even the ducks will let you ride on their back. When it comes down to it, it is just a fun feature to play around with, and anyone who is a fan of catching monsters or taking care of farm animals is sure to love this aspect of the game.

Relationships:

One of the major parts of Harvest Moon games has always been the relationship system, and this time around, Rune Factory 4 has greatly improved it.

In Rune Factory 4, every single major NPC has a friend level of sorts, and by doing things for that NPC, you can become closer to them. You can talk to them everyday, do favors for them, give them gifts, or you can simply spend time with them. Either way, by interacting with them they slowly warm up to you, and the closer you are the better. Once you become friends with someone, you will start to learn more about them, they will also be willing to join your party to go out on quests or explore dungeons, and you will also be able to unlock their special story quests. It is a really nice system which has been in Harvest Moon for awhile, but where it really shines, and where it has really been improved, lies within the relationships with the opposite sex.


As you become friends with a member of the opposite sex, you can actually take things to a whole new level. Once you have become close enough to them, and you feel the time is right, you can confess your love for them and try to make them your girlfriend or boyfriend. If the lucky man or lady says yes, you will become a couple, and things will begin to change. At this stage you can then go on dates with them, you will unlock new special dialogue between you and them, and you can also work on getting toward the next phase of the relationship; marriage.

Marriage in Rune Factory 4 isn't quite as simple as it was before. In other games in the series, as well as Harvest Moon, all you would have to do is meet a few easy requirements .These requirements normally involved you upgrading your house, getting a double bed (yes, it is required), and then giving the lucky lady (or man in a few games) an item to confess your love. They would then say yes if you met the requirements, and you would move on. Well, it no longer works that way...

While you still need a double bed if you are a male (females do not as they are the ones who can be proposed to), and you still need to have a high "heart level" between you and that special someone, there is much more to it this time. Now you have to be dating, you have to get their heart level even higher (which can be easily obtained by going on dates), and you also need to see a specific set of town events. Although this may not seem like a challenge, it truly is.

Town events are events that happen at random, and are based on your friendship level with the other characters; this goes for the marriage event as well. The problem with this system is that you truly never know what will happen, and when it will happen. You can spend a few in game weeks waiting for an event to happen, and sometimes when the event activates you won't even know it. If you aren't in the right place at the right time, you will not see the first section of the event, and until you do, you cannot finish the event so you can start another. Since the game only allows one event at a time, you have to constantly be checking for town events, and all you can actually do is hope the one you want to activate, will activate. Sure you may meet all of the marriage requirements, but you may have 20 possible events unlocked; there's a very low chance that the marriage event will be the one to activate, and you never know when an event will activate either. When it comes down to it, you just have to have your marriage partner in your party, and wait until the moment they leave on their own. This is when you will know that she/he is involved in an event, and you just have to hope it is the marriage one.


Once you have gotten lucky, and got married, you can choose to have a kid. While in some of the earlier games the child character never really did much, that is not the case in Rune Factory 4. This time the child is a full character who will not only help out around the house, but can become a full fledged party member as well. You can give your child any weapon or any piece of equipment (like you can other NPCs who can be party members), and you can then take them out with you into the world. It is a very nice feature, and it allows you to go out into the field as a family; you, your husband/wife, and your child. Either way you look at it, this alone is a major improvement over the previous title "Tides of Destiny" where your child never even left the house.

Building The Town:

As you play through Rune Factory 4, special points are earned called Princes (or Princess) Points. By completing requests from the town request box, which is located directly outside of the castle, or by simply talking to people and progressing the story, you will receive these points as a part of your reward, and they can be used in many different ways. When you first start the game there are actually no holidays, or "special buildings" in place. The clock will progress like normal, and there will be empty buildings in town, but you can actually change this. By spending your PP, you can either activate holidays/special events, move people into them empty buildings, or you can even expand your house and farm. It is completely up to you what you do with said points, but the more things you buy with them, the more opportunities open up for you as well. While you may want to save up to build one more barn for your monsters to live in, sometimes it is better to just save it for another day, and upgrade your town instead. The game becomes a lot more fun when you actually have holidays and special events to take part in, so they should always take priority over other options.


Besides unlocking events, and expanding your farm, PP can also be spent to unlock special offers in your town, and they can be used to control other aspects/settings in the game as well. You can control which special NPCs show up in your town, how often they show up, if characters come to wake you up in the morning or not, and so on. By using PP you can tailor the game to suit your style, and that alone is a very nice addition to the series.

