The long and gruelling wait has finally come to an end for Rune Factory 4’s European fans with its eShop arrival last month. But much like its haphazard release, the RPG simulation title suffers from a few technical and design blips, with its saving grace in a humorous storyline.
The path to Europe has been a rocky and often troubled one for Rune Factory 4. After the franchise’s developer Neverland folded at the tail-end of 2013, publisher Marvelous AQL informed fans the European version was, regrettably, cancelled due to technical difficulties in production. It wasn’t until October last year that both XSeed Games and Marvelous US took the helm and garnered a digital-only release for European audiences. Though it’s been a long time in the making – more than a year after the US release and over two from Japan – Rune Factory 4’s charm lies in its witty, heart-over-head story-telling and effortless character building sequences.
With three story arcs, Rune Factory 4 is beautifully rich in content and can take anywhere between 20 to 50 hours to complete the first section either in easy, normal or hard difficulty modes. Players will begin their journey on an airship but, when a common enemy duo appears on deck, your character is quickly thrust overboard and crash lands onto a dragon far below. For the first time in the franchise, players can choose their character’s gender from the beginning and, as is the case in each game to date, a bout of amnesia will plague your character. Under the guidance of Ventuswill the wind dragon, you’ll be able to explore the town of Selphia freely and create a new life through farming, crafting, fishing and forging.
Through a case of mistaken identity, you won’t just have your skill sets to contend with but Selphia’s tourism and attraction too. Charged with improving the town’s upkeep as Prince or Princess, players can choose to take on requests in exchange for points. These vary from general shipping and harvesting duties to taking on demons in the overworld and dungeons. Soon enough it becomes your duty to save Ventuswill, free the monster-trapped Guardians from dungeons, as well as collect rune spheres in order to return Selphia and its regions to their former glory.
For those unfamiliar with the game’s set up, Rune Factory 4 revolves around four seasons in each in-game year. Town events and festivals will be interspersed throughout the seasons, along with specific time frames for planting vegetable and flower seeds. While Harvest Moon-style farming is your main source of income, you’ll also have to spend time levelling up your skills in cooking and weapon crafting. To do so, players must use rune points, or RP to those more versed in the franchise, which limits what you can and can’t do during a day. Though RP will steadily build-up throughout, it’s frustratingly repetitive to replenish in the beginning when sources and income are fairly limited.
To alleviate some of the mundane farming activity, players can befriend monsters as pets who will aid in tending crops or planting seeds, pending on their friendship levels. However, it’s more than a little unsettling when your well-kept, hard-to-raise crops can be obliterated from the moment a tornado hits. It’s horribly risky as well as a hard fact of reality, but the cruel RNG rate is preposterous for a title that banks itself on generating in-game currency from farming.
Aside from day-to-day duties, players can head to dungeons to fulfil main storyline quests. These are generally easy to navigate with a map on the lower screen, while hitting switches will unlock secret areas with chests containing spell upgrades and other such loot. Rune Factory’s combat system remains largely unchanged and keeping NPCs or monster allies in your team can become extremely advantageous when facing bosses, deflecting hits from your character.
Though the game eases players in during the first few dungeons, an inane difficulty spike hits at the Lava Ruins. Here, monsters run amok dealing heavy blows, overwhelmingly heated areas will cut continuously into your HP, and nasty pits of fiery columns are awkwardly placed, solely to trap hasty players. It’s almost similar to those moments as a child when you’re forced to hug an estranged relative but, instead, are held tightly and squeezed forcibly on the cheeks until you’re swimming in sloshed kisses. In short, combat won’t help you in these poorly placed and designed dungeon elements.
Given the two-year hiatus for a European release, the game looks considerably dated as a 3DS title. A lack of clear-cut definition in texture and backgrounds leaves areas looking washed-out and, despite their polished animation videos, characters look clumsy both on-screen and in their overview slots. And if you’re a stickler for feng shui, placing items such as crafting tables and cooking accessories is simply infuriating. Stereoscopic 3D, on the other hand, adds an extra dimension to otherwise flat-packed areas, bringing visual depth to the game.
Though Rune Factory 4 often feels monotonous and grinding, what lightens the mood is the superbly scripted moments between NPCs and the main character. The opportunity to marry, have children and quest with your family are, perhaps, the best and most heartfelt moments in the game. Meeting spirited, three-dimensional characters keeps the game entertaining even at its most tedious.
While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea and is hampered by repetitive gameplay and poorly designed areas, the fourth instalment is a great pick up and play title for newcomers and a solid, longer entry for fans. Perhaps it’s the amnesia talking, but Groundhog Day never felt so persistent.