February 28, 2020
Are you a fan of farming sims? Are you also a fan of RPGs? Because I am and that is exactly why i wanted to play through Rune Factory 4 Special, a game that found a special place in my heart the second I realised it would let me do both. Rune Factory has been an ongoing series since 2006 when the first game Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon was released for the Nintendo DS, an apt title indeed. With Harvest Moon being a farming simulator set in present day, Rune Factory has definitely put a spin on it, introducing RPG and fantasy elements throughout. With magic, sword fighting and dragons, Rune Factory 4 is a bona fide RPG farming simulator. The game was originally released on the Nintendo 3DS a few years ago and has been ported to Nintendo Switch to make way for the newest game in the series, Rune Factory 5, which is estimated to come out later this year.
You’ll open the game finding yourself on an airship, taking a journey to give a blessing to the god of the town below, Selphia. However, before you are able to land, the player character is attacked and knocked off of the airship, falling through the air and directly onto the head of a dragon. Though the dragon is fine, the bump on the head has caused the player character to lose their memory (convenient since you’ll probably want to re-name them) and this is what allows the story to unfold.
Ventuswill is the dragon’s name (though she prefers Venti) and due to a case of very serious miscommunication, she believes that you are the member of royalty sent to take over some important duties around the town. Despite your amnesia, the player character insists that this can’t be right, to no avail. Eventually accepting your new role as resident royal, the player begins their journey in earnest. First, your main job is going to be taking care of the overgrown plot of land behind the palace, pulling weeds, chopping wood and growing new crops on the land. Eventually though, you’ll venture out into the world beyond the town limits and uncover mysteries hidden within the dungeons that can be found out there.
The simulation part of the game involves a lot more than just farming. You can also spend your time cooking, crafting or one of my personal favourite staples, fishing. The fishing mechanics are closest to the ones you would find in Animal Crossing, you simply toss your lure into the water and then watch the shadow of a fish come up and nudge it a little. After a few good nudges, the fish will eventually take the bait and you can reel it in. There isn’t a lot to it, but there’s nothing more relaxing than chilling at the water’s edge and fishing the day away. Best of all, these fish that you catch can be used in recipes to make food for yourself and the other townspeople.
Here we find another big part of the game, speaking with and giving gifts to other townspeople. Selphia has a robust cast of characters that can be found walking around the town and running their own errands throughout the day. Sometimes you can catch them carrying items around in their arms which is the cutest thing ever. Every character has a list of favourite foods that you can find out by gifting them something. A big thing I like in this game more than Stardew valley is that characters are always happy to get a gift from you even if it isn’t something they like. I was always heartbroken when I gave someone in Stardew Valley a home cooked meal only for them to say they hate it. The residents of Selphia will thank you with a smile and then prompt you with a list of their favourite foods for next time.
“Selphia has a robust cast of characters that can be found walking around the town and running their own errands throughout the day”
Another important part of the game is the relationships with these characters. There are 12 relationship options available, and after marrying a character there is a new mode added to the Nintendo Switch version of Rune Factory 4 called Newlywed Mode, where players can play a side story going deeper into the relationship you and your partner share after marriage. This is a great addition, with a lot of media having marriage as the final step in a relationship. It’s nice to see life after that being expanded upon.
Unfortunately though, Rune Factory 4 Special does not allowed romances between same sex characters. I noticed very early on that it was possible to tell characters that you loved them from day one. I told my favourite character Forte as a joke and she sort of blew me off. I assumed it was just because I only knew her for a week, but no, when I tried the same thing with a male character things got a lot more serious. I was prompted to choose whether I really meant it or not. I said no, and quickly went to check if it was the same with all the other characters and it was. Confessing your love to a character of the same sex as your player character will result in a disappointing friend-zone. Or in Forte’s case, a ‘comrades in arms-zone’.
Now it’s time to get into the meat of the game, first up, the farming. At the start of Rune Factory 4, Venti will instruct the player to maintain the small plot of land behind the palace. It’s not very large, but it does take quite some time before you’ll be able to buy enough crops to fill the plot anyway. Farming mechanic-wise is the same as you would find in Stardew Valley or any Harvest Moon game. Plant your crops, water them everyday and then harvest them. My favourite part of farming is that you can pick up a stack of up to nine items and carry them around above your head. It’s a really cute edition and it means you don’t need to go into your inventory as often.
Where Rune Factory is different from other farming simulators is the animals that you can raise in your barns. These animals are not just your regular cows, pigs and chickens. Any monsters that you find out in the world can be tamed and then brought back to the farm. Some of these monsters will produce eggs or wool that can be sold for profit or used in crafting. When a monster has a high enough friendship level with the player, they can be asked to perform tasks around the farm. They can water and harvest plants, and if you give them some money and seeds they can even plant new crops for you. It’s a really interesting mechanic and means you have time to get other things done throughout the day. Though it does make me uncomfortable that brushing your monsters is recommended because I have a goblin in my barn that walks on two legs like a human man and brushing him feels weird and gross.
The main part of the gameplay is the RPG portion. Initially I assumed the farming would be what I spent most of my time doing, but mostly I would water my plants and then immediately head out to a dungeon. Once I got some monsters maintaining the farm for me, I didn’t even need to water. The combat isn’t especially robust, though it definitely had a little more meat to it then the combat in the mines of Stardew Valley. There’s a large selection of weapons to choose from, my personal favourite being staves, because they provide a bonus to magic damage and I was throwing spells all over the place. You can equip abilities or spells to the X and Y buttons and use those in combat along with whatever your main weapon is, whacking enemies until they fall over.
A small addition I really like is the escape button. Hitting ZR at any point out in the world will teleport you back to the start of the dungeon and hitting it again will take you back to the town of Selphia. It can be very useful when you head into a dungeon and find that you weren’t prepared for it, because passing out can often cost a lot in medical bills when you wake up at the doctor’s.
You can also take a party of two with you out into the world, either one of the citizens of Selphia or one of the monsters you’ve tamed. Bringing a monster with you is very cool, because you can also use them as a mount, which is hilarious because some monsters look like you really shouldn’t be able to ride on them.
All of the game’s story beats are activated by making progress in the dungeons. While the game is pretty linear, there is a little bit of exploring you can do in the land beyond the town. There will be areas that are locked until the plot progresses further, but otherwise players are free to explore the land as much as they want. This does also mean you might find areas that you aren’t ready for yet, after taking a few wrong turns on the way to the next dungeon. I found a giant mushroom that punched me in the face once, killing me instantly. So don’t get too comfortable wandering the lands.
- Vibrant and colourful world
- Large cast of friendly characters
- Engaging story
- Interesting monsters to find and tame
- Only straight romance options
- Farming feels under utilized
Overall I definitely enjoyed my time with Rune Factory 4 Special. The game was gorgeous to look at with wonderful pre-rendered backgrounds and character portraits, and the story kept me wanting to play so I could learn more. I loved taking time out of my day to visit other characters and give them vegetables from my garden, especially since the cast keeps growing after every dungeon I finish, so there are always new people to meet.
The farming feels a little bare-bones, though a lot of that is because this game has the unfortunate luck of releasing after Stardew Valley. Although the time you spend out exploring dungeons makes the game still very engaging. The combination of farming sim and RPG is very cool and I’m definitely going to be finishing this one in my spare time.
For more information on Rune Factory 4 Special check out the Marvelous Games website.