rune factory 4 special
Games,  Reviews

Exploring Rune Factory 4: Special

No one prepared me for this.

I’ve played the Harvest Moon titles since I was old enough to pick up a controller on the Nintendo 64, so I’m no stranger to the gameplay and the mechanics.  Since the release of Story of Season’s 25th anniversary game was releasing soon, I wanted to find a game that I hadn’t played yet that would hold me over to its release. Rune Factory 4: Special was recommended to me by friends, and it was a pleasant, albeit unexpected and unique, surprise. Ultimately, I decided to pick it up over Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town since it looked like Marvelous really dropped the ball on their 25th anniversary game.

Eastern players who got access to the game a month before the western world complained of bugs, glitches, and several missing elements that were loved and present in the preceding Bokujō Monogatari titles. The trailers and twitch streams I’ve watched for the new game looked, well, horrible and not at all faithful to the old Harvest Moon titles that I’m so familiar with. Rune Factory is the game everyone tells you to play when you’ve played all of the Harvest Moon games and you need a break from Stardew Valley.

Rune Factory is another game developed by Marvelous, and I had never played a Rune Factory game before but a trailer for the 5th installment being released later this year really intrigued me. I was hoping Rune Factory 4: Special would hold me over to the release of Rune Factory 5, but now that I’ve played it, I’m not sure that’s the case. Have you ever played a game and thought to yourself while playing it “This game has so many great reviews! Surely it gets better…?” and then you find yourself playing more and more, waiting for it to get better? That’s how this game made me feel and I’m not so sure that Rune Factory 5’s updated graphics will change my mind on what I think of this series.

rune factory 4 princess

To be clear, Rune Factory was inspired by the Harvest Moon series, and was developed as a spin-off by Marvelous games. It is described by Yoshifumi Hashimoto, producer of the Harvest Moon/Story of Season series, as “Harvest Moon where you wield a sword”. While it’s definitely a farming simulator, I’d argue it’s nothing like Harvest Moon. I didn’t get any Harvest Moon vibes in my 10 hours of gameplay. But without further ado, here are some major differences between Harvest Moon and Rune Factory that none of the reviews prepared me for.

To learn more about the Harvest Moon and newer Story of Seasons titles, look here. And if you’re interested in Stardew Valley but you’re undecided look here!

Rune Factory and Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon is your average farm simulator where you grow crops, raise livestock, and woo a neighborhood boy or gal of your choosing. Instead of raising livestock in Rune Factory 4, you capture and raise monsters you defeat in battle. Nothing prepared me for this. You’re probably thinking “So what?” but for me, raising livestock in Harvest Moon games is really important to me. It’s something I really enjoy. Actually, your farm is this incredibly small little plot behind a royal dragon’s castle. How does that even make sense? It doesn’t. You land on a dragon, a legendary dragon, and you’re told to till the small patch of land behind the castle. It’s new, I’ll give them that, but it makes no sense.

There are so many plot points in this game that just don’t make sense and I didn’t have the patience to keep playing to wait until it made sense, if ever. I think that’s what annoyed me the most about this game. In most Harvest Moon titles, you take over your grandfather’s old farm and shape it into something beautiful and profitable. It makes sense! In Rune Factory, you’re thrown off an airship, land on a dragon, and since you have amnesia, all is forgiven. Then some random dude walks in and hands over his princely title and responsibilities over to you (I’m not making this up), and it’s your job to suddenly lead a small country and…farm. I don’t get it and I give up trying to make sense of it.

With all of that said, I enjoyed the slow transition into farm life. After every mundane task, the request-giver would hand over an old tool to help me on my farm (the classic hammer, hoe, sickle, and watering can). In my opinion, this helped me ease into the game’s farming life and taught me a lot about social aspects. If you complete a task for a villager, they will more than likely give you something you need in return. Funnily enough, since you can throw items in this game, after I got the Old Sickle I accidentally threw it off of the map platform and I couldn’t reach it. Luckily, the blacksmith sells all of the old farming tools. Of course, I only discovered this after fruitlessly wasting hours trying to recover the first one lost forever to my lack of mastery of the game’s controls (I threw it off of a platform into a void, I guess?) If only there were a recoverable system to retrieve lost items.

Capturing and raising monsters felt very wrong and the lead up to unlocking monster livestock just didn’t feel right to me. Combat is admittedly simplistic, basically just a matter of swinging and running around instead of defending with your shield, but it gets the job done and provides just enough action to keep things interesting (…sorta). There’s an impressive array of monsters you can capture, and if you happen to gift them food or something else that they like, you can potentially recruit them to come live with you on the “farm”. From this point, you can then care for them in exchange for goods like milk or wool, and you can even have them do chores on the farm or join you in combat as an extra party member.

rune factory 4 south exit
The “south exit” to Yomir Forest.

In order to unlock combat and dungeon exploring, you have to receive a request from Ventuswill, and then head to Yomir Forest. Ventuswill never tells you where this forest is, and there aren’t any map indicators to show you where to go. After some googling, I discovered you could just leave the village at the south exit. Since there aren’t any map indicators, I had no idea there was an exit since it looked like another piece of wall to me. There are a lot of old indie games like this, but since this was a remastered title, I expected little things like this to be fixed. I seriously would have never found this if I hadn’t searched for it online and it aggravated me to no end.