The Crafting:

One of the, if not THE, largest aspects of Rune Factory 4 comes in the form of crafting. In the world of Rune Factory, there are hundreds of possible items for you to create, but if you want to even mess with the system or not is completely up to you. It is a very deep system, but because of that some people may find it isn't worth the trouble.

In order to craft anything in Rune Factory 4, you either must have a recipe for the item you want to create, or you just have to guess and hope you get lucky. In the game there's a wide verity of items you can make, from different types of food, medicine, weapons, and armor, and each item requires specific materials for you to make them; as well as a specific crafting level. The more you cook, or forge, or use your chemistry lab, the better you will get at it, and the better items you can actually make; however it does take a lot of practice to reach the higher levels, and because of that you have to start small and work your way up. For example, if you want to craft a stronger sword for yourself, not only do you have to get the recipe for it (which is earned at random when you eat a special type of bread), but you'll have to track down the materials required, and you may have to make weaker swords to improve your skills. It really does take a lot of work, but in the end, it is always worth it.

Besides crafting, you can also enhance your current equipment to make it stronger, or you can simply buy items from the shop, or pick them up out in the field. While these items typically aren't as strong as the ones you can make, they are the easy way out. The game itself may be a bit more challenging, but it does save you time overall. Still, the crafting system is a massive part of Rune Factory, and it is worth the time to at least work on making equipment. Food and medicine may be completely ignored, but it is always a good idea to try and become as strong as possible.

Furniture, Clothing, and Other Extras:

Rune Factory 4 also has a lot of "little" extras. You can buy clothing for your character to wear, you can change your party member's clothing, you can go to different shops to build furniture (and other items) which can actually be placed anywhere in the game (inside people's houses, in the town square, in your house, etc), and you can also go to the "trophy" room of your house to rewatch cutscenes, and check your game records. While these features aren't a part of the game's key gameplay, they are very nice extras, and they alone can burn up hours of your time.

The Good and the Bad:

Rune Factory 4 is a great game, and easily one of the best games in the series. It has a solid farming system, fun combat system, there is a lot of exploration, the story is long, there are many side events and side quests, the monster system is great, the crafting is great, and there is plenty for you to do; in fact, there might just be too much to do. If you are the type of person who has to do everything in a game, this is one that will easily last you for hundreds to thousands of hours. There are a lot of systems in place, and many of them are simply an average player will either not use, or just have no idea they even exist. The side quests try to get you to test out every aspect of the game, but even then some things are not always clear; for example, how you unlock the "field dungeons." Overall Rune Factory 4 is just a game that refines almost every aspect about the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series. Features long time fans have been waiting for were finally included in this release (such as a deeper relationship system), and the game also doesn't force you to play in a specific way. If you don't like farming, you don't have to farm, if you don't like the dungeons, well, they are required for progressing the story, but there's nothing wrong with playing this as a farm sim. Rune Factory 4 is a game that lets you do what you want, when you want, and how you want to, and that freedom alone will keep you coming back for more. Although, it isn't perfect.


The biggest issue with Rune Factory 4 is the random event system. While it is great that you never know what each day will bring, it is a system which also hurts you. Even if you want to get married to the girl or guy you've reached a high heart level with, you can't just simply ask her/him. You have to play through all random events required for them, and then even the marriage event itself is random. It takes a lot of saving and reloading if you want to get the right events to trigger, but it takes many hours to just play normally, and that's if you're lucky enough to trigger the right events. Its a system which is nice in some ways, but would have been better if it had standard heart/friend events like other titles. At least when it comes to the marriage events.


The second, and final, issue with the game is its graphics. While graphics do not make the game, there are aspects of Rune Factory 4's visual which can hinder the experience. Despite keeping a style similar to the other titles, this time around it is a little bit off. The style works, but mixed with the 3D effect, things get a bit strange. The game mixes 2D backgrounds with 3D models, and at times the view depth jumps. While the outside world has a camera which is pulled back, inside houses have a view which is closer, yet the dialogue boxes are sunken in. It can be very disorernting, and the fact that the main character's 3D model can step over top of walls doesn't help. Its almost as if the 3D effect was thrown in with little to no effort put into fixing it; at least you can turn it off so it isn't a major issue.

Overall, despite its flaws, Rune Factory 4 is still a very good game, and worth playing. If you're a fan of the series this one will not disapoint, and if you're thinking about getting into Harvest Moon or Rune Factory, here is a great place to start. Sadly the company that developed the series went under shortly after the US release, so this may be the last one... Well, at least their last go was worth a 9/10 in our book. It did have flaws, but nothing that couldn't be worked around. If you have a US or Japanese 3DS, get it!

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