Review by CthulhuDreams99

"WIthout a doubt, the best DS game of 2009"

Let's go back a little shall we.

Seeing as 3 is in the title, we know this is the third game in the Rune Factory series. The Rune Factory series was created as a new interpretation of Marvelous' classic Harvest Moon series, but of course incorporating elements of RPGs and dungeon crawlers. While I enjoyed the first two games in the series, they are still at the core, Harvest Moon games, and thusly might put some people off. To those of you put off by the series, I have but one thing to say:

PLAY THIS GAME.

In my educated opinion, after a week of playing this particular title, the third one has made huge leaps for the series. I think we'd best discuss those points now

STORY:

There has been a sort of thematic concept behind each of the titles in this series, the first set the series into a fantasy setting, the second one begged the question, “What would it be like if you went to school in this world?” and the third one has brought us to a new front: “What about the monsters?”

The third series brings our focus to the monsters and creatures in the Rune Factory world. Now that is a good setting, because the previous games didn't really explain the monsters, just some occasional mentions of a ‘first forest' and the like. Having yet to fully finish the third one, I can't completely comment on the story as of yet.

However, it starts much the same as the previous titles. Your character wonders into town with amnesia, a well-meaning girl takes you under her wing and gives you the run of a farm. This time, your protagonist, Maisu, is in a bit of an awkward situation. The town has some rather strong opinions concerning monsters, and seeing as your protagonist was in the shape of a golden sheep when he arrived, you can see the situational irony, and a possible subtext about inherent fear towards the outsider in society.

The characters themselves are much like you'd expect from the series, but this time around Marvelous has tried to incorporate a stronger sense of humour in the characters, and for the most part I felt they succeeded there.

So, don't expect anything world breaking with plot and characters, just a good new angle and some genuinely funny moments.

GRAPHICS:

One of the more common points of dissent with the previous titles was about graphical glitches. Here's one of the big improvements. In the second game, if 3 or more sprites were on the screen, there was a ‘slightly' noticeable slowing of the game, and by ‘slightly' I mean a good laggy appearance one might expect with a low ping for an MMO. There seems to be no problem with the amount of sprites on screen, as you will occasionally enter parts of town and have literally everyone running around on screen with no slowing at all.

Another huge improvement was individual sprite animations, which have become more uniquely characteristic for each character. Concerning character portraits, they are very similar to the second game, artistically, so they are very well drafted cartoon portraits. There is also a good range of expression for each of these portraits during dialogues. The environments themselves also look like they've had some subtle face-lifting done, which also very much welcome.

The graphics have made a most appreciated technical improvement, while retaining the same great cartoony flair of the previous iterations.

SOUND:

By no means is this game's soundtrack going to have you head banging and throwing up the devil horns, but it does maintain the standards for the series. Lots of nice little melodies, and enough changes between different areas, times, and situations, to sufficiently keep you keyed in. Sound effects as well are appropriate, and well synched.

Voice-wise, expect much the same as the previous games, lots of little snippets of spoken dialogue and exclamations. Everything fits perfectly well with the cutesy, cartoon imagery.

Up to this point, we've really only discussed how the graphics have really improved, but now you must be beseechingly inquiring, “But WHY must I give this one a try? What makes this one a ‘can't miss' title?” to which I might reply in a grandfatherly way, “Hold your horses there young lad or lassie, let your old gran get round to the game play.”

GAME PLAY:

WOW. Simply stunning. The entire game play mechanics have got a much welcomed and much improved cosmetic lift. We shall have to compartmentalise.

Combat in the previous games was a relatively simple affair; it operated in a similar fashion to playing a Zelda title. RF3 has streamlined and invigorated the combat. For starters, you can actually select a difficulty setting now. This alone gave me a very good impression of the combat. While it is not an insanely difficult game, the hard setting still greatly improves the intensity of the battles, and makes the dungeons far more precarious than they'd ever been before. In addition, more weapons and easier access to weapon skills, as well as magic, makes the experience all the richer. There is also the new addition of ‘active seeds', a sort of plant you might purchase and employ for combat support.

