Review by jlee123

"Rune Factory - Grind of Destiny"

So, I wasn't a Harvest Moon/Rune Factory veteran walking into this. I had tried the original on the SNES and Rune Factory 3, but that's it. This review will be mainly on the game's merits standalone, not as someone who's played and loved the series from the original.

Graphics: It's a shoddy Wii port, and it shows. Things are okay most of the time, but there are obvious low-res textures all over the place in town. It's so glaring right from the game's introduction segment, you really have to wonder how it passed QA. Beyond that, there's nothing special. The models and special effects looks fine, and there's really nothing much more to say here. The clearly cut corners to avoid a HD install and keep loading times low, but there was no reason to do this for the PS3 version beyond laziness. I'll say 6/10 here.

Music/Sound: The music is decent, appropriate for the game depending on being in town, farming, or fighting. You'll be sick of the town music by the end, but that's more because of the artificial game length than the music being bad. There's voice in the game for most, but not all, of the dialogue. Fairly standard stuff, nothing that you run for the volume controls...except for the female protagonist. You see, she's with you the entire game and feels the need to make the same useless comments over and over again. You will be very sick of her commentary very quickly, and may well reach for that 'mute' control after all. By the time you can ditch her, the game is more or less over. Would be a 7/10, but losses a full point due to that one character not shutting up so 6/10.

Gameplay: And here's were the game really crashes and burns. Things start off well enough. The introduction/tutorial portion is a bit overly long, but once you get full control it seems okay. I'll break each main portion of the game separately.:

Combat - The core of the game. You get your choice of weapons, each with seeming strengths, weaknesses and different special attacks. There's also magic in the form of different elemental staves. Unfortunately, none of this matters. You see, there's two huge flaws in the combat: monster HP levels scale up much faster than you ability to damage them, and many monsters quickly become immune to hit-stun animations meaning you will generally lose any slug-fests with them. Combine this with large numbers of enemies, and it quickly becomes apparent that trying to normally melee anything is more or less suicide. This degenerates combat into one strategy, spamming a knock-down special attack over and over and over again until everything dies. Top it all off with the fact that your character's RP (essentially stamina) drains very quickly even at higher levels, and you quickly learn to simply avoid most fights and run through areas unless the game forces you to fight to proceed. Bosses are MUCH more fun and interesting to fight, but there's only a few of them and you can't fight them again unlike Rune Factory 3.

Then there's your monster allies you can recruit and use in combat. They are worthless beyond fodder. Their AI is hopelessly dumb (you need to keep calling them to you or they stuck on terrain), and they have minimal damage output. They DO have tons of health like all monsters do though. You will probably stop bothering to bring them along past the first couple dungeons. In fact, once you finish the main game, you will never want to look at the combat portion of the game period.

Exploration - Your golem riding the seas is supposed to encourage the player to find secrets. There are none. Every important area you can go on foot to explore is shown to you by villager requests. There are a few minor areas you must find yourself, but there's nothing there beyond death; most of the hidden areas contain enemies far beyond your current strength with no loot beyond beyond capturing said strong monsters. There are occasionally fights against giant monsters, but your combat options consist of 'punch', 'throw rock', and 'throw'. It's kind of novel the first couple times, but quickly becomes pointless. Your golem also has its own RP and moves at a snails pace. It often takes multiple game days to get anywhere. Once you have a decent cash flow, you will more or less just want to use the 3000 gold teleport wish to move everywhere instead of wasting time.

Farming - I hear a lot of people trash this compared to previous games, but this is frankly the only area the developers seem to have improved. You no longer have to micromanage everything. You don't have to buy seeds or water plants every day, your monster allies do this for you. You can even get monsters that will pick crops for you, meaning you only have to worry about activating planting points with your wand every so often, and petting monsters to get their friendship levels up. Once you max out these values, your farms run themselves beyond reactivating planting points, cutting trees, buying monster cookies (they're cheap and can be bought in bulk) and mining the ore on winter island. And you only need so much ore and lumber to make everything you need. There's no farming skills to grind out really, so this is only part of the game that seems to have made with efficiency in mind, not tedium.

Crafting - Ever played a MMORPG, where you need to craft hundreds of useless widgits before you can make anything useful? The developers here used the same model. Simply put, your crafting skills level painfully slow. The only sane way to level crafting skills is to find a formula that uses easily buyable items, and make it 1000 times. No, I'm not exaggerating the number. If takes 10+ crafts to gain one level at higher skills levels, and items formulas go up to level 99. In fact, the designs know how much of a time sink this is and made forging formulas to DO NOTHING BUT REMAKE THE SAME ITEM OVER AND OVER (ie you gain nothing but crafting skill). Why does this exist in a single-player game? It will probably take 5 hours of mind numbing tedium to get your forging, crafting, and cooking to the point where you can make anything, and that's not counting the initial preparation of getting the money for the components and food to keep recovering your RP while grinding it out. If you want the other skills up (they aren't important to completing the game), add another several hours to this time.

Villager Interaction - Here's how it works: you talk to them, give them an item they like, then repeat this everyday until you've grinded enough friendship points to see their next event. If you're lucky, they'll have a request that gives a much larger chunk of friendship than gifts do. It takes weeks of gifting for get once friendship level, and some characters want items that require you to be deep into the crafting and farming system before you can easily make them. Sadly these events and the eventual marriage are more or less the only things that will keep you playing. Unfortunately, like Rune Factory 3 you cannot complete these events until finishing the main game. That means you MUST play through the awful combat and crafting portions of the game to get to interesting content. And I really hope you make a separate save before picking someone to marry, otherwise you must slog through the entire 50+ hour main game again to see the rest. Then there's the biggest head-scratcher in the entire game, the female protagonist. You can play as her and there are male villagers for her to marry. There's just one massive problem: you can't switch to her until finishing the main game, which can take well over 50-60 hours. Even then, you get one and only one chance to switch to her and can't change back. Didn't make a save before hand? Too bad, you'll have to go through the entire game again to get the option to switch to her again. The whole thing smacks of a rushed game, as any normal game would just simply give you a choice at the start.

Overall, there's way, way, waaaaay too much grind in the way of the fun here. I give the gameplay a 3/10.

Replay Value/Lasting appeal: It will easily take you over 100 hours to do and see everything in this game, but 90% of that is due solely to grinding and the RP system severely limiting your actions. Since there is no newgame+ to play as the female protagonist from the start, It is highly unlikely anyone will play through the game from the start ever again. Overall, I'd give it a 7/10 here if you like huge timesinks.

Overall: There's some fun to be had here, but it's buried under mountains of tedious grind, and obvious rushed port, and bad decisions made solely to drag out the game time for no good reason. Honestly if you want a timesink that is actually fun Disgaea 4 does the '100 hours of gameplay' thing a lot better without feeling nearly as tedious and boring. If they cut the grinding in half with a patch or something, I'd say the game was a solid 6.5 or 7 out of 10. In its current state, 5/10 is the best I can do. There's no reason to buy it with so many good RPGs out this season.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 11/18/11

Game Release: Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (US, 10/07/11)

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