When I first heard about Rune Factory I was immediately interested. Harvest Moon, but with monsters and item crafting? Count me in! That sounds fantastic! It’s a shame that the game Rune Factory – A Fantasy Harvest Moon turned out to be more like a Harvest Moon – Amnesia Edition instead.
The game starts with our hero, Raguna, finding his way to a farm and having no idea who he is or how he got there. After meeting a young girl named Mist and an exchange that’s best described as one of the most awkward and forced attempts at humor portrayed in a video game, you’re given a farm and some starting equipment. Why? Because… Why not? From that point on the story, or what goes for a story, is put aside to make way for farming and demon slaying, because every farmer obviously has to slay demons in dark caves.
I Am Farmer Error
If the base story seems wasn’t bad enough already, the localization team didn’t help with improving the translated product. More than once I had to look up information from online guides in order to figure out what the game just tried to tell me. At other points I had to seek outside guidance because the game simply gave completely wrong hints and information. A good example of this is early on in the game when Mist tells you about special Phantom Crops. She tells you they’re special crops you get by watering crops for over 30 days. Looking it up online it turns out there are special seeds that take 30 days to grow and only appear after you’ve finished the game’s main story. This kind of problem isn’t rare. Not to mention the typos and grammatical errors that run rampant throughout the game’s text.
It doesn’t seem like there was any effort put in by the translators, and since the base writing for the game itself is nothing special to speak of, the two main important elements of an RPG are already broken. For a game trying to promote itself as an RPG, this is inexcusable. Still, nobody ever played a Harvest Moon title for the story, you play it to farm, take care of enemies and get laid somewhere along the way. So how does Rune Factory hold up in that field?
Watering the Crops
Farming is exactly what you’d expect from a Harvest Moon title. There aren’t too many changes to the classic formula. Since there’s never been anything wrong with farming to being with, this is no problem. The only real difference is that you can now walk over your crops, so you don’t need to plant them in the special V-shape like you had to in the Harvest Moon series.
Animal care has seen a massive change. Instead of buying your first animals, you have to tame monsters instead. There are monsters that act like sheep, monsters chickens, cows, monsters that water crops, or that fight for you. Keeping them has become a much more expensive effort than before though: grass doesn’t grow back the way it used to. In more than one way, keeping them doesn’t feel like it’s worth the cost at times.
Rune Factory’s biggest flaw is the same one that Harvest Moon has suffered from the moment Harvest Moon 2 introduced fishing. Farming is about the least profitable thing you could possibly do in the game. If you want money early on, you’ll likely spend a lot of time fishing, as that provides you with a steady and fast income. Later on you’ll find yourself mining in dungeons for silver, gold, platinum and a whole variety of gems. It gives you more money on a daily basis than farming does monthly, even if you spend all of your energy farming. This gap is increased at least tenfold after upgrading your house and gaining the ability to craft items. It’s not too strange to have bought and upgraded everything before the end of the first game. Which doesn’t really leave you with much to do outside of completing the game’s story.
The Farmer: Your Demon Slayer
On the bright side, dungeons are straight-forward and fun. Enemies keep walking out of spawn points until you destroy them. Once you’ve destroyed all the spawn-points in the dungeon you’re allowed to fight the boss. The only real problem I have with the dungeons and bosses is that they’re too easy and short. I ended up running through every dungeon from start to finish within my first attempt. It seems the developers realized this problem and tried to find ways to artificially increase the length of every dungeon by giving boring and tedious extra quests before allowing you to enter the next dungeon, like ploughing enough fields in the previous dungeon before being given an entry pass for the next. A cheap way to enforce farming within dungeons and increase the length of the game. Rune Factory is full of tricks like these, especially near the end of the game. If it wasn’t for these tricks, you could beat the entire game before the start of the game’s first Summer.
The Farming Husband
Just like in previous Harvest Moon titles, there’s still special events to attend to and village girls to marry. It’s about what you’d expect from this kind of game right now and there’s not that much special to say about it. One problem with the love system of the game is that the game pushes the player to marry Mist much too strongly as her friendship and love meter go up from farming and clearing dungeons. By the end of the game it’s almost impossible not to have maxed out her affection level, whereas every other girl in the game requires effort to court. I guess she just really likes a man who is good at ploughing her fields.
Fresh Home-Grown Verdict
Rune Factory has a lot of potential and is full of good ideas. It’s a shame that none of the elements are worked out to their potential. Not to mention that the story and characterization are awkward and at times downright horrible. Rune Factory is a perfect example of a game that would’ve been a lot better with some simple polishing. Unless you’re a massive Harvest Moon fan, I really wouldn’t recommend this title.