Alright, time for my second ever 3DS Game review, and this time we are looking at the game Rune Factory 4, published by Marvelous AQL and developed by Neverland Co, released in 2013.This is an interesting title, and I was not sure what I expected when I picked it up on the EShop a few months ago. I knew roughly that the Rune Factory games are built to be similar in style to the Harvest Moon games, being a town life simulator, and that they featured more emphasis on combat and story but that was really all I knew. However, after playing it the best way I can describe this game after my 30+ hours of playtime is as follows: Stardew Valley meets Secret of Mana, with a Diabo styled loot system.
This is the last Rune Factory game to ever be released at the time of this review, and after playing it all I can say is I WANT MORE! The game, however, is not without its quibbles, but let’s dive into the details of Rune Factory 4.
The game visually is a product of its time honestly. They tried to go for a more “realistic yet chibi” art style for the in game sprites and character models and for the most part it works, although it can look pixelated at times in the worst way. It reminds me of the late PS1 era games, things like Final Fantasy 9 and such. The backgrounds are static images for the most part, and are wonderfully rendered and vibrant. There are also plenty of environments to explore, from forests and plains to the city and even a haunted mansion. Each one unique in design and flavor.
One thing that stands out are the character portraits that appear during conversation. These are wonderfully hand drawn anime styled portraits that animate slightly to show different expressions for the characters, to help convey emotion. Each character is also unique in design, and you get to be able to tell each one apart very easily as you go on. Ducle and Clorica are two of my favorites, but Venti is also a treat to chat with as well.
SOUND AND MUSIC
Let’s start with the sound effects first and foremost. They are nothing special but do convey each action appropriately. The sound of storms is actually really nice with thunder crashes and the patter of rain, and your footsteps and various environmental audio queues are a nice touch as well, such as splashes when fishing and the like. Your character also makes little noises as you attack, adding weight to each strike.
The soundtrack however is something I really enjoy. Each area has a distinct theme to it, and you begin to learn the themes as you play. I would honestly listen to this soundtrack outside of the game as even the most bombastic tracks are still pretty chill and relaxing.
One thing however that I LOVE is that every single character in the game has voice acted audio clips. Now we are not talking full on voice acting, but rather simple phrases. Speaking to Clorica will usually net you a “Hello!” for example, and some scenes or sequences have additional voice acting, but it helps make the game feel alive as you play.
STORY AND SETTING
Let’s start by talking about how alive the town and world feels. Like any good life simulator your game takes place over days in a season, each season lasting 30 days. As you progress forward each day, new events take place that give you glimpses into the life and times around the city of Selphia. Further, you have festivals that take place each season that gives some real meaning to the towns people and how they interact. There is a ton of ambient dialog that changes depending on the time of day and season as well as plot progression, which makes the game feel alive in a way that other life sims don’t, at least from my experience.
There are, actually, 3 distinct storylines taking place in this game, divided into 3 distinct arcs. Each one can take quite a while to complete, with twists and turns and dungeons to delve and locations and mysteries to solve. Frankly, I have only finished Arc 1 of 3 at this time, which was a solid enjoyable storyline to play through involving going to strange temples and locations, and freeing Guardians from their entrapment. Why were they trapped and why did I need to do this? Well I cannot tell you without spoiling things so I won’t! Arc 2 however starts with a neighboring country attacking the town, and from there you have to rush off to defeat the invaders and determine just why they attacked, going to even more locations in this world.
And the world map is incredibly dense. At first it seems very small, but as play progresses you find more and more locations, new dungeons including several optional ones, and plenty of places to just explore loot and fight in. Overall, I am still enjoying my time with the game, and I want to finish Arc 2 and move on to Arc 3. Also each and every towns person you interact with has a unique personality, likes, dislikes, and more. Every single one is also fleshed out with their own character events as well and at least 5 males and 5 females are romancable.
I can tell you that game opens up after choosing your gender, with you falling off an airship into the literal middle of town, meeting the towns Guardian Dragon Ventiswill (Venti!) and being mistaken for the kingdoms Prince. It gets really silly from there, and then very sad, and emotional. The story has gripped me in this game and has not let me go. My only issue with progressing the story has to do with, well, how the game actually works.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: This game is a GRIND. Not a terrible grind, but it is a grind. You will spend a lot of time either waiting for crops to grow, events to trigger, the right drops from enemies to drop, and of course stamina to refill. The gameplay can roughly be divided into 2 distinct segments: the Life Sim and the Action RPG.
In the Lifesim portion you can do pretty much all the stuff you might expect from a game like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. You can talk to villagers, give them gifts, attend various festivals, grow crops and take care of animals, improve your house, improve the town through the Orders system, go fishing, and craft a variety of things. You can also open your own store later in the game, which is honestly a fun time.
