Title: Rune Factory 4
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher (Developer): XSEED (Neverland Co.)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol
Rune Factory games are addictive. It’s a universal truth. There’s a reward system in place that’s constantly providing new benefits or spoils for doing what’s expected of you, be it farming, battling, crafting, or socializing. Since so much is happening, there’s always something to do or some new way to succeed. It can have a serious impact on your social life.
Unfortunately for your real life obligations, Rune Factory 4 is the strongest and most seamless installment in the series. There is so much to do, and it all connects so well together, that anyone who plays will find themselves sucked into Selphia for days, weeks, or maybe even months.
Another amnesiac saves the day.
Rune Factory 4 continues the series’ tradition by having a protagonist who has no idea what’s happening. Though, the hero or heroine doesn’t begin as a blank slate. He or she is originally on route to Selphia with something important to show Ventuswill, the god dragon that resides in the town. Except there’s an attack onboard the airship. The item is shattered and dispersed, the young man or woman develops amnesia after attack, and finds him or herself cast overboard the airship.
Fortunately, he (or she) lands on top of Ventuswill, in Selphia’s palace. No one knows who this person is, so Ventuswill declares him (or her) the visiting royal everyone was expecting. Then, when the real prince arrives the next day, he’s fine with this imposter going ahead and being Selphia’s royal representative so he can do his own work in town.
The player’s avatar quickly learns that being royal doesn’t ensure a life of luxury. Ventuswill deduces that the player is an Earthmate, which means farming comes naturally, monsters take to him, and battling is easier. Everyone expects great things from the player, and it’s up to you to ensure you don’t disappoint them, while finding out exactly who you are along the way.
There is always something to do, so you’ve just got to do it.
A Rune Factory game is a delicate balance of multiple gameplay elements, and Rune Factory 4 is no different from its brethern in that. Yet, its implementation is such that everything fits together perfectly and seamlessly, allowing for enough time in a single virtual day to do some farming, socialize with townfolk, fulfill a royal request or two, and wrap things up with a dungeon excursion. Even at the start of the game, players’ avatars have enough stamina to perform most basic tasks and, within a month, have leveled up farming, battling, and crafting skills enough to allow for more activities each day.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As Selphia’s new prince or princess and local Earthmate, there are a number of responsibilities to the town. To start, a player has a farm behind the palace to manage. Crops and flowers are grown here in a typical Rune Factory and Harvest Moon manner, which mean the land must be cleared of debris, soil tilled, seeds planted and watered, and eventually crops harvested.
I would recommend checking Rune Factory 4‘s royal mission board before doing any of the daily farming though. Townsfolk often have requests for the prince or princess, and usually they’ll coincide with regular activities. For example, you may be asked to harvest a certain number of crops, or raise specific flowers. Other missions could involve deliveries of commonly gathered items, or bounties on certain kinds of dungeon monsters. Completing requests earns Prince Points and general rewards.
Prince points can be used to pass orders which make Selphia a better place, or the player a better Prince or Princess. For example, you can use points to hold Festivals, which attracts more tourists and adds a monthly diversion. Points can also increase shop stock, improve the royal storage facilities and palace, or provide Licenses to do things like forge, fly an airship, cook, or make potions. With each new order passed, the Prince or Princess level goes up. Naturally, that increases the number of things the royal can order.
Battling is another major part of Rune Factory 4, as clearing event dungeons advances the story and adds new characters to Selphia. Not to mention, it also is the way to befriend more monsters. The prince or princess sets off to one of the story dungeons, perhaps accompanied by a friend from town or a tamed monster. He or she then takes part in active battles against enemies, dispatching them to another world. There are some minor puzzles, which usually involve pushing switches to open new paths, and each area has a boss at the end to defeat. Everything proceeds smoothly and there’s quite a bit of customization at play, as different weapons, spells, and abilities have different ranges and attack specialties. So, while I prefer using magic and a Claymore, other people may favor spears, fist attacks, or general swords. Revisiting areas is encouraged, as random treasure chests may appear. Also, it’s the only way to sometimes find specific monsters, like Woolys or Buffamoos, which provide beneficial produce when tamed and raised in a Monster Barn.
The only problem with the dungeon crawling is, I noticed companions weren’t pulling their weight in battle. I got into the habit of taking Forte into dungeons with me. Namely, because she was the only one willing to go on adventures initially, and then I kept working with her out of habit. Besides, she’s a Dragon Knight, it’s her job. Except, she didn’t really do much. I don’t know if it’s because I set the difficulty to normal, and was doing a good enough job whacking and spiriting monsters away to the other world, or if it was a lazy AI. It was only really a problem during boss fights, however. Though, I must admit, her constant lagging made the second boss fight a bit easier as the boss was continually targeting Forte and ignoring me.
That wasn’t the only hitch that kept everything from proceeding smoothly. I did pick up on one editing error, however. During the first year, I was participating in the fishing contest and talked to some of the women in town about it. One of Margaret’s lines in a big chat that included a few of the major characters was still in Japanese. (Katakana, to be exact.) I was kind of mindlessly advancing through the chat, so I didn’t catch the exact word, but keep an eye peeled for it. Think of it as an Easter Egg.
Aside from that one quirk, the translation is very well done. Rune Factory 4 has surprisingly fun NPC dialogue, with each character tending to say something different every day, instead of spitting back a generic phrase at the player on any day that isn’t a special occasion. In addition, the story in general is quite interesting, and almost all characters receive some development. What I found most important is that relationships can be built up with suitors and the townsfolk just by speaking to them every day. By the end of Spring, I was at a level 2 relationship with practically everyone in town, despite having never given any gifts.
Just one more day! One more!
Rune Factory 4‘s effortless and rewarding relationship building, missions, farming, dungeon crawling, and crafting has a dire result. Namely, once someone gets into the game, it proves quite difficult to extract oneself from the situation. This is a “one more (virtual) day” kind of game. Things move at such a pleasant and encouraging pace that I found myself finding justification to play in three to four hour chunks. Something was always happening, either that very day or the next day, and I found it impossible to turn off my 3DS and do it tomorrow. Rune Factory 4 is the best Rune Factory, and perhaps even Harvest Moon, game I have ever played.