There are skill levels for everything, you name it—walking, bartering, throwing (???), love—you’d think I would find this fun and engaging but I didn’t. I didn’t understand the point and none of the NPCs explain how or why any of it matters. When you open your main menu you can view the “skills” section and there are some attribute bonuses for leveling some of these skills up, but I never could make out why I should care about any of it. I feel like I’ve played enough JRPGs to get a basic understanding of why I should care about my INT attribute, but I actually wish it were explained to me in detail about why I should care, especially since combat is so easy-all you have to do is swing your sword!

Several days in a row I would sow, harvest, and water my really small garden, do the one request that was available on the request board, and then go to bed. Should I have been speaking to the villagers? Maybe. Their dialogue was usually always the same and I didn’t feel like it. In Stardew Valley and the Harvest Moon titles, farming, requests, and interacting with villagers always felt worthwhile. For some reason, Rune Factory 4 just felt… different? It really didn’t feel like I had to do anything beyond farming and requests, if that makes sense. Nothing about the story compelled me forward.

rune factory 4 princess points

After making a fuss over whether or not you’re actually a Princess (you’re not), you’re given a noble title anyway with all of the responsibilities that come with it. No one questions it. In fact, Arthur (the prince who relinquished his title) is one of the marriage candidates, and periodically shows up to tell you how to do things. Does he ever ask for his title back? I’m not sure, but it was really odd that no one in the country questioned it. It’s briefly mentioned that his father, the King of the country, was “cool with it”. And instead of using currency like normal, you can use Princess Points to purchase festivals, direct orders, and request upgrades to various buildings and tools. There are some really stupid ones too, like asking specific NPCs to wake you up in the morning.

rune factory 4 special vishnal

Similar to the Harvest Moon series, one of the goals of the game is to marry and have a child. You can do this in Rune Factory 4, but I never made it that far. There are six bachelors and six bachelorettes, each have their own charming points and back stories which you will learn through series of events before marriage. Honestly, a lot of the character designs were super cute and I found them very appealing, and maybe if the rest of the game were more interesting I would have explored this more. But for me, looks aren’t all that matters. 😉

The Final Verdict

The dialogue and writing really makes no sense at times. I walk into Ventuswill’s chambers where she and some of the other villagers are talking about odd voices ringing out in the night and suddenly I need to go deal with it. My character asks Ventuswill what it is, and instead of responding normally, she screams at me and responds with “Who do you think you are, anyway? Do you have some sort of grudge against me? Something to prove to me, maybe?!” mere seconds after being friendly and cordial with me. Like, am I missing some dialogue? I’m very confused right now and that sums up about 90% of the dialogue in this game.

rune factory 4 dialogue ventuswill

Have you ever watched an anime with really bad translations and dialogue that you end up being turned off from it and you can’t watch it anymore? Yeah, that happened to me. It’s why I don’t watch anime anymore.

What I Liked

  • really cute character models
  • different dialogue sometimes
  • ???
  • Vishanl is cute
  • the Harvest Report is a really cool mechanic that I’d like to see in more faming simulator games

What I Didn’t Like

  • too much weeb
  • my character has boob chains and links and I don’t like it
  • I’m pretty okay with slow-to-start games, Stardew Valley did it really well, but not so much in this game
  • The dialogue was super exaggerated at times, over the top, and very “anime” (for lack of a better description)
  • Character name is 6 characters max and the farm name is 8 characters max
  • sometimes the translations seemed…off?

I think I enjoyed the idea of this game, but not the graphics, so I will probably be picking up Rune Factory 5 to give it a try. Rune Factory 5 looks like a beautiful game, and since the producer/writer Yoshifumi Hashimoto is in charge, I’m sure it will be great. If it’s too much like this game, I’ll probably return it. Overall, I’m still not sure how I feel about raising monsters over livestock, and I’d prefer the main point of the game to focus on cultivating the farmland.

Yoshifumi Hashimoto was the producer for Story of Seasons and Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, and they were my favorite titles on the Nintendo 3DS. Unfortunately, he didn’t work on the Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town title, and maybe that’s why it was such a bust. I had a lot of hopes for the 25th anniversary Bokumono celebrations, but feedback and reviews have been incredibly negative across the board. I will always enjoy playing the old Harvest Moon titles and I never feel bad when I decide to pickup an older game that I enjoy over a newer title that disappoints me.

After this experience, am I still going to pick up Store of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town? When it goes on sale, probably yes. In the meantime, I hope they add in some of the essentials like more festivals (animal, cooking, harvest festivals). Am I still going to pick up Rune Factory 5? Probably yes. I’ll try anything at least… twice.

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One Comment

  • KevinBlue

    You don’t really capture the monster you tame/befriend it. I got into Rune Factory after playing “Harvest Moon: Friend of Mineral” on my Game Boy Advance and other consoles in the early 2000s. What I like about rooms after you was the anime-esque dialogue and the focus on battling and less on farming. But I do like the farming only style of Story of Seasons but Rune Factory ticks all three boxes for me farming crops, battles, and a dating sim.

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