Fishing has also improved. In the previous titles, it was very much a sort of, plonk your line down and wait for a bite, matter. Now, incorporating an element seen in the River King series, you must throw your line in a watery area in which you can see the fish swimming about in their piscine fashion. While that's not overly impressive, it makes a lot more sense than the randomness of sitting around and waiting.

Farming remains at heart, unchanged. But now, you must be careful to shift your use of the land, because if you keep using the same plots, the land gets awful tired and doesn't encourage horticultural growth as well as it used to. Also, picking things up in your field might yield additional seeds. Speaking of seeds, no more nine by nine spread, you must plant each plot individually.

Weather is much more like, well, weather. It can shift and change, without warning, throughout the day, which I found to make the game feel that much more detailed.

The crafting system hasn't changed so much, you still need to procure the necessary implements to enable you to cook, smith, synthesise, sew, knit, ad nauseum. But, access to these implements is much easier and more quickly attainable. Concerning crafting, learning new recipes is fairly simple, buy recipe bread and chow down. Remember not to waste the bread though; you need a certain level in the required skill to gain more recipes.

Skills seem to increase more organically now, and the amount of skills has really diversified to focus on whichever aspects you'd like to prioritise. There's even a sleeping skill now in place of the camping skill from previous games that increases every time you go to bed.

The menus are also far more streamlined; now your main menu only has five tabs, but they cover most all the information you need. The market menus also are pretty simple to manage, and now there is a confirm button to finalise any purchasing of items you might desire. Speaking of the menu again, you can now equip three accessories, and they've been split into a slot for your head, arm, and feet. You can also hold an item in your hands while having a weapon and shield equipped. Concerning carrying, you can now see how many of an item you are carrying at any given time, and you can pick up stacks of items, which is a nice little mechanic.

The town request board, or really, the quest board returns, and now you can only do one quest from the board per day. The quest system has also incorporated your post box, which seemed pretty third wheel in the previous games, as you can now receive certain quests through your post box. A little tip, you might be limited to only one quest from the board per day, but you can also accept one quest from your post box to make use of your time better.

Time as well has changed. Time doesn't stop unless you are accessing your main menu, or your quick menu. This does push the pace of your day to day activities, but it also makes the town seem more real, because every body is doing something, or going somewhere at any given time of the day.

The relationship system also seems a little more easily manageable. In previous games, you sometimes were left slightly baffled as to what to give whom and why certain things didn't seem to produce the effect you desired. Important points to remember in dialogue will be highlighted now with blue or red text, and when you give someone a present, you can see a number pop up to show you how many friendship or love points you got for that gift.

I forgot to mention you can execute quick dashes in combat now, which also enriches the combat repertoire. Oh, and we can't forget the transformation belt which lets you become a creature now, so that you might engage monsters and other creatures in "healthy discourse."

While I'm still going through the game, I can say without a doubt, this game has received a huge, if not cyclopean, monolithic, or monumental, improvement for the actual game mechanics.

REPLAYABILITY:

Many different marriage candidates, different weapon or magic styles, different play styles, different difficulty settings. OF COURSE it has replayability. Even at that, the game doesn't technically end when you complete the story, it's a Harvest Moon game after all

OVERALL:

BUY THIS GAME. I have yet to try out the Wi-Fi aspects, but I do feel very safe in stating my opinion that this is perhaps the BEST DS game of 2009. The game is fun and entertaining, and it runs smoothly and so far without issue. I have recommended this series before to people who generally avoid Harvest Moon, and with the third installment, I can't recommend it enough.

I generally avoid the 10 score, because I think if I were to give a 10 to a game, that would mean I would never play another game again. This game comes very close to that standard. I give this a VERY high 9 out of 10. Try it, you won't regret it.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/30/09, Updated 11/02/09

Game Release: Rune Factory 3 (JP, 10/22/09)


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