Rune Factory 4 Review
If you read my review for Animal Crossing: New Leaf a few months back, you probably remember how I took issue with the game's lack of anything to really shoot for. You could build a house, and by extension, an entire town. You could dig for fossils, grow fruit, visit an island, catch bugs and even visit friends' towns and take a look around. But there was no brass ring, no storyline or ultimate goal, and it ended up feeling a lot like real life; you do a bunch of chores only to wake up and do them all again the next day. Rune Factory 4 is what I wanted Animal Crossing to be. You'll do a lot of the same things; farm, build a town, make nice with the villagers, etc., but there is also a story, combat and even a fun monster capture/collection mechanic to dive into. These aspects add enough spice to the decent Harvest Moon farming sim formula to make the game one that I can feel good about recommending.
Since having an actual story is what sold me on Rune Factory 4, we'll start there. I didn't say it was a great story, but its presence is enough to keep the player pushing forward. You play as either a male or female hero with amnesia (yup - sigh) that is dropped into a town from a flying airship. You are welcomed by the town's inhabitants and even given reign to act as the town's mayor... for some reason. The town is home to a large dragon that gives you advice and encouragement, as well as a number of different personalities, shops and attractions. Just outside the town gates are dungeons and enemies galore, with tougher enemies and areas opening up as you follow the story. By the end of the main storyline (between 20-30 hours, depending on how quickly you race through), the town is better for your presence and you've recovered your memory - just like you'd expect. The plot really only serves as a framework to push you through the game, but that is more than enough when compared to other, storyless sim games.
If you've played a Harvest Moon game before, and I'd bet most of you have, you already know about half of what Rune Factory 4 has to offer. You till fields, grow crops, food and flowers, chop wood, mine minerals, build structures and generally build your farm and town into a powerhouse. You can cook, craft, even get married and become a parent, life's ups and downs are all present and accounted for. All these activities have a fun, semi-addictive bent to them, and playing the game for five minutes or five hours at a time are both equally feasible choices. Once your farm is up and producing new things on a daily basis, crafting, shipping goods and cooking become a brand new addiction, piling right on top of the old one. The Harvest Moon farming formula works and has fans around the globe, and Rune Factory 4 doesn't attempt to fix what isn't broken.
The other half of the equation was what kept me coming back to the game. The dungeons and combat make Rune Factory 4 so much more than just another sim. Players can equip and learn tons of different weapons and pound their way through enemy lairs in search of the next boss encounter. These segments play like so many action RPGs, with a single button attack and special moves mapped to various other buttons and button combos. Leveling up is fast and easy, making repeated runs though enemy filled areas just as rewarding as learning to grow or cook a new vegetable or meal. The boss encounters liven things up, but are largely forgettable; after finishing the main story I'm hard pressed to remember what the first few bosses even looked like. The game's story drives players to new dungeon every few hours or so, and fans of both farming and fighting won't get worn out if they prefer on activity to another. My only real complaint with the combat is that enemies respawn CONSTANTLY. If you leave a screen after finishing of its inhabitants, walking to the next screen and immediately back completely refills all the enemies you just cleared out. It's annoying, but it also works as a way for players to level up a little faster by exploiting the system.
Aside from enemy respawns, my other beef with the game is the presentation. Rune Factory 4 is a DS game, plain and simple. Everything screams "last gen," from the character sprites to the music to the interface. The game looks pretty rough by today's standards, and the 3D effects don't do much to make it look any better. Maybe by Rune Factory 5 the developer will have caught up with the 3DS hardware.
Like I said before, Rune Factory 4 scratches both the sim and action RPG itch in me, and it does both pretty well. By merging the genres, it makes sure no one is left behind, and the gameplay in both aspects is addicting, if not all that original. Enemy respawns are annoying and the game looks and sounds like one released five years ago, but even with those beefs Rune Factory 4 is well worth a 3DS owner's time. Especially if you struggled to find a point to in Animal Crossing, as I did.
Final Rating: 78%. A genre blend that's enjoyable enough in spite of its dated look.