Rune Factory 4 (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Andrew 11.12.2014

Review for Rune Factory 4 on Nintendo 3DS

More than two years after its Japanese release (and over a year after it launched in North America), Rune Factory 4 is finally being released in Europe, albeit limited to the 3DS eShop. For those unaware, the series is a spin-off of the popular life simulation Harvest Moon, splicing many of the laidback themes of farming with the adventure of fighting enemies in dungeons. The latest title is a solid addition to the series and a good starting point for newcomers alike. The life simulation / adventure series is still quite unique, but was the wait worth it?

The series is quite hard to characterise for those that have yet to experience it. The life simulation reminiscent of its Harvest Moon origins is definitely present, but it's been blended into an adventure game featuring a real-time battle system. The two concepts actually work quite well together, creating a cohesive experience that's arguably more realistic and immersive than either one individually. Things done in the town will affect what happens when fighting monsters in dungeons, and vice versa. For example, rescuing someone from a dungeon will lead to ramifications in the interactions with other characters in the town.

Farming is another great example. Many plants must be grown, with each type having a specific benefit. Whilst many of the benefits are typically standard for an adventure game (for example, healing characters), there is something charming about having to grow the plants, rather than just purchasing them. The demonstrable effects and benefits of the interactions of the two areas increase as the game progresses.

The variety also means that there's always something to do, and players can generally choose what they want to focus on at any point. In addition to farming and fighting, players can also fall in love or use their power as a prince/princess to improve things. Finding a partner in the town is a cute addition. NPCs all feature different personalities, and freedom is given over whom in the town to try to charm. Using monarchical power is somewhat misleading though, as often it leads to nothing more than doing odd jobs to improve the town. Influence and allies in battle are won by being friendly and helpful, not wielding absolute power. There's nothing wrong with that of course; the game may feature monsters to stab, but it's still loving and peaceful at its core. Other oddball things to do include levelling up skills in things as bizarre as sleeping, bathing and walking. Regardless of how pointless it sounds, it still raises a smile when the jingle plays to indicate a skill has increased.

Time progression plays an important role in events (certain things will only happen on certain days), but the game allows players to sleep when they feel they have completed their objectives for the day. The fact that there is always a choice in when to ditch life simulation and get knee deep into some action is appreciated.

Screenshot for Rune Factory 4 on Nintendo 3DS

The real-time battles are good fun, too, and their depth develops as the game progresses. Their general short nature prevents them from ever being dull, and there's significant variety in the types of weapons that can be used, with each one having its own strengths and limitations. Timing also plays its part, as characters can dodge attacks and wait for openings. The system feels similar to a 2D The Legend of Zelda adventure, except with a greater variety of viable weapons (and spells). The fact that a huge amount of items can be taken on adventures is another positive, whilst even more can be stored in the town. This means all kinds of weapons can be purchased and plants acquired/purchased/grown without fear of running out of space.

As with many games today, one of the first choices is whether the main character is male or female. Unfortunately, the way this is presented leaves a bad taste. The player's character is flying in an airship and the game then makes an assumption about the preferred gender based upon how enthusiastic the response is to being so high up. To be fair, the game is quite gender neutral overall: there's the possibility of a female lead, and the female characters are all reasonably proportioned and wearing a socially acceptable amount of clothing. Given the gender equality issues in so many videogames, most will be willing to forgive this small oversight.

A source of annoyance that is less forgivable, though, is the amount of mandatory text to read. Optional conversations are plentiful and usually short and enjoyable, but conversations that are required for the storyline tend to drag on to the benefit of no one. The story itself is somewhat intriguing enough to follow, which is as good as can be expected.

The town features many characters, and each one is introduced with a short anime style cut-scene the first time they are met. The animations are beautiful, but they serve no purpose other than to see what the characters look like in detail. Each one only lasts an average of three seconds or so, making the whole thing rather pointless.

The same goes for voice acting. Whilst reading through a few sentences of speech between two characters, one will occasionally say (as in vocally as opposed to through text) something like "yes" or "right." It occupies a strange middle ground, providing no real benefit. Players still have to read the conversation through, and there's so little vocalised that it also doesn't help to make the characters more relatable or realistic.

It feels as though Rune Factory 4 is dipping its toes into cut-scenes and voice acting when really it should just be diving in. The results indicate that there's plenty of potential, but they are both used for too short a period to have any real impact. In summary, it's a wasted opportunity and a borderline cause of frustration. Luckily there are so many positives to make up for it.

Screenshot for Rune Factory 4 on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Financial problems for developers Neverland Co. may mean that Rune Factory 4 is the last in the series, and its release in Europe at all is surprising given the circumstances. The game itself is a good addition to the series. Niggles with presentation and the amount of mandatory text to read are present, but there are so many positives to take from the engaging and varied experience. The game comes recommended for anyone curious about what an action title crossed with a life simulator can deliver.

Developer

Neverland

Publisher

XSEED

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (1 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date None   

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