Rune Factory 4 Special Review (Nintendo Switch)

  • Genre: RPG, Action, Simulation
  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch
  • Developer | Publisher: Marvelous Inc/Neverland/Hakama Inc | Marvelous Europe/XSEED
  • Age Rating: PEGI 12 | ESRB T (Teen)
  • Price: UK £32.99 | US $39.99
  • Release Date: 28th February 2020

No review code was provided, and any opinions contained below are my own. I actually went all out and bought the Archival Edition – I couldn’t help myself!

Rune Factory is a series that sits near and dear to my heart. As the first series to really get me into gaming, and one that I’ve followed religiously (the handheld variants, anyway) for many years, I was delighted when Rune Factory 4 got a fresh coat of paint for the Switch, but did it live up to my lofty expectations?

Story/Characters

If you haven’t played a Rune factory game before, they generally have the same premise; the protagonist rolls into town with no memory of who they are, where they’re from, or why they’re here, and with the assistance of the pushy but kind-hearted townspeople end up with a home and a very overgrown farm. After a short time of peace, something goes wrong that causes you to investigate one of the dungeons that lie nearby, and so begins your quest to fix whatever calamity has occurred and therefore save the town you’ve come to love. It’s a very basic premise that allows for a lot of variation, and differentiates Rune Factory from it’s combat-free sister series Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons.

The characters you’ll encounter along the way give the game much of it’s charm; from the wonderfully reliable Volkanon to the exuberant Procoline, each townsperson has a very distinct personality and background that really emphasises the fact that you’ve just been dropped into the middle of these people’s lives. As your relationships improve with various people you’ll learn more about their pasts, and gain insight into their current problems. Selphia really does feel like an organic town, and provides a wonderful escape from the outside world. 

Gameplay

Anyone familiar with the Harvest Moon series will be familiar with the majority of the mechanics in Rune Factory, but they’re nice and simple. You have one active equipment slot on B for weapons or tools (such as swords, hoes, and seeds), four ability slots (X, Y, R+X, and R+Y) for spells and rune abilities, left control stick to move, and A to interact. + is your bag, level tracking, and settings, while – is your quest list – if there’s a limit on how many quests you can have active at once, I haven’t encountered it yet. You collect quests from either talking to villagers or picking them up from Eliza the talking request box.

Combat is hack-n-slash, using both your equipped B weapon and rune abilities/spells. The higher you level in the associated skill, the lower the RP cost will be, but the higher your weapon level the higher the RP cost e.g. you could forge a Lvl 10 amazing short sword at Lvl 99, but if your Short Sword skill is only level 20 you won’t get many swings out of it before your RP is gone. Monsters each have an associated strength/weakness from the following; physical, fire, water, earth, wind, light, dark, and love. Figuring out these weaknesses is key to defeating higher-level bosses, as with the right equipment loadout you can make all damage nullified or even heal you for a small amount.

Farming is also primarily done using the B button, in combination with A. B uses the equipped tool, for example a hoe or watering can, and A is used to pick something up. Depending on the seed, each type of plant may only grow in a certain season, or take a very long time to grow (dungeon fields are a saviour in this case) so think strategically when planting! Rune Points are also used when doing farming tasks, so during the early game you won’t be able to do a huge amount during a day – interactions don’t cost RP though, which is nice!

Crafting is broken down into 4 sub-categories; cooking, chemistry, forging and crafting. Each has its own set of tools, for example cooking is performed on a selection of tools such as the knife, steamer, pot, oven etc, and a chemistry set, forge, and crafting table are available relatively early in the game. Each recipe has 6 ingredient slots, though I haven’t yet found a recipe that uses all 6, and recipes can be learned by eating recipe bread obtained from either the restaurant or winning festivals. If you know a recipe but haven’t got a high enough level in that skill, or have a high enough level but don’t know the recipe, then an item will cost more RP to make, whereas if you’re both too low a level and don’t know a recipe, then you’ll just fail. These skills are very important when you prepare for combat.

Relationships are the final cornerstone of Rune Factory. There are three primary types; friendships with townspeople, romantic relations with townspeople, and monster friendships. Not all townspeople are marriageable, so some will have a friendship meter while others will have a love meter (essentially the same thing, but a love meter indicates a character with whom you can begin a romantic relationship if desired). These levels can be raised by speaking to people daily and giving them gifts – if you want a quick guide on what to get whom, and when their birthdays are, there are loads of websites that list it all nice and neatly! Monster friendships work in a similar way. Once you’ve built a barn, and tamed a monster (usually by throwing lots of stuff at it and brushing whenever it isn’t trying to attack you) it’ll move in. You can then take it as a companion on adventures, receive things like wool and milk, or set it to work on the farm once your friendship is high enough.

Both monsters and townspeople can join you in exploring the nearby dungeons. For characters their relationship level must be high enough though; you then start a conversation and press either L or R. Once the conversation is over, you’ll have a few extra options – this is also how you confess your feelings to an eligible bachelor or bachelorette, so it’s a handy one to remember! No matter who accompanies you out in the field, they’ll gain combat experience and level up accordingly. Gifting equipment to humans will make them equip it, so be sure to load them up before [ in the item description) will increase their base stats. 

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

This game looks beautiful, especially when placed alongside its 3DS predecessor. The graphics are still rather simple, but the game oozes charm with the uncomplicated animations and vivid colour scheme. Each character feels truly unique, with completely individual designs and voices (with a choice between English and Japanese!) and are easily identified on the zoomable mini-map. Whether in handheld or docked or Lite, the graphics retain their nice clean edges and everything is easy to see.

The music has had a slight upgrade from the 3DS version, having been cleaned up and made smoother, but the only major change is the intro song. Personally I preferred the original, but the new one is a good fit for this relaxing yet challenging game and really seems to fit the town you’re in.

Also – no performance issues in any mode, win!

Difficulty

Difficulty options galore! Along with the traditional Easy, Medium, and Hard, Rune Factory 4 Special gained an additional difficulty; Hell mode. I haven’t tried it personally, because I love to play on easy and just enjoy the game, but my friend plays on Hell and she’s found it a major headache – it’s called Hell mode for a reason! Even on easy, it isn’t the easiest game; I breezed through the first ⅔ until the final major dungeon absolutely destroyed me, not to mention the challenge maze you can unlock! It’s definitely a grind-y game, but enjoyable enough that the grind doesn’t feel like a huge problem.

Conclusion

Rune Factory 4 Special had big shoes to fill. I’m delighted to admit that it filled them and then some; it was a thing that I didn’t know needed to happen until it did, and I’m so glad that we’ve got a Rune Factory 5 confirmed, even if we don’t have a timescale yet. The classic story has been updated with some adorable married life content, the graphics and soundtrack got a beautiful overhaul without losing the charm of the original game, and the Another Episode DLC is a very cute little add-on, but I may be biased as I got it for free during the launch promotional period.

Verdict
A must-try for any farming sim/RPG fan, Rune Factory 4 Special is a worthy successor to the DS and Wii titles. It may be nostalgia speaking, but it’s my favourite game at the moment and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
10/10

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