Review by Jair X
"Now you can have your sword AND your plowshare."
Hold off on that whole 'beating a sword into a plowshare' business. With Rune Factory, you can have both.
First off, let me write of my experience with this game as well as the Harvest Moon series. I'll keep it short. I've played several, though not all, games in the series since the first HM on the Super Nintendo. HM64, Friends of Mineral Town, etc. As for Rune Factory, I've been playing for roughly a month and have since completed the main storyline and gotten married (in-game that is). So, taking that into consideration, let's move on to the heart of the review for this Harvest Moon spin-off.
The character design for this game is SUPERB. In my humble opinion. From the anime intro to the character portraits that pop up for dialogue, to the box art, it's pretty nice. All the marriageable girls are winners in the looks department, this might be a first for HM. The rest of the villagers don't lose out either. I particularly like the design of some of their clothes. ...ok, we'll move on now, but really, unless you just flat out hate anything anime/manga or are really attached to the design of the games in the main series, I think you'll like it. At the very least it's a change of pace from the more chibi-fied or child-like art present in previous games.
On a more technical level, you get 2D backgrounds and 3D polygonal characters all on a roughly overhead view ala the 2D Zelda games. The backgrounds can get pretty colorful like the forest areas in Spring time. Bodies of water in some areas also look pretty nice. There's an overall pleasant feel to the outdoors sections. Some of the Caves, which function as dungeons, are a bit underwhelming, but they have enough atmosphere to make up for it. The only real thing I can complain about are the polygonal models for the villagers and your own character. The enemies all looks fine, but the villagers looks a tad... awkward. They tend to waddle when they walk, too, giving the effect of a dressed up penguin. Well, it's not quite that bad, but it's something they could look to improve in the sequel. I got used to it quickly enough though, so it's far from a real sticking point.
Overall, the artwork is superb and the rest is pretty good. 9/10
In terms of music, each Cave and season has its own theme, as well as a town and outdoor theme along with a couple of others. So there's a nice amount of variety. I found nothing unpleasant about them. It's mostly atmospheric. When you go outdoors it gets all determined and heroic. In town it's quaint and pleasant. A couple of tunes from the caves are pretty catchy and the marriage theme was memorable. There's also a fully voiced song in the opening introduction, though I didn't care for it. All things being equal, I find the music nicely crafted and appropriate for the most part.
Every single character has a handful of samples, from the slightly Irish lilt of Tabatha's "Good MARNING!" to Bianca's snooty "What is this?" as you strive to give a gift she actually likes, it all adds quite a bit of character to... the characters. Sometimes I just spent whole minutes listening to Mist's almost nauseatingly cute "Good Morning!".
...yes we are going to have these awkward moments for every single category, I'll find some way to make it happen...
Ahem, but yes, voice is nice. There are a few lines that sound a little off but it's good overall. Sound effects are pretty standard stuff. A satisfying snap to a sword swing, a powering up noise as you charge your farming implements, it mostly gets the job done. 9/10
The setup is pretty cliche, you're an amnesiac who just so happens to be handy with a blade. Still, it works out fine. You wind up, weak and weary, in the small town of Kardia which borders the mighty Sechs Empire. A girl named Mist helps you... somewhat... and before you know it, you end up working on her farm, getting friendly with the villagers, helping out with their monster problems, and eventually uncover a PLOT... of some sort. Monsters are popping up at unnatural rates and no one knows why. So you strap pn your "Retornen" weapons, which do not kill supposedly, but returns (hurr hurr REOTRNEN get it?) them to the First Forest from whence they came. All very well and good. I can't say the story was all that compelling, but it carries itself well enough. Nothing terribly complex. There's humor and seriousness in roughly equal doses. I can sum up how the story progresses like this:
Dude in Charge: HURR WELL THERE ARE LOTS OF MONSTERS LATELY.
You: I WILL INVESTIGATE. (1 cave later) YUP THERE ARE CERTAINLY MONSTERS HERE.
Dude in charge: GOOD WORK, SEE IF THERE ARE MONSTERS IN OTHER CAVES.
Villagers: BOY THIS SURE IS SUSPICIOUS.
A rough draft of what you can expect. But really, it's not bad. And there are short mini-stories of a sort involving some of the villagers.
Speaking of the villagers, they help the story along, saying new lines after you beat a cave or attempt a new one. A nice touch that I appreciate. There's a few typos here and there, but nothing that'll hinder your understanding of the tale being told. The story works, essentially, but don't go expecting a Final Fantasy 12 level tale of lost love and betrayal.
The translation is serviceable, but you'll definitely notice some typos and awkward lines. Not to mention some plain old silly stuff. "I've never dreamed I would get a(n) ORANGE JUICE for my birthday." ... you know what, I like it anyway! Speaking of lines, most of the villagers have at least 3-4 unique lines, sometimes 5-7 depending on their location. Personally, I can never get enough and wish there were more, and changed with the seasons, but it's a nice amount as is.
And now we get to the heart of the matter. There are a variety of things you can do in this game. Farming, for one. Veterans of the series have seen it all, and will instantly be familiar. Newcomers should not have difficulty picking it up. Clear your land of weeds, rocks, and tree stumps, till it, buy some seeds, plant 'em, water 'em, harvest 'em and watch the money flow in. There are four seasons and only certain crops grow in certain seasons. Caves have their own seasons that last all year round, so you can grow stuff there too for as long as you like. For every nine crops grown, a ball of rune energy appears, which refills a portion of your RP bars, which basically reperesents how much energy you have. Every use of a tool/weapon depletes a little of it. When it's all gone, you start losing HP until you faint. Fainting in a cave means Game Over. Sleep and a dip in the hots springs are the only other ways to replenish your RP. Every use of a tool/weapon also levels up the particular skill it uses so it takes less RP to wield. At the same time, every upgrade of a tool or weapon increases the amount of RP used, so it's a bit of a balancing act.
Additional side activities include Fishing, Mining, Crafting, and Cooking. Some help you create useful potions to make you invincible, or forge powerful weapons, or make dishes to give as gifts, or create stuff like diamond brooches to give to the ladies. You have to spend some money first though before gaining access to some of these activities. Money to expand your house and make room for all the stuff that's needed, like a refrigerator, pharmaceutical table, upgrade your tools, buy crafting/cooking books etc.
There's also the traditional HM staple of courting girls and befriending the villagers, though both feel a bit more shallow than in some of the previous games. Without a guide or extensive trial and error it can be tough figuring out just what some people like or dislike, not to mention that some of the marriage requirements are seriously vague. There are festivals wherein you can enter contests and take girls on dates. I do like how the marriageable girls, for the most part, have different ways of being wooed. Some just don't care for gifts, others like it if you are kind to monsters, and so on and so forth. It doesn't take too much effort to befriend everyone in the village, though. Before the end of the first year, I had everyone at maximum friendship. One minor thing I'll nitpick on, though. You can't stalk people. Once they walk off the screen, they just wind up instantly in the location they're supposed to appear in, so finding out where some people disappear off to on certain days takes more effort.
Now, the combat is similar to the old school-Zeldas, and most like Secret of Mana. You press a button and swing your weapon, doing a certain amount of damage depending on your stats and equipment. You level up and get stronger, and go on your way. It's simple but it works fine, the controls are smooth. You can purchase a number of spells too, though most are not all that useful. There a handful of weapon types, like one-handed sword, 2-handed sword, Axes, and Spears. Defeating enemies gives you experience and sometimes a dropped item that can be sold or used as crafting ingredients.
There's also a bit of.... guess what... MONSTER COLLECTING. Oh yeah, you can befriend any monster in the game besides the bosses and let them live on your farm. Some of them can help you water and harvest crops. A very few supply you with things like Milk, Eggs, and Wool. The rest are only useful as sidekicks (only 1 at a time) when you go fighting in the caves. And by useful, I mean most won't last four hits. Still, it's a mildly interesting diversion and gives the collector types one more thing to look forward to.
So, as you can see, you can keep yourself occupied with all this stuff, especially if you're the type that loves to complete every little thing; to collect and do everything possible. The thing is, the game is on the easy side. Not a total pushover, but it's not hard by any means. By the start of the second year, I had upgraded the house, brought everything for it, had all the villagers as best friends, and four of the girls at maximum affection. All but two caves were done, and for the most part I finished them with a measly longsword and iron shield, which are some of the weakest in the game. There was some challenge, definitely, but you level up quite frequently and once you get the expanded house, you can forge some powerful weapons and items. I found that OK, however. It can be satisfying making progress at a steady pace.
The game has no time limit and goes on forever, but I find that after two years, it just gets repetitive.
I didn't mind much. I had a lot of fun in the game, dividing my attention between monster collecting, farming, fighting, crafting, courting, and whatnot. I'm not exactly hardcore, so this game lasted me roughly a month, and I enjoyed my time with it. 8/10
Let's wrap things up. Rune Factory is a solid game for HM fans and and non-HM fans alike. It changes up a formula that was getting just a tad stale and pulls it off well. For people who really get into a game's atmosphere like me, it's fun just seeing what new lines of dialogue I can get out of a character as I visit them in new locations and give them gifts. A pity that relationships are a bit shallow, as marrying girls and becoming best friends with people doesn't change the game much. The character design is superb and the voices can be charming. There's a lot of activities to keep you occupied and even the slightly easy difficulty level doesn't mar the game much. There's a lot of things done right in this game and Natsume have found themselves a good spin off series to sequel into oblivion. I highly recommend this game for people looking for something different and who like social aspects of a game, like talking to characters.
This game is a rock solid 8 out of 10. Bring on the sequel!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/24/07
Game Release: Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon (US, 08/14/07)
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