Farming is incredibly in-depth for this game. You start with 1 field and can upgrade to 3 fields total. When using a field you have to pay attention to things like soil quality in order to grow the best crops, which is wild. You gotta learn how to inspect quality, rotate crops, and make sure to let soil repair itself over time. You can use fertilizer and even a compost heap to deal with soil quality as well. Crops range from veggies and flowers, and even things called Dungeon Flowers, which grow (no joke) procedurally generated dungeons for you to explore and loot. And from those dungeons you can get sword and shield flowers, which grow (you guessed it) swords and shields, and apparently some of the best kinds in the game.
There are also requests you can do for villagers, ranging from giving them items you found or crafted as well as things you have cooked to improve their friendship level with you and get rewards. You can cook using the things you have grown or found in the wild in a variety of ways. You can forge and improve both weapons and armor as well, and even new tools like new water cans, hoes, fishing rods, axes, and so on. You can marry eligible bachelors or bachelorettes (sorry no same sex marriage though!) and so on. And how do you get the materials for all these activities outside of farming?
Why, you go out into the world to kill monsters, delve dungeons, and collect loot that’s how! By going out into the wilds you can find various animals and monsters that you can kill or tame to collect loot and goodies. Almost every monster can be tamed, even a bunch of the bosses, provided you have the right items to give them, just an fyi. Combat is simple but fun. You have a basic attack, a dodge, and eventually 4 special action buttons that you can use to bind spells and special attacks to. You gain spells and special attacks as random drops from enemies, and as rewards from the requests you can do for villagers. The world outside of the main town is fairly massive, and thankfully there is a fast travel system from save points you can use as you slowly explore, letting you easily farm locations for specific items (bosses respawn daily, so you can farm them as well). Also, once you are friends with villagers, you can invite them to come with you or bring monsters you have tamed along. Up to 2 Villagers or Monsters can join you on your adventures, and they will level up alongside you.
All these activities, both the Life Sim and Action RPG stuff, are tied together using the Skill system. There is a skill you can level up for almost every activity. Sleeping? We got a skill for that. Bathing? Got a skill. Swords, Axes, Hammers, Fist Weapons, Spears, Magic Rods? Got skills. Leadership for when you got a party with you? Yea we got a skill for that. Crafting? Skills for every KIND of crafting. Farming? Fishing? Oh yea, we got that. And every skill level increases your stats in some fashion or another. Your skills also limit your ability to learn crafting recipes, which you learn by eating “Recipe Bread”. You can buy that from the Chef in town.
Finally there is also the Orders system, which is a system used to enact “Orders” around town. Since you are the Prince, you can “order” certain events to take place in town, things like new shop stocks, new shops, festivals, expanding your home, and so on. You need Prince Points to do these, which you gain from talking to villagers as well as completing the Requests they hand you. More orders become available as you progress in the storyline as well so do not be surprised if you run out. Finally, no event or plot is on a timer, meaning you cannot miss town events or the storyline unless its specifically like a Festival, which will clearly be marked on your in game Calendar and the NPCs will mention it pretty regularly.
The biggest roadblock in this game however is that grind. You will regularly hit walls where enemies are nearly impossible to get through without upgraded equipment, which means you will need to spend time in game hunting down materials and grinding levels for your skills in order to learn recipes so you can build new stuff to take them on. You can also run into Requests that you cannot complete simply because you don’t have access to a location or object, and will either have to abandon the Request OR wait. For example, you cannot get access to Dungeon Flowers till Act 2, and those take 18 days to grow…and I am still growing my first one so I can complete a request I got 3 hours into the game. Be aware you will spend a lot of time just grinding out skills and levels to progress at times.
Overall I absolutely adore this game, and I am nowhere near finishing it. I know for a fact there is even more stuff to do and unlock both progression wise and optional simply by doing research on crafting stuff. This game is well worth its purchase price of $40 on the Nintendo EShop and easily worth it if you can get it used on the cheap. The sheer amount of time you can spend playing this game, nevermind the New Game Plus options (yes there are New Game Plus options) provide hours of entertainment for your money.
However, if you are not the kind of person who enjoys grinding, and setting your own goals, then this game is not for you. You will need to be willing to sit down and say “Today I am going to work on getting some Large Milks to make Smoothies” or “I am going to take Clorica and my pet Goblin out to level them up” in order to really appreciate this game. However for those of us who have a 3DS system and wish there was a Stardew Valley like game out there for it? This is the one for you. It’s a wonderful title and I am hoping that a new one comes out eventually, as I would love to play more.
You can purchase Rune Factory 4 at the following Locations: